The 1993 Apology Resolution

#139 in the Moʻolelo series

Public Law 103-150, signed on November 23, 1993 by President Clinton, provided an offer of ” apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.” It specifically mentions the Congregationalist Church (“now the United Church of Christ” as noted in the resolution’s text), showing the influence of the UCC apology given at the 100th anniversary of the overthrow earlier that year on January 17th 1993.

The signing of the Apology Resolution.
l-r: VP Al Gore, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Rep. Patsy Mink, President Clinton, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Sen. Daniel Akaka.

President Clinton initiated what has been called by some “the age of apology.” He apologized for slavery, for what that’s worth. This spread to other countries – Australia and Canada both apologized for the treatment of Native peoples in Native, or “Indian” Boarding Schools – a practice of separation from family that the UN has declared a form of genocide. (The US did not sign the UN Convention Against Genocide for over 40 years because of being in violation of it, mainly because of Indian Boarding Schools. Thereʻs a Hawaiʻi connection here, but thatʻs another post).

As I wrote in my chapter on Native Hawaiians in the book Native Nations: the Survival of Fourth World Peoples:

On January 17th, 1993, between 20,000 and 30,000 people, mainly Native Hawaiians, marched to ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu to observe the one hundredth anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The palace, often described as “the only royal palace on American soil,” was the symbolic site of a radical revision of history, which eventually threw open questions including whether or not Hawaiʻi was American soil at all. At the rally, the representatives of the United Church of Christ (UCC) read a formal apology for the Church’s role in the 1893 overthrow. The UCC apology became the template for another apology later that year – Public Law 103-150, the Apology Resolution signed by President Clinton on November 23rd1993, which “urges the President of the United States to also acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and to support reconciliation efforts between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people.

Perkins in Neely (ed.), 2014, Native Nations: the Survival of Fourth World Peoples, Vancouver: J Charlton Publishing.

Even then, as far back as 1993, Keanu Sai pointed out that the bill only mentioned that Hawaiians “never relinquished their inherent sovereignty.” He questioned the meaning of “inherent sovereignty,” suggesting that this was the type of “sovereignty” possessed by Native American tribes, which is not the sovereignty that the aforementioned Kingdom of Hawaiʻi possessed! Inherent sovereignty, it seems, is a “domestic dependent sovereignty.” I put this in quotes because domestic and dependent are antonyms of sovereignty. It is well-known that tribal nations lack full enforcement power for capital crimes. One of the attributes of a sovereign state is the ability to enter into treaties with foreign nations (or as it was written at the time of Hawaiʻi’s recognition in 1843, “the regulation of relations with foreign nations”). Tribal nations lack this ability.

Nevertheless, there has been more unanimity among Hawaiian groups as to the benefit of the Apology Resolution, especially when compared to the Akaka Bill or other forms of Federal Recognition. For those who would say that it’s just a resolution and so has no legal force, I would remind them that so was the Newlands Resolution of annexation! But the Apology Resolution is a confession that provides:

Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
The Congress
– apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893… and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination;
– expresses its commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, in order to provide a proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people; and
– urges the President of the United States to also acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and to support reconciliation efforts between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people.

Public Law 103-150

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