Gerald Smith was right and wrong in his Civil Beat article “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth.” Hawaiians may not be the “host” culture, and it’s true as he says, that neither Hawaiians nor other non-indigenous groups are here by choice, nor by invitation. In fact, Kamehameha II gave the first group of foreigners to ask permission, the Congregationalist missionaries in 1820, a probationary period of one year. The deadline for reviewing their stay was neglected and within a generation they were entrenched in government and the economy. I often wonder if the term “host culture” is merely a convenient one for the tourism industry, as it creates the impression – a questionable one – that tourist are welcome guests. Smith is wrong, however, on several counts. His claim that “Many Native Hawaiians would like us all to leave and restore the kingdom that was taken away by the United States,” is unsupported by any evidence. Just as the Hawaiian Kingdom never ejected even its most troublesome residents, the Hawaiian movement has not called for non-Hawaiians “all to leave.”
What is problematic is Smith’s assertion that everyone in Hawaiʻi is equal in the eyes of the law. Putting aside the quite valid claims of independence advocates for the moment, the State of Hawaiʻi recognized Hawaiians as the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Over one hundred pieces of Federal legislation, beginning with the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act do the same. To simply brush aside these forms of recognition that Hawaiians are unique in the eyes of the law, is troublingly close to what has been called “white indigeneity.” What can be said of narratives of white indigeneity is that they are widespread. Such claims are seen in New Zealand, Australia, the US and elsewhere. What cannot be said is that they are taken seriously. I happened to observe the phenomenon in the New Zealand parliament: one conservative member cited the respected historian Michael King to support his contention that pakeha (Caucasians) were Indigenous. To this another member asked if the “honorable member” was familiar with the UN definition of Indigenous.
Smith establishes his kamaʻāina credentials by stating that he observed the attack on Pearl Harbor. If this is the case, he certainly did not take Hawaiian history in school, even if he went to school here, as it wasnʻt required until the 1970s. So one is left to wonder where his understanding of Hawaiian history comes from. Likely its from Gavan Daws’s Shoal of Time, still the most read general history of Hawaiʻi. The book’s chapter on Statehood is entitled “Now we are all Haoles.”
Smith’s contention that “the people who live here voted to become a state, so some will never accept their fate.” was roundly and very publically critiqued on its 50th anniversary in 2009, with very little in the way of counter- arguments. The link in his article that ostensibly supports this “fact” takes the reader to history.com – as Hawaiian history is not well-known in Hawaiʻi, citing an external source does not inspire confidence in the reader. This was taken into consideration by the UN; in 1996 the Star bulletin headline read “UN may find statehood illegal.” It was even tacitly recognized by the local majority. There are fireworks in Waikiki every Friday, but none on the 50th anniversary of statehood. Apparently Friday is a more important event.