Tag Archives: Captive Paradise

Interview with George Cleveland, reconciliation advocate and grandson of President Grover Cleveland

This is the third in my interview series. In the first two posts, I speak with publisher Ikaika Hussey and “super-teacher” Amy Perruso. I met George Cleveland through Kahu Dr. Kaleo Patterson, with whom Cleveland has done work on reconciliation, a topic about which I’m very keen.
‘Umi Perkins: Can you tell us (as briefly or extended as you like) about your background? I understand you went to prep school in my wife’s hometown, for instance.
George Cleveland: I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A wonderful town even though back then people used to cringe when you said you are from Baltimore. ​

George Cleveland often stands in as President Cleveland for historical reenactments

​It was a pretty sheltered upbringing that changed a lot when I got out of town and went to boarding school in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was an unusual school in that it was extremely culturally diverse for that time; the late 1960’s. We had what became the only seriously successful program for Native Americans in an eastern prep school. Interesting that at that time, there were around 8 prep/boarding schools in Lenox. Now there are none. Without significant endowments, even the oldest school couldn’t make it through the 70’s.
I lived in Boston for a couple of years after high school and moved to New Hampshire. Among other things, I worked as a professional clown, was backman on a lobster boat and sold waterbeds. College and I never seemed to get along too well.​
How did it come to be that Grover Cleveland’s grandson is so young and spry in 2015?
​Who me?? My family stretched out the generations. Grover Cleveland was born in 1837. He married my grandmother in the White House in 1886. She was 21… Grover knew her prenatally as she was the daughter of his law partner in Buffalo, NY. My father was born in 1897. He met and married my mother in 1943 when she was teaching his children from his first marriage. We dropped two generations.​
​Oddly, I am always asked what he was like. He died in 1908, so our paths did not cross. My grandmother died in 1948, so I just missed knowing her.
I like to remind people that I had TWO sets of grandparents. My maternal grandparents were from a tiny village in Scotland. My grandfather went to sea when he was 14 and worked his way up to captain.​
I find it interesting that you, like Lorrin Thurston’s grandson (who is still alive) seem to side with your grandfather. You’ve said things to that effect.

​Well…he was right!

It can be a little tricky siding with someone from that long ago whom you did not know personally. But…it is my understanding that my grandparents and Queen Liliuokalani admired each other. And I know that one of the first things Grover tried to do when he came back into office in 1893 was to get the overthrow overthrown. AND I know that not seeing the Kingdom reinstated was one of the big disappointments of his life. ​

​When I speak as part of Grover’s ohana, I try and keep it to what I know from historical record and not what I think he thought. That being said, it is my understanding that when news reached him that the Queen would not be reinstated, he said something to the effect of, “So, Hawai’i is ours.” ​I see this simple statement as sadness that “manifest destiny” and greed had won out over what was just and right.

–there is a bit of irony that I am writing this only two days before Liliuokalani’s birthday and on the day when President Obama is about to officially rename Mt. McKinley in Alaska.
Like you, I have some illustrious ancestors, though no presidents:). A great-granduncle of mine is Lew Wallace, for instance, the man who wrote Ben Hur. My grandfather’s name is Wallace Perkins, after that line of the family. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with him. How much do  you think ancestry shapes us?

​That is a really tough question to answer. Would I still be a nice guy if a grandfather had been a serial killer? How would that guilt and shame inform my life choices? How hard would it be to move beyond those feelings? Would my life involve atoning for that?

I don’t know what it’s like NOT to be the grandson of a President. It has been a burden at times, but I’m way beyond that now.

Somewhere ALL of our ancestors did things we may not be proud of. Maybe the simple answer is to learn from their mistakes and do what we can to make the world more livable for more people. Do it because it’s the right thing to do and not an offshoot of ancestral guilt or shame.

I’m a White Anglo Saxon Protestant of Northern European and Celtic descent as far back as the Dark Ages. I think it’s safe to say that this race has done more to impact this planet than anything since the Big Bang. So much potential has been misplaced…
What’s your plan? (vague question, I know) – by that I mean what has driven you in life?
​Sheesh… This has changed a lot over the years and will probably change a few more times. ​
​I’d like to be a simple beacon to help people off the rocks…​
Can you talk about your work on reconciliation (which is how we came to meet)?

​Around 10 years ago when I was first contacted by Kaleo Patterson and Ha’aheo Guanson, I knew next to nothing about Hawai’i and its history. When I first visited (2006?) I was incredibly honored to stay with people like Kekuni Blaisdell and Meleanna Meyer. The things they showed me; the people I met, melded into my soul.

Kumu John Lake’s halau did a presentation for me. I sat in a chair and watched slackjawed as Kumu John translated for me in my ear. It was quite simply one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Reconciliation. It’s that which makes us able to move forward unshackled. It’s a vital process whether from one person to another or one people to another.​
​It would be presumptuous of me to say what I think is right for the Hawaiian people. ​BUT…I DO have some thoughts. The United States has done a bang up job of banging up Hawai’i; probably more than any other country. I believe the US has a moral obligation to continue and COMPLETE the removal of all potentially dangerous ordnance from Hawaiian lands and waters. And all the junk that goes with it. I haven’t been there, but I’d like to see substantial effort (money) put into doing whatever is necessary to get Kaho’olawe back together.
I love space exploration, but that doesn’t mean putting a telescope on a sacred site. If I have to pee in New York City, I don’t do it on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Reconciliation isn’t just about trying to mitigate and correct past wrongs by governments and armies. Reconciliation includes reaching out to friends, neighbors, strangers, smelly people and seeing what we can do for them right NOW. Just be there for someone in some kind of helpful way.
Promote peace. One of my great mentors defined “peace” as “the absence of emotional urgency”. It works for me. –when I let it!
What are your thoughts on history? I know you were the keynote speaker at National History Day, for example, which my students participate in.
​What is more important than history? It’s what we are as individuals and as humans. Even if you have no idea of your lineage, you still have history. It informs our present and our future.
There are some GREAT history teachers out there at the middle and high school levels. They are trying to teach history not as a linear progression of dates to be memorized, but as a living thing that is with us now. These teachers are doing what I see you trying to do, Umi. I have a good friend in Buffalo, NY who is trying to teach the teachers how to better befriend history; he takes them on field trips all summer.
I think it’s important for people to realize that NO ONE has a boring history. I work in a senior center. We have many participants who saw horrible and dramatic action in battle. We have many participants who saw incredible life changing events on the homefront. Some of those homefront stories are pretty dramatic too.
National History Day is a tremendous program. But as I said when I spoke to a group there, how many who have won History Day awards will get the same reception when they get home as the football team ​
​would?? Will the mayor recognize their feat? Will they ride through their village on the fire truck? Gotta fix that…​

Any final thoughts – for Hawaiians or others?
​My final thoughts are ones of gratitude for the patience and understanding shown to me by the people I’ve met who are working FOR Hawai’i. Not just for preservation, but for continuation.
The spiritual nature of things is more palpable in Hawai’i than any place I’ve ever been.
I have very close friends in Hawai’i, even if it’s only a Facebook friendship at times. AND, I’ve gotten flamed a few times for hanging out with and agreeing with some of them!
I send much Aloha to all of them, to all your readers, and to you, Umi. Mahalo for all you are doing.
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The Five Most Pervasive Myths about Hawaiian History

In this post, I start with the five most egregious misconceptions about Hawaiian history (some are admittedly debatable) – Iʻll be expanding it to ten in the next couple of days.

5. Kalākaua was powerless after the 1887 Bayonet Constitution.

Historian Ronald Williams Jr. has uncovered strenuous debates between Kalākaua and the legislature in which he pushes hard for returning power to the throne – quite a different King from the one commonly portrayed as a broken man.

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

4. The 1893 overthrow was “US-backed”

Louis “Buzzy” Agard has found evidence that the US planned the overthrow ahead of time. Agard found an encoded message (and then found the key!) from the State Department telling the USS Boston to attack ports in Hawaiʻi, ending in Honolulu. That makes it a straight-up US overthrow.

3. Kamehameha V was a despot

According to A. Grove Day in History Makers of Hawaii:

[Lot Kapuaiwa] believed that the example of his grandfather, KAMEHAMEHA I, gave him the right to lead the people personally, and favored a stronger form of monarchy that verged on despotism.

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This description comes partly from the period, when in 1864 “it appeared that a new constitution could not be agreed on, he declared that the Constitution of 1852 should be replaced by one he wrote himself” (Day, 1984, 70). But the power to do that was in the old constitution, and if one looks at the new Constitution, that power is absent. In other words, Lot had reduced his own power rather than increasing it. Members of the legislature thanked him afterward.

2. Pauahi was the last of the high-born Kamehamehas

The last of the high-born Kamehamehas was Albert Kūnuiakea, son of Kamehameha III. Albert seemed to be a persona non grata since he was “illegitimate” as the son of Kauikeaouli and Jane Lahilahi Young. This made him Queen Emma’s cousin, and the black sheep of that family. He was literally “the man would be be king,” that is, if the missionaries hadnʻt brought the notion of illegitimacy with them.

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 - 1901)

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 – 1901)

Think about it: he could have been Kamehameha IV, rather than Alexander Liholiho, and Albert lived into the twentieth century. So the son of Kamehameha III could have been king for 40 years by the time of the overthrow, making such an event much less likely. He is buried at Mauna Ala, recognition that he was a royal in the 20th century.

There are also many other descendants of Kamehameha – see the book Kamehameha’s Children Today.

1. Annexation

That it happened. Without a treaty. Legally or illegally. This isnʻt as widespread these days as the others, but whatʻs at stake is obviously much, much greater than with the others. Those who say there was an “illegal annexation” neglect the fact that annexation is precisely the legal aspect of a conquest, thus it’s an oxymoron. Those who point to Supreme Court decisions neglect the fact (as I said in my debate with Ian Lind) that there were two countries involved, and one country’s court, no matter how supreme, simply does not have a say in the legality of their action – it is an international issue. Those who say international law does not exist fail to consider what other countries think when its understandings are violated (as with Iraq in 2003): could we be next? Whatʻs to stop the US or China from taking us over if there are no rules? That’s why these international norms are in place. China, in fact, seems to be on to the US occupation – in 2011, they said “we could claim Hawaiʻi,” to which then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded “weʻll prove we own it,” showing that she understood it was a challenge to the US occupation, not a threat to simply invade.

While some misconceptions have more impact than others, the cumulative effect of these, and many other myths (when combined with a plain and complete ignorance of Hawaiian history on the part of many) is to distort courses of action and decision-making processes. This is true even, and perhaps especially, among Hawaiians themselves.

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The State of Hawaiʻi – Part 4: The State without History

This is part four of a series of articles I’ve been drafting for my students in Hawai’i Politics and other courses. Part one deals with rail and other issues andpart two with race and the Democratic machine. The third installment looked at the psychology of development. This fourth installment examines the problems with the transmission of history in books and schools.

In the recently-published book Captive Paradise by James L. Haley, the author essentially brags that he consulted no Hawaiian historians or Hawaiian language sources because doing so would simply be “political correctness.” He claims that English language sources are adequate.

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An independent scholar published by St. Martin’s press (a major publishing house), Haley launched another assault on Hawaiʻi’s history from outside, along with Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom. Lost Kingdom was not as blatantly anti-historiography, but contained mistakes, which the author admitted (confusing Liholiho and Alexander Liholiho). One problem was that after four years of research, the author and her research assistant failed to even come across the argument that Hawaiʻi was illegally annexed. It makes one wonder what universe they live in (certainly not the umiverse;). As Makana Risser Chai wrote on Amazon and the umiverse in her review of Siler’s book:

The author gives two sentences to the petitions against annexation sent by tens of thousands of Hawaiians. She makes no mention that as a result of this and other opposition, the treaty of annexation was defeated on February 27, 1898, when only 46 senators voted in favor. She states (284), “a joint resolution on annexation passed Congress with a simple majority,” without noting that annexation, under the U. S. Constitution, cannot take place by resolution. It was a procedural move by Republicans who could not get the two-thirds majority they needed for a treaty.

The worst failing of this book is that it makes the fascinating history of Hawai`i a dry, boring read. If you want to read an accurate, entertaining introduction to this particular part of Hawaiian history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes.

Locally, things are not much better, as I’ve repeatedly written. Think of the process of becoming a Hawaiian history teacher in the public schools: you have to pass the Praxis test, which is 40% history (no Hawaiian history) and 60% a wide variety of other social sciences. The chances that someone will know all this and have a deep understanding of Hawaiian history is quite unlikely, though by no means impossible. At the very least, it would take time – a lot of it. And given that the average teacher leaves the profession within five years, those left with a deep understanding of Hawaiian history are quite rare indeed. According to a DOE teacher I know who reviewed the new version of their textbook, the book reflects little, or none of the scholarship from the past 25 years.

This trickles up to politicians with very little understanding of Hawaiʻi’s history. For this reason I support the effort to train politicians in Hawaiian culture. I’ve also suggested to historians that a committee be formed that would give a stamp of credibility to works on Hawaiian history. This would be voluntary, but not  having the stamp could eventually throw such works into question

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