Tag Archives: Hawaiʻi

The Best Films about Hawaiʻi

I show my students the 1966 film Hawaii, based on James Michener’s book, partly so that we can deconstruct it. Students can see that it demeans Hawaiian culture, but then I ask them if things are any better today. Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture continue to be misrepresented in mainstream media. Exhibit A: Aloha the film about how everyone in Hawaiʻi is white (except Bumpy). I reviewed The Descendents and Princess Kaʻiulani when they were released. There isnʻt exactly a deep reservoir of films to choose from for this list, but as Puhipau and Joan Lander are being honored this week in the ʻOiwi Film Festival, here are some gems of the Hawaiian silver screen:

A Mau a Mau: While some may dispute John Kaʻimikaua’s oral histories, it’s hard to deny the quality of the filmmaking. Nalani Minton’s film captures the Hawaiian sense of connection with the most subtle aspects of the natural world: the wind, the sea, the sea spray.

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Hoʻokūʻikahi: To Unify as One – This telling of the events of Puʻukoholā heiau, both historically and today (beginning with the 1991 ceremony of rekindling the ties between Kaʻu and Kohala after 200 years of bitterness) is one of the films that shows Hawaiian culture as living and vibrant – not museum culture. John Keola Lake says in the film: “we don’t want to use [Puʻukoholā] as a memorial, let’s use it as a living place.”

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Puʻukoholā heiau (photo: wikimedia commons)

O Hawaiʻi: Of Hawaiʻi from Settlement to Unification – an invaluable curriculum resource for teaching traditional Hawaiian society, Iʻm not sure whether the film was ever released on DVD. Tom Coffman’s film shows the renewal of the field of Hawaiian history itself  (with the help of archaeology and linguistics), from something static, relegated to “the mists of time” to a vibrant, dynamic era, full of change.

Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation – What is there to say about what is almost certainly the most watched film on Hawaiian history, it is also the only film Iʻm aware of that has a footnoted script!

Stolen Waters – While Puhipau and Joan Lander were clearly on the side of Windward farmers (as the title implies), they do a fine job of showing the arguments of the Leeward (Big 5) interests and their pawns. Another version, Kalo Paʻa o Waiahole, can be use alternately to emphasize the hearings or the more esoteric meaning of wai for Hawaiians.

Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaiʻi – Keala Kelly attempted something very difficult with her film; to have a story without a narrator. The characters, interviewees and events themselves tell the story, and few films are more brutally powerful. While not as aesthetic as the first two films in this list, Noho Hewa is nevertheless a must see (leave the kids at home).

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On Ownership

This post is part of the continuing “On” series: others include On Capitalism, On Freedom, On Constitutionalism and On Privilege.

In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gecko – famous for the line that defined the 80s, “greed is good” – relates the secret of his success: “I own stuff.”

By acquiring ownership of appreciating assets, investors buy low and sell high, and real estate is a prime example of this. But as Iʻve come to own property, it has begun to dawn on me that one never really owns anything. There are many ways that a property can be foreclosed on, beyond simply failing to pay the “mortgage” (you actually pay the loan, the mortgage is the contract allowing foreclosure): failure to pay taxes (a tax lien), failure to pay maintenance fees, failure to pay any “mechanic” who does work on your house (a mechanic’s lien). Taxes in some high-value areas can be in the thousands per month, so even if you own your property free and clear, the cost of living there can be prohibitive, as much as a “mortgage.” Further, you donʻt really own property at the most fundamental level. The legal concept of “dominium” means that the sovereign owns all property at a level “beneath” your “ownership” – what you have is actually a bundle of protected rights to the property: the right to use and enjoy, exclude others, etc. (though this last right is abridged in Hawaiʻi due to Native Tenant Rights).

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At a conference on occupation at Cornell last May (my attendance was due to this article I wrote for The Nation), we looked at the term from various perspectives, including the simple occupation of land

As I write this, Hawaiʻi is in crisis. The basic necessity of a roof over oneʻs head is one of the most difficult “commodities” to afford, and hereʻs the thing: many of us are responsible for this state of affairs. Homeowners benefit from raises in housing prices, and have a vested interest in the continuation of this state of constant increase – that is, as individuals. Even this benefit is, in a sense, short term. When you sell your high priced property, you have to buy back in to an inflated market. Also, housing becomes much more expensive for your children, who youʻre trying to help get along in the world. It becomes a form of generational warfare. The situation is so extreme, that even renting is becoming a difficult proposition for many – credit checks, first and last monthʻs rent and/or deposits can make renting something only for the very well-off. (If you had great credit wouldn’t you be buying instead of renting?). According to an article in Civil Beat, thirty percent of renters are spending half of their income or more on rent, making them very vulnerable to shocks, like divorce, death in the family or medical problems.  Add this to the fact that most Americans donʻt have $1000 for emergency expenses, and the situation is dire indeed.

Ironically, some long-term studies show that property, when adjusted for inflation, has not had real increases in a century. Any exceptions to this are bubbles. So are we in the midst of a very protracted bubble? If so, we may want to change our long-term approach to wealth management. I wrote earlier that the wealthy are beginning to thinking about access rather than ownership, an this has begun to trickle toward the middle class and working poor. We need to begin to question the very fundamental assumption that the market is the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources, like real estate. There are some small moves in this direction: Kamehameha Schools (normally a very aggressive developer) is developing its Oʻahu North Shore lands in a way that takes some other factors into account. Priority for a new development in Haleʻiwa will be given to local (that is, North Shore, and often Hawaiian) families who fall into the “gap group” – imagine a teacher married to a fireman. They arenʻt in lucrative positions, but are a stable bet to pay their loan and stay in their house for decades, rather than sell at the first uptick in prices.

Perhaps we should try to return to traditional Hawaiian ways of thinking about ownership. According to a source I cite in my dissertation, Hawaiians had very few possessions. A man, for instance would own only a handful of items related to his trade. So the idea that one could own land was certainly foreign – even chiefs didnʻt own land – they controlled it for a period of time, until the next kālaiʻāina (land division).

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Means and Ends: Process and Results Orientation

With the Naʻi Aupuni convention under way, different styles of negotiating are being brought to light. Professor Williamson Chang wrote a public grievance against one participant who he saw as being obstructionist and belligerent. I heard that the group adopted, and insisted on, Robert’s Rules of Order (I happen know that Pokā Laenui, a participant, is a strong advocate). But the “debates” in the movement, and even more tellingly – their after effects, have often been focused on outcomes at the expense of process.

The very fact that Naʻi Aupuni is meeting at all is the outcome of a results orientation. The US Supreme Court (whose jurisdiction the organizers accept!) enjoined the election pending review. Following the letter of the law, rather than its spirit, Naʻi Aupuni organizers simply sidestepped the ruling and cancelled the election but continued with the convention.

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Which mode Hawaiians should adopt and encourage comes down to one question: Do you believe in democracy? Even though the Hawaiian Kingdom was an emerging democracy, not all Hawaiians in either the independence or Fed Rec movement do. But many more claim to believe in democracy, while being unwilling to tolerate its slowness, and tendency to produce compromises-that is to say, compromised results. The current Republican style of “all out war” – against Obama, Democrats, and it seems, sanity – does not serve as an inspiring example.

But a simple question faces us: do we want our way, or an outcome that everyone involved can live with?

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Public Schools that Work: Discussion with Amy Perruso, Part 2

I had been thinking about writing on public schools, particularly the ones that just seem to work. This got me thinking of doing a second discussion with Amy Perruso. Originally from Southern California, she is a graduate of USC. She is Social Studies department head at Mililani High School and has a Ph.D. in Political Science. She was recently elected as the Treasurer of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association (HSTA) on a progressive slate that is seen as a kind of upheaval that could lead to radical changes in the direction of the union. She is an award-winning teacher, recipient of awards from Walmart and the Hawai’i Council for Humanities History Teacher of the Year in 2012. Her students perform at a national level in History Day, Mock Trial and We the People, all of which are social studies civics and history competitions. She has taught, among other things, AP US History, Modern Hawaiian History and Participation in Democracy. We had a second chat on what works (and doesnʻt work) for public schools. You can read Part 1 of our discussion here.
UPDATE: Since this interview, Amy Perruso declared her candidacy as a progressive Democrat for the state legislature in District 19.
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Umi Perkins (UP): One thing thatʻs so strange about Hawaiʻi is that you can pay $1 million or much more for a house, and end up in a bad school district. On the “mainland” what youʻre paying for, often, is precisely the schools in the district. In Hawaiʻi, there are good public schools in moderate income communities. From what I can tell, Mililani High School is very successful across a range of academic measures, as well as athletic and scholastic competitions – you appear to be good at everything. Moanalua High School is similar, and both districts, which are moderate to middle income, are solid from elementary through high school. How do you account for this success, such as it is?
Amy Perruso (AP): I think there is a direct correlation between the relative success of the students in Mililani and their socio-economic status of their families. Not only did higher ‘original’ test scores when NCLB first rolled out buffer our Mililani schools from the most draconian measures for a long time, but those buffers (protection from intrusion of privatizing corporations like Edison, imposed mandated curricula, and hyper-control of teachers that pushed the most experienced and professional out of the classroom) continued to allow for exciting, interesting and student-centered approached to learning, focusing on inquiry and interdisciplinary exploration. This began to disappear even for us with Race to the Top. Any signs of academic excellence you now see are either echoes from the past or tightly tied to the corporatist neoliberal agenda.
UP: But that doesnʻt explain the relative mediocrity of other schools in affluent districts…
AP: I see your question. It is interesting and has everything to do with the ways in which public education is funded in Hawaii. We are funded not by property tax but primarily by General Excise Tax (GET). This a direct result of a historical refusal on the part of the socio-economic elite in Hawaii, beginning with plantation owners, to allow property taxes to be used for education of workers. In Hawaii, we have a radically segregated education system (public v. private), divided both along class and ethnic/racial lines. The public schools educate primarily the children of the ordinary worker, while private schools have flourished by appealing to more affluent families, especially in urban areas like Honolulu. Did you know that almost 40% of all school age children in Honolulu attend private school? From my perspective, children are the most important element of a school, and public schools in places like Honolulu are being robbed of a huge chunk of the children whose families are most focused on and supportive of education. We do not struggle with that problem as much in Mililani in part because of geographical distance from private schools.
UP: One more question (and itʻs admittedly a hard one): what do you see as the biggest challenge in Hawaiʻi public education and the best solution to this problem?
AP: I think that the most important problem facing public education is that we have unfortunately adopted of a model of educational reform that has been clearly debunked by international research. We need to move away, as rapidly as possible, from the model instantiated by NCLB, that is, a model based on competitive ranking, standardization, test-based accountability, deprofessionalization of teaching, and privatization. I agree with Pasi Salberg and other international advocates of progressive education who argue for investment in equity (not just excellence), collaboration and teams, time for play and creativity, existing and available innovation, and creating a culture that encourages resilience by celebrating the importance of risk-taking and failure. I think in Hawaii that means we have to do something we have never done before, and that is to fundamentally and systemically challenge the injustice of how young people in Hawaii’s public schools are being treated and educated, as if they don’t deserve the kind of education afforded to private school students.

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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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Reconciliation revisited

What I would have said at the Hoʻokuʻikahi Reconciliation service on Jan. 17 if I’d had more time:

The great psychologist Carl Jung said:

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything to avoid facing their souls.

I noted in my talk at St. Andrew’s Cathedral that it felt strange at first to be addressing a topic as seemingly secular as sovereignty in that space. But I soon realized that reconciliation isnʻt secular at all – it is about consciousness. Reconciliation is about consciousness because it requires the taking on and consideration of other perspectives. This taking on of new perspectives, according to Integral theorist Ken Wilber, is the very definition of “cognitive,” which is why much of the anti-intellectualism that runs through the spiritual movement is misplaced.

When organizing the service, Kahu Dr. Kaleo Patterson used a phrase that caught my attention: “mindful nationalism.” It caught my attention because Iʻve always found the use of the term nationalism in the Hawaiian movement somewhat alarming. People who are familiar, or who can remember the horrors of the nationalist movements of the early- and mid-twentieth century would find the term even more alarming. So the descriptor “mindful” is absolutely crucial here – it makes clear that ours will not be the mindless nationalism of so many independence and regime changing movements. It sets into the record that we will not use easy lines of division to exclude people from the nation that is being built here (even OHA uses the term nation-building), or perhaps restored.

The consciousness required of such a mindful nationalism requires development: conscious(ness) change over time. Developmental psychology shows that people, given a reasonably healthy social environment, develop (or “evolve”) over time in predictable ways that begin to include larger and larger groups into their “circle of self.” The prevailing mode in the social sciences and humanities – postmodernism – deconstructs hierarchies, and being sequential, development could be considered a hierarchy. This “flattening” of the social landscape creates what Robert Bly has called the “sibling society” – a society in which everyone is on the same level. Without parents, there is no agreement in such a society that some people, over time, gain true wisdom. Our culture’s obsession with youthful bodies has as its parallel an obsession with youthful (immature) consciousness. Witness reality TV, in which self-serving avarice is considered a virtue.

Partly because of this flattening, both sides of the political spectrum have become materialistic, but in different ways. Thought it claims to be spiritual, and likely is (in its own strange way) the right is pretty literally materialistic: it is the party of business, and its God wants you to be rich (this explains why the US is the only developed country that is both wealthy and religious). The left is materialistic in a different way: there is a Marxist thread throughout it that sees historical materialism as a driving force of history. The material history of class struggle is  history itself. “History is the history of class struggle,” as Marx put it.

Because both sides are materialistic, progressive communities of faith are quite rare (religious but not materialistic in either of the ways described above). This is why, in my opinion, they comprise the majority of the small group of people occupying the “higher” levels of consciousness which we would all strive to reach, if only we knew they existed. In other words, science and modernity itself can put up obstacles to development. (This is not true in all cases, in fact, most of the notable quantum physicists were mystics).

When one can be driven by both the naʻau (literally “gut”, intuition) and the naʻauao (intelligence, enlightened consciousness), it is a profound state for effective decision-making and eventual reconciliation.

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My article in The Nation – the original

There were several versions, but you may be able to see the difference between the final version and this one below: The Nation edited it to be more colloquial (I wasnʻt too happy about that) but also had one of the most rigorous fact checking regimens of any US publication (that was good). I didnʻt have many “wrong” points, but had to “tone down” some of the language from this original. Also, some had to be cut for their (restrictive for this topic) 1000-word limit. But The Nation is the oldest weekly newsmagazine in the US. Founded in 1865, it is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year (2015). It is also the most important media outlet of the left, and I was quite proud to write for them. You should see some significant differences in turns of phrase and the way data is presented.

On June 24th, in the conference room of the Hawaiʻi State Capitol in Honolulu, Native Hawaiians gathered for the first of several hearings held by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) throughout the Hawaiian Islands as well as on the U.S. continent. The hearings were held to ask Native Hawaiians for input on the formation of a Federally recognized nation. Surprisingly, after decades of endeavoring to achieve such a status, the overwhelming response to the panel of DOI officials was “aʻole” – no. At the Honolulu hearing, Political Science Professor Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua questioned the “reestablishing of a relationship” between the Federal government and the Native Hawaiian community, when no relationship existed other than the treaty relationships with the Hawaiian Kingdom. She asked DOI to recognize that “you are on our land,” proposed “free, prior and informed consent” and neutral international monitoring. Several speakers also reminded DOI that Hawaiʻi was previously a neutral, multi-ethnic country, and stated that the descendants of its non-native citizens were now being disenfranchised. Between two and five percent at all the hearings spoke in favor, including Hawaiian Roll Commissioner Naʻalehu Anthony, who said he did not want to pass the struggle on to his son after watching three generations fight for Hawaiian rights.

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Mainstream media coverage focused on tone, rather than content and missed the real story, which was that a shift in Hawaiian political will and a consensus had emerged over the proper route to sovereignty. In a community known for its divisiveness, this shift was quite stunning. Under the radar, a new view of Hawaiian history had taken hold, one in which debates over the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown in 1893, were at the center.

Unified in 1810 by King Kamehameha I, Hawaiʻi was recognized internationally as a sovereign, independent country beginning in 1843. Fifty years later, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi had treaties with nearly all the sovereign states in existence, including five with the US. In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by sugar businessmen backed a company of US Marines. President Cleveland called this unauthorized intervention an “act of war,” withdrew the proposed annexation treaty and agreed to reinstate Liliʻuokalani. On Feb February 9th, 1893, The Nation wrote, “We could not by annexation at the moment gain anything which we do not now possess.” A standoff between the President and Congress over the question of annexation prevented any action for five years.

When William McKinley took office in 1897, he attempted a second treaty, but this failed in the Senate, in part because of petitions opposing annexation. When the Spanish-American war broke out the following year, McKinley and annexationists in Congress led by Alabama Senator (and Ku Klux Klan “Dragon”) John Tyler Morgan decided, in the words of Congressman Thomas Ball of Texas, “to do unlawfully that which can not be done lawfully.” In 1898 they purported to annex Hawaiʻi via Joint Resolution. While the Congress issued a formal apology to the Hawaiian people in 1993 “for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States,” it is the subsequent annexation by resolution that lies at the heart of the current drama.

Those who accept that Hawaiʻi was annexed, legally or not, have pursued a course of Federal recognition leading to a limited form of “sovereignty.” This view is epitomized by former Governor John Waiheʻe, who said at the University of Hawaiʻi that one “would have to be illiterate” not to recognize the illegality of annexation, but questions how such a position would benefit Hawaiians. Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Trustee Oswald Stender said more bluntly, on film, that Hawaiʻi was illegally annexed, but “so what?” The “domestic” approach to sovereignty first took form in the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act – the so-called “Akaka Bill” – named after its sponsor, the Native Hawaiian Senator Daniel Akaka. The bill circulated through Congress for twelve years before expiring with its sponsor’s retirement and the death of senior Senator Daniel Inouye in 2012. A new approach was devised in which the Department of Interior would propose “rule-making” changes that would allow Hawaiians to join the more than five hundred native nations already in existence. Fitting Hawaiians’ unique history into the template for Federal recognition has been a persistent challenge for advocates of this approach.

Others, taking the law at face value, find that if annexation was illegal, it is tantamount to saying that it did not occur at all. As a mere domestic instrument, a resolution, it is argued, cannot have effect in foreign territory. This means Hawaiʻi is under a prolonged military occupation, albeit one that the United States has not yet admitted to. The independence view was buoyed by a case in the International Court of Arbitration involving Hawaiʻi as an independent country. Hawaiʻi will also be listed in the 2013 War Report, a catalog of contemporary international conflicts published in Geneva, Switzerland, as an occupied state. The independence camp was given a further lift when in May, OHA CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking for “advisement” on possible breaches of international law stemming from OHA support of Federal Recognition. Unsurprisingly, the letter caused uproar on one side and prompted petitions of support on the other.

At its root, the conflict between supporters of independence and Federal recognition stems from divergent beliefs about law and power. Independence advocates view the international law and specifically the law of occupation as safeguards against the continuation of an illegally constituted, and essentially occupying, government – the State of Hawaiʻi. They call not for decolonization, but deoccupation, as was done in the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. Federal recognition supporters are sometimes beneficiaries of Hawaiian “entitlements” such as the Federal Hawaiian Home Lands homesteading program or are U.S. military veterans, and argue that the United States would never allow a withdrawal regardless of Hawaiʻi’s legal status internationally. These views and the paths they imply appear to be mutually exclusive, making reconciliation difficult. Some suggest that a further reexamination of Hawaiʻi’s widely misunderstood history is implicated as the only route to any kind of reconciliation.

ʻUmi Perkins teaches Hawaiian history at the Kamehameha Schools and Political Science in the University of Hawaiʻi system.

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