Tag Archives: OHA

The Race for Nationhood

There’s something happening here.

What it is ain’t exactly clear. 

Buffalo Springfield

I began to notice a little over a year ago that there was a kind of “race” on for nationhood – that is, for the kind of nation we as Hawaiians would be(come). At that time I was beginning to hear the whispers of a new strategy, post-Akaka and Inouye, for Federal Recognition through the executive branch. This was a race in itself, as Obama’s term was seen as the deadline for any action on Federal Recognition (although as the spouse of the signer of the Apology Resolution, HIlary Clinton may hold out hope for Fed Rec). But I also noticed an uptick in progress on the independence front, mainly in the work led by Keanu Sai. And it is this race between these two mutually exclusive forms of sovereignty that I focus on in this post.

This week, we hear of major developments on both fronts. This came from OHA in a joint statement by Board chair Collette Machado and CEO Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, ostensibly showing their unified stance after Crabbe’s memo to the State Department that seemed to indicate a preference for independence:

OHA’s top leadership also applauded the Obama Administration for reaffirming the special political relationship between the federal government and the Native Hawaiian people. The federal government is considering whether to take administrative action on reestablishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.
 “For decades, OHA and other Native Hawaiian organizations and individuals have advocated for the creation of a pathway to reestablish a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States, and to protect existing Hawaiian rights, programs, and resources,” said Machado and Crabbe.
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“Prerule” on Dept. of Interior action facilitating “government-to-government” status for the Hawaiian “community” (via Trisha Kehau Watson)

On the independence front, we hear that the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law will list Hawaiʻi in its War Report for 2013 as an occupied state (state is used here as in “nation-state” or country). The 2012 War Report listed nine “belligerent occupations,” i.e., occupations by warring states. Hawaiʻi is considered in this view as being occupied belligerently because it was a neutral country being pulled into the Spanish-American War in 1898. Other occupations in 2012 included:
Azerbaijan by Armenia; Cyprus by Turkey; Eritrea by Ethiopia; Georgia by Russia; Lebanon by Israel; Moldova by Russia; Palestine by Israel; Syria by Israel; and Western Sahara by Morocco (hawaiiankingdom.org/blog).
While a seemingly academic report, because the Academy is based in Geneva, it will certainly be read by United Nations officials, and thus has the potential to change the dialog on Hawaiʻi’s status. The video discusses the 2012 Report, but is instructive in terms of the agenda (or lack thereof) of its assemblers.
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It is possible that the Obama Administration’s sudden interest stems from the growing knowledge of the idea of occupation, and possibly even from the report itself. It is in this sense that I use the term “race” – a (probably unwitting) contest between two mutually exclusive approaches to nationhood, the stakes of which could well leave a permanent mark on the direction of Hawaiʻi’s status under national and international law.
The War Report is available from Oxford University Press for £39.99.

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Filed under Globalization, Mooolelo, sovereignty, Uncategorized


This is a short piece on Kanaʻiolowalu that I was asked by students to write. Iʻve begun updating and expanding it (I had a restrictive word limit) for a more knowledgable audience – the original was much more neutral.

Former Governor John Waiheʻe III and commissioner Naʻalehu Anthony came to Kamehameha last month to encourage students to sign up for Kanaʻiolowalu if they turn 18 years old by February, 2014. This process has its opponents, but what’s confusing about this is that the opposing view undermines all of the assumptions upon which Kanaʻiolowalu is based. So what are these underlying issues? And what is Kanaʻiolowalu really about?

First: the name. Naʻi means to conquer, but Olowalu, while it may refer to “a sound similar to that of waves lapping up on the shore that is lined with pebbles; that rustling sound of the movement of the water through the many pebbles,” it also refers to a well-known site on Maui where a famous massacre took place (the FAQ section of the organization’s website does not mention this). The massacre, in which Captain Metcalf slaughtered about 50 innocent Hawaiians outside Lahaina, was known as “the spilled brains” (Kamakau, 1992). For this reason, the choice of the name Kanaʻiolowalu is very strange indeed.

Second: the process. Kanaʻiolowalu, a project of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, is just the latest version of a roll leading to a constitutional convention (remember Hā Hawaiʻi?), such as those taken of Native American tribal nations during the organization of tribes into federally-recognized nations. When the Cherokee leaders initiated their roll process, by the way, they were aware they were committing treason.

A page of the Cherokee roll – many non-Cherokee signed, while some Cherokee abstained.

Simply put, the process would create an electorate that would vote for delegates to a constitutional convention for a “Hawaiian nation.” The unknown factor at this point is whether this Hawaiian nation would be federally recognized, independent, or merely recognized by the State of Hawaiʻi.

Kanaʻiolowalu was created by Act 195 of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, which provides that “the Native Hawaiian people are hereby recognized as the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawai‘i.” This is only recognition by the State of Hawaiʻi, not Federal recognition. According to some, State recognition can be used as a basis for later Federal recognition. By amending State law, after a year and $10 million of OHA money, Kanaʻiolowalu was able to fold the names from the Kau Inoa drive into their list, pushing the total names from about 13,000 to 107,000. A few have opted off the list, since Kau Inoa had an ostensibly different purpose from Kanaʻiolowalu. Reopening the list added another 10,000, bringing the total close to 120,000.

The development of a fully-sovereign, independent government through this process is highly unlikely, if not impossible. If for no other reason, it is nearly impossible simply because the process itself recognizes American jurisdiction over Hawaiʻi. It all comes down to the question of annexation – this is the primary assumption about which there is disagreement. If annexation in 1898 was illegal, as many Hawaiians claim it was, then the State of Hawaiʻi cannot facilitate a process of “sovereignty,” since its very existence is the problem that blocks sovereignty. [See my debate with Civil Beat journalist Ian Lind for more details]. This may sound extreme to some, but the 1993 Federal Apology Resolution stated that “the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States.” On the other hand, if annexation was legal, then there is no basis for independence except through international law – not State or Federal law.

There are no models for a “State-within-a-state,” so it is difficult to imagine what this government would look like. Federal recognition will not come through the Akaka Bill – not because Akaka resigned from the US Senate, but because Senator Inouye is not there to shepherd the bill along. There is some talk of Federal recognition being achieved directly through the executive branch. This process has been used by some Native American tribes (perhaps the majority), but there seems to be a hiatus on this method. Part of the problem here is that of defining Hawaiians as a people within a Native American framework. Senator Inouye said once at an Akaka Bill hearing, completely out of any historical context, that “it is interesting to note that when Captain Cook arrived in Hawaiʻi, he called the Hawaiians ʻIndians.'”

Another issue that needs to be resolved is whether non-participation in Kanaʻiolowalu permanently disqualifies those who opt out and all their descendants, as was the case for Cherokee. Whether one believes in the process or not, it is hard to deny that, if successful, the governing entity it creates will have access to resources. Scholarships, loans and lands are potentially at stake, whether the governing entity is “legitimately” created or not. We were then confronted with the “warning” from OHA, as Trisha Kehaulani Watson pointed out in December, a public notice of theirs stated:

Native Hawaiians who choose not to be included on the official roll risk waiving their right, and the right of their children and descendents to be legally and politically acknowledged as Native Hawaiians and to participate in a future convention to reorganize the Hawaiian nation … and as a result may also be excluded from being granted rights of inclusion (citizenship), rights of participation (voting) and rights to potential benefits that may come with citizenship (e.g., land use rights, monetary payments, scholarship, etc.).

This is a serious flaw, and very likely a human rights violation. As the activist Laulani Teale pointed out to me, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 15 that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.” This is precisely what the Kanaʻiolowalu process does.

 In essence, Kanaʻiolowalu is being portrayed as simply a voter registration drive. But the issues underlying it are serious as they deal with Hawaiʻi’s political status.  All of these questions concern our understandings and interpretations of Hawaiian history, and it is there that the answers lie. Do not assume that leaders know more of the history than you do – many know less. It is up to each one of us to grapple with these questions ourselves and reach conclusions on our own terms.


Filed under sovereignty, Uncategorized

The OHA Ceded Lands Settlement

After decades of “negotiations,” OHA and the State have reached an agreement over the revenue from the so-called “Ceded lands.” (See my article from the Hawaiʻi Independent: Making Sense of the Ceded Lands: An Historical Assessment for an overview of these lands). There are a couple of ways to look at this settlement – one “inside” and one “outside.” Jon Osorio alluded to this in his article anticipating the settlement. An inside view looks at it from the perspective of OHA and other state insiders. From this perspective, the settlement has potential. The $200 million value of the lands may underestimate the potential value of these lands, as they are downtown and waterfront. It settles a long-standing claim for Hawaiians without affecting future claims, either to further revenue or to sovereignty itself (this is Abercrombie in his liberal mode – an article in a Big Issand newspaper questions which Abercrombie weʻre seeing at different moments). $200 million increases OHAs net worth by approximately 50% (a little more actually). Itʻs been said that OHA is now being forced into the role of land manager, but that began years ago with the acquisitions of Waimea Valley and Waokeleopuna on Hawaiʻi Island, a fact that seems to have been left out of the discourse surrounding this settlement. In my view, OHA, as the de facto (if not de jure) Hawaiian government should have land as a primary asset – after all, to be Hawaiian is to be of this land. While more radical Hawaiians make very valid arguments as to OHAʻs authority, and the fact that this is a transfer, basically, from the state to itself, the mainstream Hawaiians are moving ahead. In their view these are real gains for Hawaiians.

However, there is another view, which Iʻm calling “outside” only in the sense that most of those who hold them are outside of the corridors of power. In this view, OHAʻs legitimacy is undermined not just by the illegality of the overthrow itself, but of the US governmentʻs own recognition of this illegality. Some point out that the lands granted are, first of all, backfill. They are not a part of the original island of Oʻahu. One not-too-radical group called it “a dump.” Even Richard Fassler noted the environmental problems with the site, the costs of cleanup, and how the state is likely glad to be rid of it.

The bigger issue for outsiders is the giving up of the claim itself. Claims are always a tricky matter. In New Zealand, for instance, the question has arisen as to whether the settlement of claims ever actually satisfies the claim. Many Maori say claims are never fully satisfied. And that may be the case here – certainly it is the case for future claims, but considering that Hawaiʻi Courts already awarded OHA billions in revenue (which was never paid), it is hard to argue that $200 million settles it. It is, as with many such things, not least the Akaka Bill, better than nothing. And nothing is what Hawaiians have had for decades (under the Democrats, it should be noted) – nothing but a claim.


Filed under Uncategorized