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.