Local man Riki Pestana-Torres has been trying to find hope in what he considers dark days for Hawaiians. He has been protesting for Hawaiian sovereignty since the late 1960s. Maui residents may be familiar with his decked out truck, displaying the words “In Loving Memory of Old Hawaii Nei, Destroyed by The American Dream” and a long pole sticking atop with the Hawaiian flag wavering upon it…upside down; the international maritime signal of distress. With the Dalai Lama in town, one might see impetus to take advantage of the attention to issues such as peace and compassion and making things “pono” (making things right).
Despite the logistical challenges of staging the blessing of the stupa shrine with hundreds of guests at the Dharma Center‘s tiny premises, the event flowed seamlessly, infused by the guest of honor’s calmness. -The Maui News
Riki, like thousands of others not only from Hawai’i but from around the world, congregated to hear the Dalai Lama speak while he was in Maui this April. So it seemed ironic that during the ceremony for the new Pa’ia Peace Stupa (a smaller gathering than the one to occur later that and the following day at the War Memorial Stadium), Riki was told by police officers present that he had to move his truck which was legally parked on the street nearby. This wasn’t because he was blocking the event or because cars were not allowed to park there; no one else was told to move. One might presume it was considered an eyesore, antagonistic, or offended someone. Casually decked out in his red surfer shorts and slippers, besides the signage he wasn’t actively protesting anything, and he wasn’t told to leave. But he was told that if he didn’t move the truck, he would be arrested. He moved it about a block down the road, but apparently that wasn’t far enough and was told again that he needed to move it. Though an ardent activist, he complied. “I used to get arrested all the time,” Riki stated while showing off his beautiful young son, “I can’t afford to anymore.” In the end he moved his truck all the way down the road. While the situation in Hawai’i is different from what happened in Tibet, there are some similarities: of a people losing by force the control of their homeland; a people still hoping for peaceful resolution.
Though Chinese historians insist it began in the 1200s with the incorporation of Tibet into the Mongolian Empire, it wasn’t until 1904, when a British led Indian military force took Lhasa, that China made its first clear statement that it was sovereign over Tibet. Through British intervention and occupation (mostly designed to monitor Russian influence), both Britain and Russia eventually agreed to allow China to negotiate on Tibet’s behalf. Taking advantage of a Chinese revolution, Tibetans attacked a Garrison stationed there, forcing Chinese officials to sign the “Three Point Agreement” which enacted their surrender and expulsion. The Dalai Lama at that time condemned the Chinese intention “of colonizing Tibet under the patron-priest relationship” and declared, “We are a small, religious, and independent nation.” Tibet and Mongolia are said to have signed a treaty in 1913 recognizing each other’s independence; however there is no documentation of this. After much fluctuations between efforts to control certain territories, distraction on the part of China because of civil war and then the anti-Japanese War, China -though not maintaining utter authority- never relinquished their claims. Tibet established a Foreign Office in 1942 and in 1946 sent congratulatory messages to China and India regarding the end of World War II. The mission to China was given a letter addressed to the Chinese President stating, “We shall continue to maintain the independence of Tibet as a nation ruled by the successive Dalai Lamas through an authentic religious-political rule.”
Doubtful that proclamation sat well with the Chinese, when the Communist Chinese government came into power it wasted little time before asserting its authority. After the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet, crushing resistance by an ill-equipped Tibetan army, the Tibetan resistant movement began. In 1956 open fighting broke out, and with rebellion largely sponsored by the CIA there were successes, until rebels were forced to retreat into Naples. This inevitably led, in 1959, to the flight of the Dalai Lama and some 80,000 refugees to neighboring countries with some claiming upwards of 87,000 Tibetans slaughtered; over 6000 monasteries destroyed. The People’s Republic of China imposed a treaty on the Tibetan Government which declared Tibet to be a part of China, albeit enjoying a “large degree of autonomy”. They claimed Tibet entered into this agreement voluntarily and even went as far as to say that the Dalai Lama, his government and people welcomed it. As documented on the web site http://www.tibet.com:
The facts show a very different story, leading to the conclusion that the so-called “Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” was never validly concluded and was rejected by Tibetans. The Dalai Lama quotes Tibetan Prime Minister Lukhangwa as having stated: ‘It was absurd to refer to the terms of the Seventeen-Point Agreement. Our people did not accept the agreement and the Chinese themselves had repeatedly broken the terms of it. Their army was still in occupation of eastern Tibet; the area had not been returned to the government of Tibet, as it should have been.’ [My Land and My People, Dalai Lama, New York, Fourth Edition, 1992, p.95]“
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that treaties between countries signing them are binding, unless they are imposed by force or a country is coerced into signing the agreement by the threat of force. In which case, China’s claim on Tibet breaks international law. Despite this and occassional protest by foreign governments, all national governments (UN included) recognize China’s sovereignty over Tibet and not the Dalai Lama’s government, the Central Tibetan Administration, in exile in India. The CTA considers China an illegitimate military occupation, and that Tibet is a distinct nation with a long history of independence, an independence which they seek to restore to this day.
“I hea kakou e noho ai?” “Where will we live?” The crowd shouted their answer: “I ka mauna!” “In the mountains!” -James Keauiluna Kaulia, President of Hui Aloha ‘Aina, speaking at an Anti-Annexation Rally in Hawai’i, 1897, warning that annexation would take resources away from the Kanaka Maoli.
When the Dalai Lama spoke, you could sense a longing as he mentioned his exile of already almost 50 years. For Hawaiians, even though they aren’t living in exile, many feel similarly, as they are being slowly forced out by increased costs of living (estimated to be 30-60% higher than the national average, while per capita income is consistently less than the national average). There is despair as we see an end to fishing villages, small family farms, small businesses being replaced by franchises…. In 2005 nationwide study, Hawai’i ranked 47th (bottom of the list) for affordable housing, with the home ownership rate ranked at 48th, indicative of widespread speculative investment. Land and homes that have been in families for generations are being taken away because of inability to pay property taxes as property value assessments soar (despite new tax exemptions which prove inadequate relief for an inconsequential number of qualifying natives). After which, many of these and the new homes built are becoming part of the “second-home market” of more affluent people from elsewhere or to satisfy burgeoning military housing needs (military, including family and retired personnel, equating almost 20% of the population).
Instead of beginning a relationship of domination over the environment, indigenous people have approached the environment from a position of reverence, of equality, of respect and even worship, oftentimes treating the interrelationship with the environment as nothing less than spiritual work of the highest degree. … The use of the word “stewardship”…suggests that man is in charge, he is separate from and superior to that of which he is the steward. In the Hawaiian way, as celebrated in the “Kumulipo,” we are born on the same genealogical line as the sea cucumber, the limu, the starfish, the shark, the dolphin, the whale. We are part of, kin to, the ocean and all of its living partners. Therefore, this relationship requires the same kind of protection and respect that human relations require. -An Introduction to Some Hawaiian Perspectives on the Environment, collected and presented by Poka Laenui, Director of the Institute of the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs
A large source of conflict stems from military control of former crown land and parcels seized during World War II; with their total Hawai’i land use equaling 5%, while on Oahu a daunting 22%! They are continually acquiring more land despite a promised moratorium by the Department of Defense in 1990, and a declaration by Pacific Command in 1995 that it would reduce land holdings in Hawai’i. This does not include the heavy use of air space, noise, and sea presence, particularly sonar in a whale breeding ground. On top of this, they block access to beaches and mountains. The heavily protested Stryker Brigade Combat Team on O’ahu and Hawai’i Island is being called the “biggest army construction project in Hawai’i since WWII” (the plan calls for the acquisition of 1,400 acres of O’ahu and 23,000 acres on the Big Island, and networks of private trails for the 20-ton Stryker vehicles). Operations are commencing despite lawsuits against the Army regarding environmental concerns and for not considering other sites first. The Army’s own impact studies confirm the inevitable destruction of cultural sites and serious impact on the environment due to fire, erosion, and the vehicles themselves – especially on the sacred Mauna Kea. Most of the land the military uses becomes contaminated with toxic chemicals and unexploded ordinance (and returned unusable to the public): from the now uninhabitable island of Kaho’olawe used for 50 years by the Navy for bombing practice (despite the $425 million+ spent for clean up), to the destruction and condemning of leased lands like Makua (which the Army promised to return to the banished residents six months after the war but still hold claim to abuse) and Waikane Valley to name a few. Even fish ponds that were a rich food source are no longer safe to eat from. The 2004 Defense Environmental Restoration Program report to Congress listed 798 military contamination sites at 108 installations in Hawai’i. Besides unexploded ordinances, the hazards left behind include: petroleum products, dioxins, PCBs, explosives, propellants, lead, mercury, napalm, radioactive waste like Cobalt 60 from nuclear-powered ships, and other toxins dumped into the waters, such as the almost 5 million gallons of low-level radioactive waste discharged into Pearl Harbor between 1964 and 1978 and, as admitted in disclosed military records, 8,000 steel drums containing chemical munitions including the blistering agents mustard gas and lewisite in the shallow seas off O’ahu (burning fisherman unfortunate enough to raise this toxic catch). The military repeatedly denied any use of “depleted uranium” until recently, when activists forced the Army to admit to its presence. Native ecosystems and critically endangered species (of which Hawai’i has more than any other state) are continuously threatened. Construction over the preservation of cultural sites is common. Hotels and big businesses get away with building on burial grounds, digging up bones, often without permission, some even working at night to avoid disclosure, accepting fines instead of delaying building and complying to Hawaiian’s wishes and religious beliefs (removing the iwi -skeletal remains- from their kula’iwi -homeland- is to remove them from the place where their mana was meant to flow into the ‘aina. It is considered kapu, forbidden, and causes the mana, power, of the kupuna, elders, to become lost to their decedents when removed).
It is estimated 80 to 90 percent of the food consumed in Hawai’i is imported, keeping people dependent instead of self-sufficient. And though famed for its agriculture, many Hawai’i exports can no longer compete with cheaper foods on the mainland and abroad. Former ag lands are left fallow in weeds and jungled cane. Sugarcane mills left abandoned, rusting metal eyesores at river mouths (preferable to filling the ocean with their sludge and water waste run-off killing coral reefs, making inshore waters uninhabitable to some fishes, and for some poor surfing conditions!) – but it seems there is never priority (or requirement) for companies to bring land back to its former state. Much ag land gets lost, due to increased farmland taxes, to the higher profit margin in real estate and development – though incentive proposals being presented this year may prove propitious. Unfortunately other “entities” are taking advantage of this situation. Now concerned residents and farmers are forced to focus energies on halting the introduction of unregulated genetically modified seeds including papaya, taro, tobacco, sugar cane, rice, barley, soybeans…and if they have their way, coffee beans (hmm, even GMO-apathist coffee lovers could be jolted into opposing the potential fiasco of premium Kona coffee farms becoming contaminated with genetically modified decaffeinated coffee beans!) care of the University of Hawai’i, Integrated Coffee Technologies, Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Dupont and other businesses expecting big profits. These “researchers” claim victories and accept awards, as with the case of papayas and the dreaded ring spot virus (which could have been dealt with in other ways), for effectively killing the industry, as price paid for GMO fruit is much less, and many of the farmer’s export markets, including Japan and Europe, want nothing to do with these potentially dangerous foods (seeds) – with their altered protein structures, potential allergens, imprecise technology and unknown health effects (and chance their crops could be inflicted). At the same time, the companies find no shame in suing farmers who are found to have these patented seeds growing on their lands – whether the farmers wanted them or not. With the inadvertent assistance of wind and birds, in an alarmingly short time 50% of all papayas found on the Big Island, for example, are GMO (backyard and farm papaya alike…even the non-GMO seed stock at UH has been found to be contaminated) – with the other Hawai’i islands scrambling to keep that from happening to them. As well scientists alter these seeds to be “Round-up Ready” and encourage heavy pesticide use (which we certainly have enough of here); all this during a growing consumer climate requesting, and paying for, organic produce (GMOs are not organic and could affect a farm’s organic status). Organic farmers incur increased costs to test for GMOs and protect their farms. Seeing the open door to abuse of Hawai’i lands, pharmaceutical companies have no problems introducing pharm corn engineered with yummies like blood-clotting agents, HIV and pig vaccine into this small eco-system (field tests of which were kept under-wraps until a court-ordered disclosure in 2004). Taking advantage of the USDA’s dubious lax in controls, a supportive political climate (mahalo Governor Linda Lingle – she does bring in da money!), isolation from the rest of the world (convenient if something does go terribly wrong), these companies deliberately ignore the unavoidable biotech contamination while enjoying economic perks of Hawai’i's fertile soil and year-round growing cycle.
Natural resources continue to be used to satisfy visitor’s and big business’ needs. As Hawai’i has turned its energies towards being a playground for the rich and vacation destination for tourists it has, for many locals, become too expensive to support their family (as a result, there are now more Hawaiians living outside of Hawai’i). If they do stay, many are finding the only option is to raise their families in their parent’s home. Frustration becomes commonplace as people, stripped of their self-determination, feel lost and unable to fulfill their dreams; while at the same time they must watch their towns grow (construction with a lack of supporting infrastructure), the roads become congested with traffic, and mainlanders seemingly buying up everything around them. The last remaining campgrounds where families could spend time together – surf together, fish together, enjoy the land together – are all becoming new high-end developments, with yet another golf course, and ultimately advertised back to the people as “playgrounds for all” with small fine print including: no dogs, no camping, no fires, no ATVs…and enforced, with security and metal gates, restricting visiting hours and limiting parking (and hey, you may not be able to really enjoy these sacred spots anymore…but you can work for the millionaires who now own them! Great benefits!).
A desperate educational system, coupled with children growing up in hostile home environments as despair becomes overwhelming, leads many to fall to drugs, alcohol, and become dependent on the welfare system. Native Hawaiians reportedly have the worst social, educational, and economic indicators compared to any ethnic group in the U.S. Today, less than 20% of the land is owned by Hawaiians, while approximately 72 landowners control 95% of all the land here. In the Kanaka Maoli cosmology, the land, as a living ancestor, could not be owned, sold or defiled. By taking the land and severing the people’s ties, the ability to practice and teach their culture to future generations becomes disturbed. Forced cultural assimilation further adds to the disconnect. Ultimately, love of the ‘aina, the land, being the basis for all their customs, is where Hawaiians find their power. For them, their deep rooted longing is to have their land, their heritage, their culture, and control of their own destiny once again.
HOW THE HAWAIIANS LOST THEIR LAND IN THE FIRST PLACE
Hawai’i's story of overthrow begins in the late 1800s, during the reign of King Kalakaua. A group of planters and businessmen, wanting to secure economic and political control of the Kingdom of Hawai’i (including favorable treaties regarding sugar, the primary support of the islands), formed a secret organization called the Hawaiian League with 400 predominantly American members (compared to the 40,000 Native Hawaiians). Their original goal was to “reform” the monarchy, though the more radical members proposed the king’s abdication and even assassination. They eventually decided to create a new constitution (Hawaiians had a constitutional monarchy since 1840) seriously limiting the king’s power and, under the threat of force, had Kalakaua sign what became known as the Bayonet Constitution. With the new constitution in place, executive power was in the hands of the cabinet, with laws (including changes in the constitution) in the hands of the legislature. It also conveniently limited voting privileges for the majority of Hawaiian people as you needed to have a minimum amount of property or a high income level (Asians regardless of status or whether they became naturalized citizens were not allowed to vote at all). In turn, of course, it extended voting rights to American European citizens.
The King was a mere figurehead upon his death in 1891, when his sister, Lili’uokalani, took the oath of office as monarch, including swearing to uphold the detested Bayonet Constitution. Not long thereafter she tried to take back the power, and with over 2/3rds of the kingdom’s voters petitioning to replace the Bayonet Constitution, she presented a new constitution, which she had written, to restore her power and rights to the Native Hawaiian people. At that time another group (secret as they were plotting treason), again mostly American businessmen and merchants, called the Annexation Club, were waiting for the moment to dethrone the queen and annex Hawai’i to the United States of America. Paradoxically, they created the “Committee of Safety” and claimed her efforts a revolutionary act, rallying up support for the overthrow of the monarchy. With the help of troop presence from the USS Boston (requested under the guise that American’s needed protection and assured by the American Minister in Hawai’i, John L. Stevens, that he would not protect the Queen), and confusing incidents at the Palace which inevitably allowed the Committee of Safety to enter and take control of the Government Building, in January, 1893, the Queen was deposed.
She yielded her throne under protest, with these words:
“I, Lili’uokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom….to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life, I do, under this protest, and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.“
In order to avoid bloodshed, Hawai’i's sovereignty was temporarily surrendered, not to the revolutionaries but to the “superior force of the United States of America” – with the idyllic notion that the American government would right the wrong and restore her to the throne. The Queen, hoping to avoid riot, instead tried to peacefully, gracefully and intelligently appeal to the United States government for the monarchy and the Hawai’i Nation. With pro-annexation President Benjamin Harrison’s term coming to an end, the new President, Grover Cleveland, withdrew the treaty and sent Honolulu special commissioner James H. Blount, former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to investigate the circumstances of the revolution. The Blount Report concluded that the overthrow of Lili’uokalani was illegal, that the people were against annexation, and ordered the troops back to their ship and the American flag taken down and replaced by the Hawaiian flag. The United States Minister to Hawai’i was recalled from his post and the military commander of the armed forces stationed in Hawai’i was forced to resign. The President offered to give the throne back to the Queen if she granted amnesty to everyone responsible. Though she initially refused, stating she intended them to suffer the punishment of death (which was Hawaiian law for treason), she changed her mind a month later stating she would be satisfied with banishing them from the kingdom forever. With that the new American Minister in Hawai’i, Albert Willis, assured the provisional government of their amnesty and demanded her reinstatement. But the provisional government had no intention of admitting guilt or relinquishing power; dismissing the right of the American president to interfere in their domestic affairs and claiming that they were in no way at fault if the American forces illegally assisted the revolution.
On Dec. 18, 1893, President Cleveland spoke to Congress regarding the situation in Hawai’i:
“This military demonstration upon the soil of Honolulu was of itself an act of war … the existing government, instead of requesting the presence of an armed force, protested against it. … But for the notorious predilections of the United States minister for annexation, the Committee of Safety, which should have been called the Committee of Annexation, would never have existed. … But for the landing of the United States forces upon false pretexts respecting the danger to life and property, the committee would never have exposed themselves to the plans and penalties of treason by undertaking the subversion of the queen’s government. … But for the presence of the United States forces in the immediate vicinity and in position to accord all needed protection and support, the committee would not have proclaimed the provisional government from the steps of the Government Building. … And, finally, but for the lawless occupation of Honolulu under false pretexts by the United States forces, and but for Minister Stevens’ recognition of the provisional government when the United States forces were its sole support and constituted its only military strength, the queen and her government would never have yielded to the provisional government, even for a time and for the sole purpose of submitting her case to the enlightened justice of the United States.
He thus concluded,
“… if a feeble but friendly state is in danger of being robbed of its independence and its sovereignty by a misuse of the name and power of the United States, the United States cannot fail to vindicate its honor and its sense of justice by an earnest effort to make all possible reparation.“
President Cleveland then placed the matter in the hands of Congress. Their response was to administer another investigation, submitting the Morgan Report in early 1894, which managed to exonerate both Minister Stevens and the U.S. troops from any responsibility for the overthrow, and maintained that the Republic of Hawai’i was a legal government and thus entitled under international law to transfer the sovereignty of the Kingdom to the United States. Though many in the Senate disagreed, and the House passed a resolution opposing annexation, it was all in vein. In the end, Congress took no action either to restore the monarchy or to annex Hawai’i. On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawai’i was proclaimed and a white elite businessman (who originally instigated the call to end the monarchy) Sanford B. Dole, became President.
The destiny of Hawaii, situated in the mid-Pacific as she is, should be that of an independent nation and so she would be were it not for the policy of greed which pervades the American Legislators and the spirit of cowardice which is in the breasts of those who first consummated the theft of Hawaiian prestige. -James Kaulia, President of the Hawaiian Patriotic League (Hui Aloha ‘Aina), 1890s
Unwilling to give up, many Hawaiians and other royalists accumulated arms for a counter-revolution to restore the monarchy. In the January 1895 uprising, led by Robert Wilcox, the royalists were forced by government troops to retreat into the valleys behind Honolulu, and after 10 days of fighting, most of them, including Wilcox, were captured. Adding insult to injury, after a search discovered a cache of arms buried in her flower garden, Queen Lili’uokalani was arrested and imprisoned in a room on the second story of `Iolani Palace and allowed no visitors. She was given a document of abdication to sign and it was inferred that if she refused, several of her followers would be shot for treason. Though she would write, “For myself, I would have chosen death rather than to have signed it” the fact was she was still hoping to avoid the bloodshed of her people and was led to believe that by signing it they would be released. But she was lied to and Wilcox and four others were sentenced to death, while many others received long prison terms and heavy fines. Lili’uokalani noted that they were not executed solely because “Word came from the United States that the execution of captive rebels would militate against annexation.” The Queen was charged with misprision of treason – having knowledge of treason and failing to report it – and was tried by a military commission. Though she was found guilty and given the maximum sentence of five years at hard labor and a $5,000 fine, it was not carried out. On New Year’s Day 1896, all the royalist prisoners were freed, while she remained a prisoner under house arrest. After her freedom was restored in late 1896, she went to Washington. The president welcomed her and she expressed her appreciation for his efforts to restore her kingdom’s independence. But as his term was concluding, he could be of no further help. His successor, William McKinley, denied the Queen a meeting. Realizing the state of affairs in Washington, the Queen sent word a petition should be drafted. There was some disagreement within the political Hui’s, hence two different petitions ended up being circulated; 17,000 signatures on the Hui Kalai’aina petition calling for the restoration of the monarchy, and over 21,000 on the Hui Aloha ‘Aina Anti-Annexation Petition (which was the one presented to Congress and still exists today). Though nothing is stated about the possibility of duplicates, Hawaiians claim these petitions include the signatures of nearly all of the 40,000 Hawaiians then alive (down slightly from the 800,000 native Hawaiians only 100 years prior, before the introduction to “diseases of foreign contact”). Even half as many signatures should have been enough to express the people’s desires. Considering their efforts, traveling to each island, collecting signatures from even rural residents, and then raising funds to bring these documents to Washington, it was an impressive feat; that many who were party to this risked their jobs and welfare is rarely noted.
We are weak a people, we Hawaiians, and have no power unless we stand together….The United States is just – a land of liberty. The people there are the friends – the great friends of the weak. Let us tell them – let us show them that as they love their country and would suffer much before giving it up, so do we love our country, our Hawai’i, and pray that they do not take it from us. Our one hope is in standing firm – shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Surely that great country across the ocean must hear our cry. By uniting our voices the sound will be carried on so they must hear us. In this petition, which we offer for your signature today, you, women of Hawai’i, have a chance to speak your mind. The men’s petition will be sent on by the men’s club as soon as the loyal men of Honolulu have signed it. There is nothing underhand, nothing deceitful in our way – our only way – of fighting. Everybody will see and may know of our petition. We have nothing to conceal. We have right on our side. This land is ours — our Hawai’i. Say, shall we lose our nationality? Shall we be annexed to the United States? [The crowd responds] “‘A’ole loa. ‘A’ole loa.” Never, never! -Mrs. Emma Nawahi, speaking at an Anti-Annexation Petition meeting at the Salvation Army, Hilo
Despite the unanimous opposition by the people, their request for annexation be put to a public vote was never permitted. Annexation didn’t pass then but with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, it brought attention to the fact that, beyond simple economic benefits, the Islands were an essential strategic position in the Pacific which the United States could not risk losing command of. Though hotly debated, ultimately the annexationists won out. Congress annexed Hawai’i through a joint resolution signed by President William McKinley – despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution does not allow the taking of a foreign country through a resolution. Grover Cleveland wrote: “I am ashamed of the whole affair.”
Failing in her appeals to the American government to regain her throne, and to be compensated $450,000 for property and other losses, the territorial legislature of Hawai’i finally voted her an annual pension of $4,000 and permitted her to receive the income from a sugar plantation of 6,000 acres. With McKinley’s signing of the Newlands Act in 1898 (“Whereas, the Government of the Republic of Hawai’i having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution, to cede absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America, all rights…”, etc., etc….), Sovereignty of Hawai’i was formally transfered to the United States at ceremonies at ‘Iolani Palace with Sanford Dole as the newly appointed governor of the Territory of Hawai’i. When the Hawaiian flag was lowered, it was reportedly cut into small pieces and given to the children of the missionaries as a souvenir of their victory. To the native Hawaiians, it was a day of mourning. The Hawaiian people had lost their land, their monarchy and now their independence. To this day Hawaiians are waiting for this wrong to be made right. But if that’s the case why, in the end, did they vote for Hawai’i to become a state?
In 1954, 120,000 Hawai’i residents signed a huge newspaper scroll to petition for statehood. It was inspired, not by a Hawaiian or Hawaiian groups, but Army veteran Buck Buchwach, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Oregon, star reporter for the “Pacific Stars & Stripes” during World War II, writer and, in later years, editor of the “Honolulu Advertiser”. He also worked at times for Dole Pineapple Co., as Frank Sinatra’s publicist, and for Harry Truman when he was on vacation – and this campaign fit well into his resume.
Another white man, John Anthony Burns, played a key role in lobbying for statehood. He’s known as the father of the Democratic Party in Hawai’i, and there are tales of him as a policeman during the war helping prevent persecution of Japanese Americans. In 1956 he was elected Delegate from Hawai’i (due to Japanese and Filipino support) and as such he played a key role in lobbying “tirelessly” for Hawai’i statehood, winning over allies among Congressional leaders and state governors, and most importantly convincing Senate Majority leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) that Hawai’i was ready to become a state.
Southern Senators – offended that Congress would afford a non-white majority territory the same rights as Americans on the mainland – originally killed the bill, though it was approved in 1959, supposedly with much jubilation and fanfare. Until the past few decades, people celebrated Statehood Day (now toned down under the title “Admissions Day”). Today you won’t see a Dixieland band or Hula dancers strolling down Honolulu streets in celebration. Many activists prefer the focus of this day to be on the option of independence. Some blame “racist Hawaiian groups”, that they’re in a state of denial, and insist that Hawaiians wanted Hawai’i to become a state, not only in 1959, but even in earlier times when Kings were in talks with the U.S. about conditions and terms to making it so. But the question is not whether some people of Hawaiian ancestry desired statehood, or voted for statehood. The question is, that if such a majority of Hawaiians wanted this, why did there need to be so many underhanded maneuvers on the part of the United States and its representatives throughout the whole process?
After the annexation, Hawai’i remained a territorial possession of the U.S. for years. With the growth of the Spanish-American War, military presence continued to grow, including the Naval base at Pearl Harbor. Following WWII, Hawai’i was placed on the list of non-self-governing territories by the United Nations, with the United States as trustee. This clarification was “meant to give the people of the territory choices of how they would relate to the U.N. member and meant to break the chains of colonization which held territories within the grips of such nations.” As a result, many African countries, Pacific and Asia regions began their emergence from colonization during these years. Only a special vote, called a plebiscite, held among the inhabitants of the territory, could change that status. The requirements of such a vote requires three choices on the ballot: 1) to become a part of the trustee nation (a state); 2) to remain a territory; 3) the option for independence. This third choice -required by article 73 of the UN Charter- meant Hawai’i would no longer be a territory of the United States but return to its existence as an independent sovereign nation.
The rules seem simple enough, yet in 1959, when Hawai’i's plebiscite vote was held, the U.S. government decided to bend them yet again. On the ballot there were only two possible answers to the question, “Shall Hawai’i immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?” Yes or No. There was no option for independence and, according to many Hawaiians, they felt obligated to vote for the lesser of two evils. Why was this third choice not offered? Did Hawai’i not have the option to become an independent country in 1959? Indeed it did.
Not only was the option of independence not on the ballot, it was not even discussed, though the U.S. had an obligation to inform the Hawaiian people and assist them in the attainment of such a goal. Instead, statehood was actively propagandized with public funds, people were habituated to believe they were dependent upon the United States, and American political ideals were indoctrinated through the schools for years leading up to the vote. At one point, a former territorial senator, Alice Kamokila Campbell, actually filed suit to halt the spending of public funds to “propagandize and subsidize” the Hawai’i statehood campaign.
There were a few other factors that have been brought up as to why it seemed a majority of Hawaiians wanted statehood, especially as their only other option seemed to be to remain a voiceless member of a territory. One was that most Hawaiians were told if they didn’t vote for statehood, they wouldn’t be able to collect any of their pensions or Social Security retirement money (monies they had been paying into). People in Hawai’i also wanted the ability to elect their own governor, to elect their president, to end taxation without voting representation in Congress. As well, at the time of the vote, Hawaiians were no longer a majority (as far as I can tell they were just 20% of the population), as Americans integrated and influxes of new residents – many military and military families – added to the non-native population. One only needed to live on the islands for a year to be able to vote on this issue. Based on the United States Census, the total votes cast represented just 22 percent of the islands’ population (642,000). According to lawyer and activist Poka Laenui, “These people who were or took up U.S. citizenship were all permitted to vote. But those who dared to declare themselves Hawaiian citizens, refusing to accept the imposed American citizenship, could not vote.” Meaning those who never denounced their Hawaiian sovereignty were not allowed to vote on the matter – which one might conclude would have been a vote against statehood. He continues, “The Americans controlled education, economics, media, the judiciary as well as the internal political processes, managing in these years to continually squeeze the Hawaiian identity from public life. This practice of altering the ‘self’ by maintaining control over transmigration, public education and economic dependence is familiar among colonial countries not wanting to lose their colonial possessions. France’s conduct in Tahiti and New Caledonia and Indonesia’s in East Timor, West Papua, and the Moluccas Islands are mirrors of the U.S.’ conduct in Hawai’i.”
THE APOLOGY BILL
Apparently, the fact that Hawai’i was taken control of illegally, therefore its annexation was illegal, and therefore is still a sovereign nation and not really a part of the United States is not even denied by the U.S. government. In 1993, Congress unanimously passed, and President Clinton signed into Public Law, the Apology Bill. It was initiated by the Eighteenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ, where there may have been unresolved guilt regarding the part that some missionaries played in the destruction of the Hawaiian Kingdom:
We acknowledge and confess our sins against you and your forebears, na kanaka maoli. We formally apologize to you for ‘our denomination’s historical complicity in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893,’ and by unduly identifying the ways of the West with the ways of Christ, and, thereby, undervaluing the strengths of the mature society that was native Hawai’i. We commit ourselves to help right the wrongs inflicted upon you….
Though the apology was appreciated (how often does a government do that?!), the idea that it came in the form of a “Law” or a “Bill” seems distorted, in the sense that there were no plans or intentions for concrete action towards correcting the wrong. After listing the derisive acts of the United States and its ministers and stating why they felt it necessary to create this bill, Congress ends the matter with yet another unresolved conclusion: “Now, therefore, be it” and the disclaimer “Nothing in this Joint Resolution is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States.” Still there are some serious acknowledgments over the injurious effect of the theft of this land upon its citizens. Here’s some of what the Apology Bill states:
To acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the January 17, 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and to offer an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Whereas, on January 24, 1895, while imprisoned in Iolani Palace, Queen Liliuokalani was forced by representatives of the Republic of Hawaii to officially abdicate her throne;
Whereas, the Republic of Hawaii also ceded 1,800,000 acres of crown, government and public lands of the Kingdom of Hawaii, without the consent of or compensation to the Native Hawaiian people of Hawaii or their sovereign government;
Whereas, the Congress, through the Newlands Resolution, ratified the cession, annexed Hawaii as part of the United States, and vested title to the lands in Hawaii in the United States;
Whereas, 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, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum;
Whereas, the health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to the land;
Whereas, the long-range economic and social changes in Hawaii over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been devastating to the population and to the health and well-being of the Hawaiian people;
Despite the refusal to accept accountability, many hope its potent admittance of guilt could eventually support efforts towards a more just retribution. There have been legal measures to stop the sale of ceded lands because of Hawaiian sovereign claims to those lands. At Hawaii Nation‘s web site they don’t pussyfoot around the issue, boldly and assuredly declaring, “America has done everything it can to avoid the consequences of this Bill. The inevitable result will be the restoration of a sovereign Hawai’i.” They assert that most Hawaiians want complete sovereignty, not the Akaka Bill or other “Nation within a Nation” kinds of placation similar to what was given to Native Americans. There is indeed fear that any Bill of that nature would show an acquiescence to the illegal U.S.-backed overthrow and thus, the people would forever give up any possibility of self-determining power to the U.S.
HAWAIIAN SOVEREIGNTY TO COME
In 1993, controversial international law expert Francis Boyle came to Hawai’i to inspire the local people, that their fight was not only just, but conceivably possible. With the Apology Bill, he explained, the United States of America is “…admitting that the invasion, overthrow, occupation, annexation, starting in 1893 on up, violated all the treaties, violated basic norms of international law, and the United States Constitution…the overthrow of a lawful government…. Under international law when you have a violation of treaties of this magnitude, the World Court has ruled that the only appropriate remedy is restitution. … That fact alone, gives the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) the entitlement to restore their independent status as a sovereign nation state. … You don’t need to petition Congress to do it. Congress has given you everything you need right here. … The United Nations Charter provides the rest of the authority to do it.” His impetus was that with the government effectively conceding that the statehood vote was meaningless, the people are not bound by it. That Hawaiians are free to determine their own fate “pursuant to the principal of self-determination.” He made it clear, from not just a hopeful but legal standpoint, “the sovereignty resides in the people.”
At that time, Boyle also urged the people “to look deeper into the carefully chosen phrases within the Akaka Bill…[which] promises a governing entity, not a government.” He pointed out that their calling it an entity is a term of blatant disrespect and relates it to terminology utilized in the Middle East. “One thing that is clear is that when Arab governments or states or people wish to express disrespect for Israel, instead of calling it the State of Israel or the Government of Israel, they call it the Zionist entity. …I’m not exactly sure then how the United States Congress is going to promote peace and reconciliation with Kanaka Maoli by giving you a Kanaka entity.” Boyle has referenced the Palestinians, who in 1988 decided on their own to “unilaterally proclaim their own state, in a declaration of independence. This eventually led to the Palestinian state being recognized today by 125 nation states in the world.” “At one point,” he reminds us, “France annexed Algeria and then determined by law that Algeria was a department of France, legally equivalent to Paris…And yet today, Algeria is an independent nation state and a member of the United Nations organization. …These same principles of international law surely apply to Hawai’i.”
But there are steps to take to creating an independent state. Hawai’i already has a fixed territory – the Hawaiian Archipelago – and a population of distinguishable people – the Native Hawaiians. “Government,” Boyle said, “is in the kupuna council, but how the people are governed has yet to be organized.” As well you need the capacity to “enter into international relations, to deal with other states, and to keep your commitments,” which means establishing diplomatic relations as an independent state. (There has already been recent recognition [Lance Larcen vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1999-2001] when the Hawaiian Kingdom entered into international arbitration with a Hawaiian national claiming the U.S. violated his civil rights by incarcerating him. The case was actually to determine if Larsen had redress against the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom for not protecting him. The significance of this case being that International court verified Hawai’i to be an independent and sovereign State and the case a “legitimate international dispute”.) But it is unknown how long it might take for Hawai’i to reestablish itself as an independent state, what the consequences would be or how many states would recognize them. However, Boyle said “the plight of the Hawaiian people is generally well known in the world and there’s a great deal of sympathy. … Ghandi threw the mighty British out of India with peaceful, nonviolent force.” He made it clear that the fight, at this point, has everything to do with invoking the power of the people.
Today in regards to the fate of Tibet, there are dissonant views on what degree of independence is sought and how it can be achieved. To the chagrin of many Tibetan activist youth living in exile, the Dalai Lama seems to have accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet – seeing anything but peaceful, spiritual and intellectual efforts futile; preferring to avoid bloodshed. Today his desire is clear, for the Chinese to end their rule of terror (autonomy similar to that now held by Hong Kong) and for Tibet to become “an International Zone of Peace”. The Chinese government has shown no interest in complying, hoping when the Dalai Lama dies the problem will go away. Activist’s hopes are being sparked though, as the 2008 Beijing Olympics will provide never-before seen exposure to their plight, opening the world’s eyes to the crisis and putting unavoidable pressures on the Chinese government (even the Olympic torch embellished with the words “peace and harmony” is planned for a satiric relay through Tibet with an attempt to summit Mount Everest. True, peace and harmony running freely in Tibet is like summiting Mount Everest). “I pray that Tibet survives,” he says, “both for the welfare of our people, and to evolve as a global model of cooperation, progress, liberty and peace. The Dalai Lama was asked if it was a fruitless effort, the fight for Tibet, and after so many years did it bother him that he might not see the day when Tibet would once again be free. But he clarified that it wasn’t his fight per se, that the efforts for peace not in vein, and it would live on without him.
“The people to whom your fathers told of the living God, and taught to call ‘Father,’ and whom the sons now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to Him in their time of trouble; and He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes.” -Queen Lili’uokalani
The Hawaiians may not have a Dalai Lama, a single figurehead to guide them through their struggle, but they have faith and determination. Leaders and kapuna are stepping up to help achieve a sovereign state and put in place a government when that goal is achieved. And though there are some conflicts within these factions, including who are rightful heirs to the thrown, and who should be considered the reigning King, or Queen, when sovereignty is restored, ultimately regaining control of their lands and lives is the priority. “I’m not part of any group,” Riki made clear when asked if he works with Hawai’i sovereignty organizations. “But we should all work together” he insists, “that’s how they operate you know, divide and conquer.”
Sometimes it seems easier to look at problems that need to be addressed elsewhere. We see the oppression of people of Tibet and other parts of the world and fight causes to assist them. We listen to the Dalai Lama bring attention to troubles in his homeland, while spreading his accessible yet evolutionary words designed to inspire a higher state of existence for all humanity. And within his dream for compassion and helping others, exists a realization of how to best utilize one’s efforts. It seems obvious but sometimes we need someone to remind us, that we must first look at our immediate environment, before we focus all of our energies globally. Right now Hawaiians and concerned residents can take the Dalai Lama’s visit as inspiration to find one’s own sense of self, and then from a virtuous state help those around them. There are still rich American interests that are being served before the local people’s interests are being served – not much has changed in that regard since the days of the Bayonet Constitution. And if Riki Pestana-Torres’ experience is meant to be a symbolic incident (in an ironic setting) to show how “inconvenient truths” are dealt with, then perhaps those who were ignorant as to the depths of the struggle might be jolted out of complacency. Hawai’i is a beautiful, amazing place that anyone would be lucky to live. But that doesn’t afford a complacency to ignore the deep personal, economical, cultural, spiritual, environmental concerns, for natives and non-native residents alike. No matter a struggle for independence, we are all interdependent, we are all connected. The idea that those who stand idly by are guilty by default does come into play. There is a revolution here in Hawai’i -on many levels- that needs to occur; a message of aloha that can indeed transcend; an evolution that can manifest into a symbol of hope. It must come from within before the people here can help change their families, their communities, their islands…the world.
“Facing backwards I see the past. Our nation gained, our nation lost. Our sovereignty gone. Our lands gone. All traded for the promise of progress. What would they say…What can we say? Facing future I see hope. Hope that we will prosper. Hope that once again we will reap the blessings of this magical land. For without hope I cannot live. Remember the past but do not dwell there. Face the future where all our hopes stand. Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono o Hawai’i.” -Israel Kamakawiwiwo’ole
Other sites to explore: Free Hawaii, Hawai’i Nation, Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiian Independence Blog, Kingdom of Hawai’i, Aloha Quest, DMZ Hawai’i, Hawai’i Indy Media, ‘A’ole: No Uranium Weapons Hawai’i, Free Hawai’i Blogspot, In Motion / Hawaiian Vote, Justice for Hawaiians, Organic Consumers, Kingdom of Hawaii Reinstatement, Grassroot Institute, Tibet Fund, Free Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet. To get your free “Free Hawaii” sticker and pin go to Free Hawai’i Stickers.