The Hawaiian sovereignty movement
(ke ea Hawai‘i) consists of organizations and individuals seeking some form of sovereignty for Hawai'i. Generally, the movement's focus is on self-determination
for people of whole or part Native Hawaiian
ancestry or, in some cases, for "Hawaiian nationals", without regard to race or ancestry. In some instances the focus also includes redress from the United States
for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani
, and for what is seen as a prolonged military occupation
beginning in 1898 with the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii
to the United States, and continuing until the present day. The movement generally views both the overthrow and annexation as illegal, and holds the U.S. government responsible for these actions. The historical and legal basis for these claims is one of considerable dispute. While the groups that comprise the movement share these common concerns, their views on how such goals should be achieved vary greatly, ranging from the establishment of some form of "Nation within a Nation" government (similar to the government of some Native American tribes) such as proposed in the Akaka Bill
, to reparations from the U.S. government for historical grievances and an end to American military presence, to outright independence from the United States.
Although there are many efforts ongoing to achieve some form of sovereignty, the process of defining and achieving it is difficult. Proposed solutions range from complete independence from the United States to "nation-within-a-nation" (similar to the status of Native American
tribes but based purely on race) status as proposed by the Akaka Bill
. Among those who advocate for complete independence, proposals range from a reinstatement of a racial hereditary monarchy, to constitutional democracies with tiered citizenship based on race, to governments exclusively controlled only by members with the correct racial background. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs
(OHA) already exists as a state-sponsored commission but is regarded as ineffective; one highly controversial "nation-within-a-nation" proposal has been repeatedly brought to the U.S. Senate (see Akaka Bill
) by U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka
Most, but not all, formal sovereignty proposals focus on short-range, interim governmental structures, recognizing that given Hawaii's profound economic and political integration into the United States, to have any hope of success or support, any long-term solution must be developed incrementally with the approval of the United Nations. As most groups are focused on some manner of international legal solution, many (but not all) proposed structures are based on the kingdom that existed in 1893, the logical basis being that the undoing of the 1893 overthrow might legally necessitate a return to the pre-overthrow government that existed before 1893. Many groups do include some long-range ideas in their proposals, but it can be said that the immediate focus of the sovereignty movement is generally upon the immediate problem of overcoming what they see as American occupation and/or colonization of the islands.
Since April 30, 2008, members of a group calling themselves the Hawaiian Kingdom Government have occupied the grounds of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu. Led by Mahealani Kahau, who has taken the title of "Queen", and Jessica Wright, who has taken the title of "Princess," they have been meeting each day to conduct government business and demand sovereignty for Hawaii and the restoration of the monarchy. They have been able to occupy the grounds by repeatedly applying for a public-assembly permit.
ALOHA or Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry may have been organized in 1969 or 1972. According to Rich Budnick's book Hawaii's Forgotten History
, the group was established by Louisa Rice in 1969. Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell claims that it was first organized in the summer of 1972.
On July 27, 1973, the then President of ALOHA, Maxwell, sought reparations from the U.S. government for the government and crown lands claimed by the Republic of Hawaii in 1894, transferred to the U.S. government in 1900, and then transferred back to the State of Hawaii in 1959. He specifically demanded the return of Kahoolawe, saying, "Our kupuna [elders] saw it first." He informed the Maui County Council in late 1973 that his organization's "primary objective [was] to seek land or money reparations from the United States Congress".
It is unclear if ALOHA is still an active organization.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Of the groups in the current Hawaiian sovereignty movement, the best funded is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs
(OHA). OHA, a department of The State of Hawaii, was created in 1978 by the State of Hawaii Constitutional Convention
. OHA's stated purpose was to represent the interests of Native Hawaiians in the administration of the Hawaiian Homelands
and the Ceded Lands
— land formerly belonging to the Hawaiian government and crown that were ceded to the United States as public lands when the islands were annexed in 1898. When the Territory of Hawaii
became a state in 1959, these lands were passed to the new state. The act transferring them ordered that they be administered for five public purposes:
- The support of public education
- The betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920
- The development of farm and home ownership
- The making of public improvements
- The provision of lands for public use
Because there was strong sentiment that the second purpose had been largely ignored, part of OHA's charter was to address this issue. Originally, OHA trustees were to be elected only by Native Hawaiians, but in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rice v. Cayetano that this restriction was unconstitutionally race-based. As a result, OHA trustees are now elected by all registered voters in the state.
The OHA Board of Trustees has historically been known for factional infighting that some believe hamper its mission for helping Native Hawaiians.
Ka Lahui Hawaii was formed in 1987 as a grassroots initiative for Hawaiian sovereignty. The Trask sisters, attorney and U.N. Representative Mililani Trask
and University of Hawaii professor Haunani-Kay Trask
, were prominent in the effort. Native Hawaiians, as well as non-Native Hawaiians, may sign up as citizens of Ka Lahui. One of the group's goals is to bargain with the United States government for recognition, land, and restitution, while lobbying at the United Nations
relief. Their model shares some similarity to certain Indian reservations of the U.S. continent, which have increasingly become self-governing. Many thousands of Native Hawaiians, along with many non-natives, have signed up as members. Ka Lahui has attracted many critics; many of these critics question the degree to which Ka Lahui citizens actually participated in the affairs of the group after signing their name.
Ka Lahui opposes the "Akaka Bill" proposed by Senator Daniel Akaka that recognizes Native Hawaiians as a first nation on par with Native Americans and Alaskan tribes, as the group (along with most other sovereignty organizations) sees it as a poor compromise, and believes that the ramifications in terms of international law outweigh the bill's benefits.
Nation of Hawai'i
The Nation of Hawaii made the news in 1993 when its members occupied Kaupo Beach, near Makapuu, Oahu (they had occupied the area surrounding the Makapuu lighthouse in 1989). Dennis Pu‘uhonua "Bumpy" Kanahele
was a primary leader of the occupation, as well as the leader of the group overall. A descendant of the Kamehamehas
, Bumpy was given the title "Head of State" of the Nation of Hawaii in order to gain international recognition for Hawaiian sovereignty. The group ceased their occupation in exchange for the return of ceded lands
in the adjacent community of Waimānalo
, where they established a village, cultural center, and puuhonua (place of refuge). The group nearly lost its land several times, due both to sentiment fostered by activists opposing the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, and questions regarding rent and liability insurance. As of 2006, however, it is still home to at least forty people.
Kanahele made headlines again in 1995 when his group gave sanctuary to Nathan Brown, a Native Hawaiian activist who had refused to pay federal taxes in protest of the illegitimacy of the U.S. presence in Hawaii. Kanahele was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to eight months in federal prison, along with a probation period in which he was barred from the puuhonua and from participation in his sovereignty efforts.
Following his release from prison, Kanahele became involved in more specific aspects of nationhood, such as the development of independent banking systems, and the cultivation of relationships with other nations. He holds the seat on the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) formerly held by sovereignty pioneer Kawaipuna Prejean, and has worked closely with Hawaii's current governor, Linda Lingle.
Ka Pakaukau: Kekuni Blaisdell
Dr. Richard Kekuni Akana Blaisdell is a medical doctor and professor of medicine who strongly advocates for the total independence for Hawaii. The position of Dr. Blaisdell's group, Ka Pakaukau, is that Hawaii does not need to secede from the U.S., for the U.S. has the moral obligation to "return what it has stolen" and to remove its "occupying forces" (i.e. the U.S. military) from Hawaiian lands. Blaisdell advocates putting continual non-violent pressure on the U.S. military to vacate Hawaii. He also feels that the military has an unmet obligation to clean up the pollution it has left in areas such as Pearl Harbor and Kaho'olawe. Blaisdell has travelled numerous times to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to advocate for international recognition of Hawaii as a rightful independent nation under illegal colonial occupation, and to lobby for international assistance with the process of decolonization.
In 1993, Blaisdell convened Ka Hookolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, the "People's International Tribunal", which brought indigenous leaders from around the world to Hawaii to put the U.S. Government on trial for the theft of Hawaii's sovereignty, and other related violations of international law. The tribunal found the U.S. guilty, and published its findings in a lengthy document filed with the U.N. Committees on Human Rights and Indigenous Affairs.
Poka Laenui (Hayden Burgess)
Hayden Burgess now goes by the Hawaiian name Poka Laenui and heads the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs
A lawyer, Laenui argues that because the "U.S. armed invasion and overthrow"
of the Hawaiian monarchy was illegal, the current government of the state is illegal, and that residents owe it no fealty or taxes. He advocates a process of decolonization
, resulting in a totally independent government that would include all non-Hawaiians living in Hawaii. He uses other island nations who are achieving decolonization throughout the Pacific as his primary model.
Laenui has regularly analyzed Hawaii's historical, political, and economic situation on his talk shows, which air on radio and on community-access cable channel Ōlelo TV.
Hawaiian Kingdom: David Keanu Sai
Another leader who seeks to expose what is seen as the prolonged occupation of Hawaii by the United States is David Keanu Sai
Trained as a U.S. military officer, Sai uses the title of Chairman of the Acting Council of Regency of the Hawaiian Kingdom
Sai has done extensive historical research, especially on the treaties between Hawaii and other nations, and military occupation
and the laws of war. Sai is currently a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Hawaii, where he founded the Hawaiian Society of Law and Politics
, which publishes the Hawaiian Journal of Law and Politics
Sai co-founded a Hawaiian title company, Perfect Title, which stated that all land transactions since the overthrow of the monarchy were invalid if superseded by legitimate pre-existing claims; some clients refused to make mortgage payments and lost their property. In 1997, the offices of Perfect Title were raided, and the company was barred from filing any documents with the state Bureau of Conveyances for 5 years, effectively shutting the company down. A jury on December 1, 1999, unanimously found Mr. Sai guilty of attempted theft of title to a house (value approximately $300,000) for his role as an accessory to a man and woman who used his Perfect Title services to attempt to invalidate a foreclosure on their house. For his felony conviction, David Keanu Sai was sentenced to 5 years probation and a $200 fine on March 7, 2000. His appeal was denied by the Hawaii Supreme Court on July 20, 2004.
Sai claimed to represent the Hawaiian Kingdom in a case brought before the World Court's Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, in the Netherlands (Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom; Honolulu Weekly item) in December 2000. Although the arbitration was agreed to by Lance Paul Larsen and David Keanu Sai, with Larsen suing Sai for not protecting his rights as a Hawaiian Kingdom subject, his actual goal was to have U.S. rule in Hawaii declared in breach of mutual treaty obligations and international law. The arbiters of the case affirmed that there was no dispute they could decide upon, because the United States was not a party to the arbitration. As stated in the award from the arbitration panel,in the absence of the United States of America, the Tribunal can neither decide that Hawaii is not part of the USA, nor proceed on the assumption that it is not. To take either course would be to disregard a principle which goes to heart of the arbitral function in international law.
Responses to the sovereignty movement
Due to efforts by the various Hawaiian sovereignty movements and other Native-Hawaiian activist groups, the United States government issued an apology.
Some with a different perspective of the historical record (see "Opposition" below) sharply disagree with the apology, questioning its accuracy and validity.
The U.S. government apologizes:
Native Hawaiian Study Commission
The Native Hawaiian Study Commission of the United States Congress in its 1983 final report found no historical, legal, or moral obligation for the U.S. government to provide reparations, assistance, or group rights to Native Hawaiians. (pages 27, 333-338)
There has also been something of a backlash against the concept of ancestry-based sovereignty, which critics maintain is tantamount to racial exclusion. In 1996, in Rice v. Cayetano, one Big Island rancher sued to win the right to vote in OHA elections, asserting that every Hawaiian citizen regardless of racial background should be able to vote for a state office, and that limiting the vote to Native Hawaiians only was racist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor and OHA elections are now open to all registered voters. In reaching its decision, the court wrote that "the ancestral inquiry mandated by the State is forbidden by the Fifteenth Amendment for the further reason that the use of racial classifications is corruptive of the whole legal order democratic elections seek to preserve....Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality".
Of further concern is the implication that claims for hereditary political power are connected to land claims. Proponents of sovereignty assume that if they can show that American presence at the time of the 1893 Revolution was unjust then it automatically follows that the United States owes enormous reparations in cash and land to Hawaiians.
There were three kinds of land in 1893: private lands, Crown lands, and Government lands.
No private lands were seized as a result of the 1893 Revolution.
Crown lands in 1893 belonged not to any individual or to any group of individuals but to the “office” of the Sovereign. In 1893, The Government of the Republic of Hawai'i provided explicitly that the former Crown lands were Government lands. The Crown lands in 1893 were the last remnant of lands seized by Lili'uokalani's royal predecessor Kamehameha I in aggressive warfare. People who believe that title to the land today is invalid because it is founded on conquest may be hard put to explain why Lili'uokalani's claim was not equally invalid.
The Hawaiian Kingdom Government lands in 1893 were controlled ultimately by the Legislature. Private individuals had no powers, rights or privileges to use government land without Government authorization or to decide how it was to be used. If Hawaiians had any rights or powers regarding Government land, they had only the political right and power to participate in controlling the Government. Most ethnic Hawaiians then had no power to lose; they were a minority in Hawai'i and most of them could not even vote. As the term “sovereignty” suggests, what was at stake in 1893 was political power over the government and hence over the Government Lands and the Crown Lands (which had come under control of a government commission in 1865). Legally, the land belonging to the Hawaiian Government in 1898 has passed to the U.S. Government and back to the State of Hawai'i. People alive now have a democratic right to decide by majority vote how government land should be used now. No one deserves more than equality. Legally, the land belonging to the Hawaiian Government in 1898 has passed to the U.S. Government and back to the State of Hawai'i.
Although the Apology Resolution passed 65 to 34 in the U.S. Senate and by a two-thirds voice vote in the House, and without much public notice outside Hawaii, the Akaka Bill has generated a higher profile for the issues involved. An organized opposition now challenges the accuracy of historical claims and constitutionality of legislation they view as racially exclusive.
Opponents have called into question the accuracy of the Apology Resolution in that it appears to have been adopted without careful examination of the purported “history” which it recites.
When the Apology Bill was debated on the Senate floor, Senator Slade Gorton asked Senator Inouye:
“Is this purely a self-executing resolution which has no meaning other than its own passage, or is this, in [the proponent Senators'] minds, some form of claim, some form of different or distinct treatment for those who can trace a single ancestor back to 1778 in Hawai'i which is now to be provided for this group of citizens, separating them from other citizens of the State of Hawai'i or the United States?
What are the appropriate consequences of passing this resolution? Are they any form of special status under which persons of Native Hawaiian descent will be given rights or privileges or reparations or land or money communally that are unavailable to other citizens of Hawai'i?”
Senator Inouye replied:
“As I tried to convince my colleagues, this is a simple resolution of apology, to recognize the facts as they were 100 years ago. As to the matter of the status of Native Hawaiians, as my colleagues from Washington knows, from the time of statehood, we have been in this debate. Are Native Hawaiians Native Americans? This resolution has nothing to do with that....I can assure my colleagues of that. It is a simple resolution.”
History of resistance
Liliuokalani's own response to her overthrow changed over the years. Although at first she worked to effect a counter-revolution, eventually she reconciled herself to the course Hawaii had taken. Opponents of the Hawaiian sovereignty movements see this as ex post facto justification for the overthrow, whereas sovereignty advocates dismiss this as a purely personal position taken by the ex-Queen that does not bear on their legal assertions.
- The best thing for [Native Hawaiians] that could have happened was to belong to the United States. - written in the 1903 autobiography of Senator George Hoar (R. Mass.), attributed to Liliuokalani.
- Tho' for a moment it cost me a pang of pain for my people it was only momentary, for the present has a hope for the future of my people. - former Queen Liliuokalani in her diary, Sunday, September 2, 1900; from a photostatic copy in the Hawaii State Archives (See DeSoto Brown's article in the Honolulu Weekly, June 4-10, 2003, Page 4)
Although there was some controversy as to the accuracy of the second quote, research done by DeSoto Brown of the Bishop Museum, who was originally doubtful, was able to prove its authenticity. A further discussion of the two articles written by DeSoto Brown have been discussed on the Honolulu Advertiser discussion boards
Hawaiian sovereignty activists and advocates
- Keoni Agard
- S. Haunani Apoliona (current chair of OHA)
- Francis A. Boyle (professor of international law, University of Illinois )
- Bu Laia, comedian
- Scott Crawford
- Lynette Hiilani Cruz
- George Helm (musician) and Kimo Mitchell (both d. 1977)
- Mahealani Kahau, the chosen "Monarch" of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government.
- Israel Kamakawiwoole (musician; d. 1997)
- Lilikala Kameeleihiwa
- Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele (descendant of Kamehameha the Great)
- J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D.
- Poka Laenui, aka Hayden Burgess
- Rev. Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.
- Jon Osorio (scholar and musician)
- BJ Penn, MMA Fighter, currently with the UFC
- Rev. Kaleo Patterson
- Kawaipuna Prejean (d. 1992)
- Noenoe K. Silva (political scientist, University of Hawaii at Manoa )
- Vicky Holt Takamine
- Haunani-Kay Trask
- Mililani Trask
- Kaiulani Edens-Huff, a KKCR DJ, was suspended for an on-air altercation sparking accusation of racism and protests and an arrest of one of the protestors outside the station.
Opponents of Hawaiian sovereignty
- Andrade Jr., Ernest (1996). Unconquerable Rebel: Robert W. Wilcox and Hawaiian Politics, 1880-1903. University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0-87081-417-6
- Budnick, Rich (1992). Stolen Kingdom: An American Conspiracy. Honolulu: Aloha Press. ISBN 0-944081-02-9
- Churchill, Ward. Venne, Sharon H. (2004). Islands in Captivity: The International Tribunal on the Rights of Indigenous Hawaiians. Hawaiian language editor Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-738-7
- Coffman, Tom (2003). Nation Within: The Story of America's Annexation of the Nation of Hawaii. Epicenter. ISBN 1-892122-00-6
- Coffman, Tom (2003). The Island Edge of America: A Political History of Hawai‘i. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2625-6 / ISBN 0-8248-2662-0
- Conklin, Kenneth R. Hawaiian Apartheid: Racial Separatism and Ethnic Nationalism in the Aloha State. Print-on-demand from E-Book Time ISBN 1598244612
- Daws, Gavan (1968). Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. Macmillan, New York, 1968. Paperback edition, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1974.
- Dougherty, Michael (2000). To Steal a Kingdom. Island Style Press. ISBN 0-9633484-0-X
- Dudley, Michael K., and Agard, Keoni Kealoha (1993 reprint). A Call for Hawaiian Sovereignty. Nā Kāne O Ka Malo Press. ISBN 1-878751-09-3
- Kame‘eleihiwa, Lilikala (1992). Native Land and Foreign Desires. Bishop Museum Press. ISBN 0-930897-59-5
- Liliuokalani (1991 reprint). Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. Mutual Publishing. ISBN 0-935180-85-0
- Osorio, Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole (2002). Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2549-7
- Silva, Noenoe K. (2004). Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3349-X
- Twigg-Smith, Thurston (2000). Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter?. Goodale Publishing. ISBN 0-9662945-1-3