Increasing Number of Native Hawaiians Considering Sovereignty

Last Sunday, lots of Native Hawaiians marked the 100th anniversary of the event that led Hawaii on the path toward statehood. They weren't celebrating.

A growing number of Native Hawaiian activists say that the U.S.-backed 1893 overthrow of the Hawaii monarchy, which placed Hawaii on the path to annexation and eventual statehood, has cheated Hawaiians of control over their lives and their land.


Native Hawaiian activists, who marked the overthrow with a 100-hour vigil ending Sunday outside 'Lolani Palace in Honolulu, say Hawaiians must regain a measure of sovereignty if they are to end their exploitation and rise from the ranks of Hawaii's most downtrodden groups.

"We don't have a homeland," said Elizabeth Pa Martin, president of Hui Na'Auao, a coalition of some 58 organizations dedicated ++ to boosting interest in self-determination for Native Hawaiians. "It used to be Hawaii, but it's been taken from us."


But talk of nationalism is unsettling to many non-Hawaiians, who fear that what the activists really want to do is to kick them off the land.

There is even division among the Hawaiians themselves. For all the disappointment among Hawaiians with the way things are run now, full secession from the United States has drawn little enthusiasm, least of all from middle class individuals who depend on government jobs or Social Security checks or Hawaii's $9.9 billion tourist industry. Many of them fear that secession could bring hardship and uncertainty with few tangible rewards.

Meanwhile, years of intermarriage with Japanese, Chinese and other immigrants have merged the interests of many Native Hawaiians -- who make up only 20 percent of Hawaii's 1 million residents -- with those of other groups.

Instead of independence, many Hawaiians favor a parallel government that would deal directly with the federal government in a "nation within a nation" relationship. The new entity, which would be similar to the councils that govern Indian reservations, would control about 1.6 million acres of what is now public land, including about 200,000 acres known as the Hawaiian Home Lands plus about 1.4 million acres of land ceded by the U.S. government when Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959.

"There are some people talking about kicking everyone out," said Mrs. Martin. "But the more reasonable people are talking about the Home Lands and the ceded lands."

A few, however, believe passionately that Hawaiians should press for total sovereignty over part -- or all -- of Hawaii.

"What it means is total independence," said Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele, who said he favors a form of government in which land would be held in common and administered by a traditional council of Hawaiian elders. "I don't mean kicking people off their land, but it's not our fault the U.S. government did what it did."

"The thieves have to return the stolen goods," said Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, a physician who favors a gradual restoration of independence to Hawaii through a series of treaties. "The U.S. has to withdraw, just like the U.S. was forced to withdraw from the Philippines. We are a foreign nation to the United States."


Indeed, Hawaii was a foreign nation -- with a constitutional

monarchy and diplomatic relations with England, Japan, the United States and the rest of the world -- until the morning of January 17, 1893.

It was then that white businessmen and plantation owners, nettled by U.S. trade barriers against Hawaiian sugar and concerned that Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani was about to break the political stranglehold that outsiders had on Hawaiian government, staged a bloodless coup d'etat and immediately appealed to the United States for annexation. A detachment of 168 U.S. Marines, stationed on a gunboat off the Hawaiian coast, came ashore to back the coup.

Although the appeal for annexation was rejected by President Grover Cleveland, who branded the overthrow as "treason," the rebel faction a year later declared Hawaii a republic. In 1898, President William McKinley reversed U.S. policy, agreeing to annex Hawaii shortly after taking office. Queen Lili'uokalani traveled to Washington to plead against annexation, but McKinley, an aggressive expansionist who also saw to the annexation of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, refused even to see her.

Today, Hawaiian nationalists say the ensuing 100 years of rule by outsiders have left Hawaiians shortchanged in their own land, as shown by statistics on income, education, incarceration rates, health and other social indicators.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Native Hawaiians are more likely to be poor, unemployed or jailed than the average Hawaii resident. Infant mortality among native Hawaiians is 28 percent higher than the state average. Only one in 12 native Hawaiians completes a college degree, versus more than one in five residents for Hawaii as a whole.


"If you look at those numbers, something is definitely wrong," Mrs. Martin said. "If you add all those things up it shows to me the wrong people are making decisions on land and water concerns, on economic concerns."

She and others say that far too often, decisions over jobs and economic development for Hawaii are made by corporate captains in New York, Los Angeles or Tokyo, rather than by the people who have to live with the consequences.

"They say development brings jobs, but what kind of jobs: caddy boys and hotel maids?" Mrs. Martin asked. "Those are the junkiest jobs and Hawaiians resist those jobs."

Activists say Hawaiians are being ill served by a state and federal government that is dominated by non-Hawaiians.

Many of them point bitterly to the fact that although Congress set aside nearly 200,000 acres in 1921 to compensate Native Hawaiians for the overthrow -- the so-called Hawaiian Home Lands program -- the state has turned over about 20 percent of the land to Hawaiians. Many Hawaiians struggled successfully to prove their eligibility, only to die while on waiting lists that were decades long. Meanwhile, land with value often has been rented at favorable rates to the state's richest and most powerful individuals. No consensus has emerged yet as to how land would be distributed under a new, more sovereign government.

Some Hawaiian activists are trying to persuade the United Nations to consider them a colonized people and pressure the United States to arrange some form of self-determination. So far, however, the United Nations has refused to intervene, saying Hawaii's incorporation and statehood was legal.


Many Hawaiian activists also see parallels with efforts by Native American groups -- who have had success in winning control or compensation for land unfairly taken from them -- and with the African American civil rights movement. Haunani Trask, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, has kept a poster of Malcolm X outside her office since long before the Spike Lee film about him was released last year.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, who heads the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, has said he favors some form of self-determination for Hawaiians, but that he will not get out front until Hawaiians decide what road to take.

"It is not the role of the U.S. government to determine how Hawaiians should manifest their sovereignty," said Patricia M. Zell, the committee's staff director.

Nonetheless, many observers say change may be in the air. Ms. Zell said she expects President Bill Clinton to be far more willing to consider some form of Hawaiian self-determination than were George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Although Republican administrations have argued that, unlike Native Americans, Hawaiians did not have their own government when they were annexed by the United States, the Democratic campaign

platform last year included support for some form of sovereignty.

The Republican position has riled Hawaiian leaders, who say that to grant partial autonomy to Native Americans while denying it to Hawaiians imposes a bitter irony.


"We were the next step after white settlers took over Native American lands in the decade of U.S. land grabbing," Dr. Blaisdell said, referring to the 1890s. "On the other hand, we are not Native Americans," he said. "We had our own sovereign nation, our own constitution."

Martin Evans, a former reporter for The Sun, is a Freedom Forum Fellow at the University of Hawaii for this academic year.