Peter Apo: Whose Nation Is It Anyway?
***This post was originally published on the Civil Beat website on July 9, 2015. To see view this and other Peter Apo Civil Beat articles, visit www.civilbeat.com***
In my previous column, which raised crucial questions for people looking to build a Hawaiian nation, I noted that three divergent political positions have emerged. Given movement on nation-building, this is a good time to take a closer look at the groups driving this trio of positions.
The first group refers to themselves as “Hawaiian Nationals.” They seek independence from the United States. Their claim is that Queen Liliuokalani never relinquished her throne and the Kingdom of Hawaii still exists, but as an illegally occupied sovereign nation. They cite breeches of international law in their attempts to petition the United Nations to take up the case.
A second group, which I characterize as Hawaiian-Americans, seeks a two-step process of reconciliation with the U.S. First, they seek for Congress to grant Native American status to Native Hawaiians since this would open the door for Native Hawaiians to pursue a government-to-government relationship with the U.S., as was done by Native American Indians and Alaska Natives. This is commonly referred to as the nation-within-a-nation model.
While the first two groups spring from the Hawaiian community, the third group is composed largely of non-Hawaiians. I refer to them as the Revisionists. They are accused of rewriting history by denying that Hawaii was colonized against the will of the vast majority of the Hawaiian population. They do not acknowledge that the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, which was led by American businessmen, was a coup d’état with the clandestine objective of annexation by the United States. Revisionists are adamant that Hawaiian claims of illegal overthrow and demands for political redress are without merit, and that the process leading to annexation by the U.S. occurred legitimately.
To most Hawaiian and state political leaders, including Hawaii’s congressional delegation, the activism of the 1970s resulted in the nation-within-a-nation option. Coming out of that decade, the voices of Hawaiian Nationals and the Revisionists didn’t gain enough sway to garner any serious attention.
But out of the political mood of that era sprang the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which was created to serve as a placeholder governing entity. OHA’s primary mission was to manage a Hawaiian community dialogue and process that would lead to a nationhood proposal for consideration by the state and federal governments that have been awkwardly navigating around the issue for 35 years.
In 2012 the Legislature, sensing that Hawaiians were nearing a stage of political maturity necessary to make a deliberate move on the question of nationhood, passed Act 195. It created what is tantamount to a Hawaiians-only voter registration process referred to as the Native Hawaiian Roll. A five-member Native Hawaiian Roll Commission appointed by the governor is currently managing a registration process of Native Hawaiians to serve as the voter registry to elect delegates to what I would describe as a constitutional convention. OHA agreed to fund the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to carry out the registration process.
OHA’s role in funding the Roll Commission raised concerns that they would attempt to influence the election and the outcome of the subsequent constitutional convention. So, OHA distanced itself from the entire election and convention process by seeking a politically neutral organization to manage the election and convention. A $3 million grant was awarded to a five-member Hawaiian leadership group called Na’i Aupuni. The five members boast impressive credentials and leadership ties to the Hawaiian community, and have declared that they are strictly focused on the mechanics of a delegate election and convention process.
OHA is remaining politically neutral and has steered clear of any contract terms and conditions with Na’i Aupuni that might influence the process or outcomes of the election and convention. Na’i Aupuni has announced that they are working toward an election in November of this year, followed by a convening of the elected delegates in February 2016.
There is a sense of uneasiness with respect to how the Hawaiian Nationals and the Revisionists will position themselves as the election nears. While they don’t agree on much, it seems logical that they both would want to derail the election. Both fear that the nation-within-a-nation model is likely to be embraced as the recommendation to the Hawaiian Community, the state and U.S. federal government.
So, as the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission nears completion of its voter registration drive and the next steps of electing delegates, and amid movement toward staging a constitutional convention, it is clear that the nation-building train has finally left the station – albeit for an unspecified destination.
In the end I hope the vision of a Hawaiian nation that emerges is one that makes Hawaii a better place for everyone.