Kauikeauoli, Kamehameha III, declared in the mid-1800s, “He aupuni palapala koʻu,” mine is a kingdom of literacy. We were a lāhui na‘auao, an educated and enlightened nation.

Western education, while introduced by foreigners, was promoted heavily by the Hawaiian Kingdom and as a result, the Native Hawaiian people quickly became one of the most literate groups in the world.

We are no longer one of the most literate groups in the world.

I, like many Hawaiians, nonetheless still firmly believe in education, both western and Hawaiian. We are a people capable of great intellect and innovation.

An informed and educated Hawaiian community should decide the future of the Hawaiian people, and I believe many of the recent efforts to move towards self-determination have contributed more to Hawaiian miseducation than education.

Since Act 195 was first passed and signed into law in 2011 by the Hawaii State Legislature, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has spent close to $4 million on the Hawaiian Roll Commission, commonly known as Kana‘iolowalu. Despite this extraordinary expenditure, less than 19,000 individuals voluntarily registered by August 2013, which amounts to less than 4 percent of the global Native Hawaiian population. A second bill was passed to bolster the effort, Act 77 (2012) added OHA’s former efforts at a Native Hawaiian registry to the Roll, pushing the current roll’s numbers over 75,000.

It is unlikely that the initial efforts actually resulted in many individuals who had not signed onto the previous efforts (including Kau Inoa, Hawaiian Registry Program and Operation ‘Ohana). At this point, one must ask why OHA spent close to $4 million in trust funds when the majority of the registry was created through legislation that cost beneficiaries nothing?

Kana‘iolowalu is sadly only the latest registry effort to face-plant out of the gate. There have been four separate registry programs spanning about a decade of work; millions of beneficiary dollars have been spent. Yet, less than 20 percent of Hawaiians are registered among the four programs.

To provide historical context, more people signed the Ku‘e Petitions than voluntarily registered with Kana‘iolowalu, and the Ku‘e Petition movement consisted of people collecting signatures by horseback in the fall of 1897 when the entire Hawaiian population was less than 40,000 people.

Isn’t it time to say the current effort isn’t working?

It doesn’t work because at its core this is a campaign conceived of by a few people for masses that remain uninformed as to its agenda and unconvinced of its goals.

Maybe Hawaiians don’t want to be Native American Indians. Maybe we shouldn’t be pursuing a federal recognition path that tries to squeeze us awkwardly into the mold of American Indian tribes.

Maybe we just want to be Hawaiians. And we deserve a campaign that opens dialogues as to what that means for us today and excludes no option when determining for ourselves how to move forward.

We deserve a campaign that discusses the many ways forward, including, but limited to, thorough and articulate considerations of restoration, restitution and recognition.


The Nation of Hawai‘i should be restored in some form for those who want that option. Some may not; such should be their right. Yet, part of the problem of attempting to move forward with Hawai‘i sovereignty has been the gross misinformation of what the Nation was or more importantly, was not.

The Nation of Hawai‘i was an independent sovereign nation, and it was not race based.

It was not race based then, it should not be made so now.

The Nation should be restored in some form because it was illegally and wrongly overthrown. That wrong should be made right.

For those who believe independence is impossible, I invite you to travel to any one of the many independent Pacific Island nation states that continue to prosper under independence. Independence is not only possible, but also commonplace.

But “the illegal overthrow” as it is called in the Apology Resolution (P.L. 103-150) was a wrong to every Hawai‘i National and a wrong to this place.

”Restoration of the Nation” should be just that. The effort to craft a restored nation that is inconsistent with what the Nation was originally is a significant factor in why the effort continues to fail.

You can’t take all the parts of a Mustang and restore it into a Camaro.


Once the Nation was illegally overthrown, Hawai‘i entered into a dark era of blatant, violent, express and institutionalized discrimination against Native Hawaiians in an effort to further western economic and political agendas.

We do not have the death penalty in Hawai‘i today because Native Hawaiians and immigrant groups were being disproportionately executed when we did have the death penalty in Hawai‘i. The problem was so bad that the death penalty would eventually be outright banned in Hawai‘i. That prohibition continues today.

For the institutionalized discrimination and resulting harm against the Native Hawaiian people (as a class of people identified by race, ancestry and ethnicity), there needs to be restitution to remedy the past harm.
This is separate from the Nation issue. This is akin to restitution given to the Japanese after WWII or restitution due African-Americans for slavery.

In the former of those two cases, the U.S. Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in the 1980s to study the issue. This led to a report that recommended reparations to the Japanese-Americans who were victims of internment, an act codified in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The Act also provided restitution to the Aleut civilian residents of the Pribilof Islands and the Aleutian Islands for, among other things, “injustices suffered and unreasonable hardships endured while those residents were under United States control…” and “traditional village lands on Attu Island not rehabilitated after World War II for Aleut occupation or other productive use.”

This is remedy due the Hawaiian people by the United States for how Native Hawaiians were treated and for the resulting intergenerational harm. It should be specific and finite.


Recognition is about ancestry and knowledge. Recognition provides that indigenous people of a place were the true “First Discovers” and over time built a relationship with a place that was disrupted by foreign contact.

Recognition is not about restoration or restitution, it’s about recognizing that indigenous peoples have knowledge about and connections to a place that should be honored and integrated into decision making. This is not about giving indigenous people a benefit, rather it’s about institutionalizing mechanisms where native, cultural and community knowledge is utilized in a manner that benefits anyone who enjoys a particular place.

Recognition has little to do with sovereignty and even less to do with restoration. It recognizes a native tribe’s former sovereignty, but it does not restore it. Tribes may be given some authority, but it a shadowy fraction of what historically existed.

To a degree, Native Hawaiians have recognition. It exists in the Hawai‘i State Constitution, the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws. It needs to be enhanced and amplified. Native Hawaiians should collectively move towards having all the rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the United States announced it would sign onto in December 2010.


I’m frustrated because we deserve better. Earlier this year, Kana‘iolowalu issued a “notice” in the Ka Wai Ola (OHA’s newspaper) with the following statement: “Native Hawaiians who choose not to be included on the official roll risk waiving their right, and the right [sic] of the their children and descendants, to be legally and politically acknowledged as Native Hawaiians…”

This appears to directly contradict the language of the Commission’s enabling legislation, which reads: “No diminishment of rights or privileges. Nothing contained in this chapter shall diminish, alter, or amend any existing rights or privileges enjoyed by the Native Hawaiian people that are not inconsistent with this chapter.”

It seems like the Commission has taken authority they don’t have and used it to threaten Hawaiians into registering for a future the Commission seems unable to articulate. The Commission is beginning to walk and talk like the thug instigators of the Overthrow. And it’s no surprise people aren’t interested in signing up.
Instead of uniting us, the Roll continues to dissect us.

My frustration should not indicate an unwillingness to be part of us “coming together.” I’ve just not seen good leadership tied to a good mechanism to make this happen.

If the right person asked, in the right way, with the right message, I think many of us would step forward and we would all be able to see what an extraordinary group Hawaiians are today.

The right person could inspire the Hawaiian people into collective action.

What is painfully obvious is that the Roll Commission process has not produced that inspiration.

There is no reason not to take a step back, constitute a federal Commission, much like the Native Hawaiians Study Commission established in 1980, but one that looks specifically at the issues of restoration, restitution and recognition, and calls upon the many Native Hawaiians who enjoy a range of perspectives and expertise to identify a plan or range of plans that work for all Hawaiians.

If not through the federal government, than OHA should fund a citizen commission. If $4 million of trust funds can be spent on Kana‘iolowalu, then surely a fraction of that can be spent on an effort led by the community, with the community.

One of my favorite O‘ahu chief was Mā‘ilikūkahi. This is one of my favorite passages about him, written by Samuel Kamakau.

When the kingdom passed to Māili-kūkahi, the land divisions were in a state of confusion… Therefore Māili-kūkahi ordered the chiefs, alii, the lesser chiefs, kaukau alii, the warrior chiefs, pūali alii, and the overseers, luna to divide all of Oahu into moku and ahupua’a,ili kūpono, iliāina, and mooāina. There were six districts, moku, and six district chiefs, alii nuiāi moku. Chiefs were assigned to the ahupua’a – if it was a large ahupua’a, a high chief, an alii nui, was assigned to it. Lesser chiefs, kaukau alii, were placed over the kūpono lands, and warrior chiefs, iliāina. Lands were given to the makaāinana all over Oahu.

ili-kūkahi commanded the chiefs, kāhuna, lesser chiefs, warrior chiefs and people: “Cultivate the land, raise pigs and dogs and fowl, and take the produce for food. And you, chiefs of the lands, do not steal from others or death will be the penalty. The chiefs are not to take from the makaāinana….”

The chiefs and people agreed with pleasure. Because of his exceedingly great concern for the prosperity of the kingdom, the chiefs and people never rebelled during his reign. No voice was heard in complaint or grumbling against this alii, from the chiefs to the commoners, from the most prominent poe kiekie to the most humble poe haaha`a.

I was taught to believe in people, to support distribution of power to the people. Give people the freedom to find solutions that work for them and the people will prosper. Why can’t we build many roads forward? Celebrate our diversity, rather than diminish it.

The 400,000 Native Hawaiians (over 80 percent of the global population of Hawaiians, according to the census) who have decided not to register deserve an opportunity to be heard. We deserve options. Real options. All the options. We have the intellect and the innovation to develop and explore them.

In the 25 years that have passed since the promulgation of the Native Hawaiian Education Act, countless Hawaiians have utilized that opportunity to educate themselves. The aupuni palapala has been rekindled. The lāhui na‘auao reignited.

Give us an opportunity to use our education and innovation to craft futures of our own making.

About the author: Trisha Kehaulani Watson was born and raised in Manoa Valley on the island of Oahu. She is a graduate of Punahou School. She obtained her M.A. from Washington State University and her J.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. She specializes in environmental and cultural resource conservation.

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