For a man who has not been around Hawai’i lately Secretary of State John Kerry has been, for the past three months,  the “talk of town.”

Secretary Kerry was, after all, the intended recipient of Dr. Kamana’opono Crabbe’s letter of May 5, 2014. That letter asked four questions— the first of which was whether the Kingdom of Hawai’i continues to exist and the last which implied that OHA trustees might incur criminal liability in pursuing the “Native Hawaiian Roll” leading to federal recognition.

Immediately, the Department of Interior rushed in and held 15 statewide hearings on establishing rules to enable a Native Hawaiian government – e.g. federal recognition. The testimony of the hundreds emphasized that the most important issues were those in Kerry’s domain — concerns relating to foreign relations. The two most prevalent points, raised time and again, were (1) whether the United States has sovereignty over the Hawaiian Islands and (2) whether the Kingdom of Hawai’i, a sovereign and independent nation, continues to exist.

Hawaiian flag at OHA  press conference

A Hawaiian flag is displayed at a May 12, 2014, press conference in support of Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The continued existence of the Kingdom would render the Department of Interior’s proposal legally questionable. The existence of the Kingdom raises the question that Hawai’i is occupied by the United States in violation of international law. As a result, such occupation has extraordinary ramifications as to current United States foreign policy around the world because of the Kingdom of Hawai’i’s treaties with other independent nations.

Officials of the Departments of Interior and Justice who represented the United States at these hearings did not answer these questions; deferring to the Department of State as the appropriate agency. The hearings, according to many, should have been held before Secretary Kerry and the State Department not the Department of Interior.

Since August 7, Kerry has been in Afghanistan, Burma and Australia. On August 13 he will meet with leaders of the Solomon Islands and lay wreaths at the Guadalcanal memorial.  Later, he will fly to Honolulu and give remarks on ASEAN issues at the East-West Center. Then he will leave. There are no plans to address the Hawaiian question.

He could, while he is here simply say “no” — like Governor Abercrombie did — No, the Kingdom of Hawai’i no longer exists.”

Kerry, who is responsible for such an answer and much better placed to respond, probably will not address the subject. He would have to overcome a lot of legal facts — (1) the failure of the United States to ratify the 1897 Treaty of Annexation, (2) the inability of the joint resolution of 1898, a mere congressional act without power to acquire the Hawaiian Islands, and (3) the international rule of law which presumes the continuity of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

Indeed, he would also have to overcome a 1988 opinion by the Department of Justice, directed to the State Department by which the author admitted that it was “unclear” how the United States acquired Hawai’i. That concession is critical given that the United States has the burden of proof as to demonstrating how it extinguished the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

Thus, the significance of Secretary Kerry’s visit to Hawai’i will be what he didn’t do while here: answer the single most important question raised in Hawai’i since 1898.

The continued failure to comprehensively answer this question points to the continued existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom.  We hope that one day Secretary Kerry will help us answer this critical issue.



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