Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts relating to nation building. Read Part 1 here.

We have spent much of our time, as Hawaiians, looking backward struggling to see beyond the shroud of pain that is our history. For many Hawaiians the wounds of injustice remain fresh and still burn deep. From this larger group of Hawaiians springs an intense faction of leaders that make up an informal coalition committed to redefining, or even severing, the political relationship with the United States and therefore, the state of Hawaii.

But, for many others the painful history became veiled with the trans-generational march of time, context, and circumstance. They settled on the path of assimilation into the mainstream and resigned themselves to play the cards they were dealt as they moved forward with their lives. They are not less Hawaiian for it and they certainly are not in denial of history. But they seem less engaged and have legitimate concerns that the path to nationhood is dangerously unpredictable and strewn with risks to the socio-economic stability of mainstream life.

OHA nation building supporters

Supporters of nation building at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2014.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Between these two shores lie a vast ocean of uncertainty and distinct schools of thought. Wherever one is perched on the question of a Hawaiian future and nation building, there is one reality that shimmers with anxiety, and it is the realization that the moment is upon us. After all these years we are now caught somewhat by surprise that the call to action has been issued.

So, I will invoke the most commonly used phrase to describe the political call to action that is tumbling through the general Hawaiian community: nation building. To build a nation.

First a nation has to have citizens. There is a somewhat onerous general presumption by the broader public that when Hawaiians speak of a Hawaiian Nation they are speaking of an ethnic nation. I do not believe that is the direction we’re headed, but the question begs an answer and is fundamental to any form of nation building.

An equally onerous question, given that nearly half of the Native Hawaiian population of 527,077, as counted by the U.S. Census, lives on the mainland, is whether you have to live in Hawaii to be a citizen? Another question is will there be a provision for dual citizenship or do you have to give up your U.S. citizenship?

What good is a nation if it cannot generate prosperity for its citizens?

Second, a nation has to be politically recognized by at least one other nation. Under U.S. law scores of Native American Indian Tribes are each politically recognized by the federal government as a “nation within a nation.” Native Alaskan tribes are also recognized. Hawaiians, have yet to be federally recognized as Native Americans much less as qualifying for any form of nation within a nation status. Whether or not to pursue federal recognition — which by the way does not automatically translate to nationhood — is the central dividing question among Hawaiians.

Third, a nation is often defined by a national culture that establish a behavioral norm. This is often acted out by its citizens through cultural practices that relate to food, fashion, music, religion, art and so forth. This might be a complicated construct to navigate for a multicultural Hawaiian nation. While ethnic Hawaiians can proudly claim to exist as a cultural nation, Hawaii as a whole has produced a citizenry of cultural hybrids so how would that national culture be defined? For now I guess we can get away with “local style.”

Fourth, a nation requires economic capacity and the ability to create prosperity for its citizens. What good is a nation if it cannot generate prosperity for its citizens? In the end, Hawaiians are not much different as we strive for a good quality of life: Home ownership, which is the foundation of family wealth in Hawaii; access to health care; safe streets; quality education for our children; and a good job.

When the Legislature passed Act 195 in 2012 it triggered a call to action on nation building. It set in motion what is essentially a voter registration process called Kanaioluwalu that, when joined with a couple of other data bases, would serve as a voter pool to elect presumably ethnic Hawaiian delegates from around the state to a Hawaiian Constitutional Convention referred to as an ‘Aha.

The latest proposal is for it to occur in June of 2015. The delegate assembly would be charged with fashioning a set of recommendations, again presumably, to be ratified by the ethnic Hawaiian voter base, that would set in motion a plan or process to create a new governing entity. That entity would succeed the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, assume all of its assets, redefine its mission and proceed to the next steps of creating a nation.

I am oversimplifying the process and the politics here for brevity. There is a kaleidoscope of moving parts. One is a legislative bill that was just introduced that calls for the repeal of Act 195. It would render the voter registration base moot and, in doing so, it would derail the constitutional convention. Separatists, who do not want to pursue federal recognition, would welcome a repeal of Act 195. For supporters of federal recognition alarm bells are already ringing.

Suffice it say, there is a battle raging between the two camps.

On one side, there are those who demand total independence from the United States, arguing that the “overthrow” and annexation of the Hawaiian Nation were illegal and that the Queen never relinquished her crown.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who seek federal recognition for Hawaiians as a Native American group — not unlike American Indians and Native Alaskans. If they gain such recognition, they would, again presumably, seek nation with a nation status.

About the Author

  • Peter Apo
    A former legislator, Peter Apo is a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the president of the Peter Apo Company LLC, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city's director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of OHA or other organizations he is involved in.