I am a part of the Native American Political Leadership Program at George Washington University. This program brings together the brightest of native students from across the United States to Washington, D.C.
This program not only provides us with the classes and an internship, but an opportunity to attend various networking events in and around the nation’s capital. Since I am the only Kanaka Oiwi in the program, I take on the role of being a voice for our lahui. With every networking event, I try to ensure that the voices and concerns of our people are present in these conversations.
On Feb. 11, we had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Supreme Court and meet with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. As a Supreme Court justice, Scalia is considered one of the more prominent conservative legal thinkers of his generation. It is also through his blunt dissents that he has earned a reputation as combative and insulting. Nonetheless, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to make the concerns of our people heard
Justice Scalia, the conservative firebrand at the U.S. Supreme Court, offered his views on the annexation of Hawaii.
Since he is on the Supreme Court, I felt that the question should reflect American jurisprudence. Prior to the sit down with Justice Scalia, I sought the advice of Native Hawaiian scholars Keanu Sai, Kamana Beamer, Jon Osorio, Umi Perkins, Noe Goodyear-Kaopua and Kekailoa Perry, all reputable names, over what kind of question I should ask.
The question that I wanted to pose was this: “Does the Constitution provide Congress the power to annex a foreign nation through a joint resolution rather than a treaty?” In Hawaii, it is known that a U.S. joint resolution has no jurisdiction beyond its domestic borders. However, I was adamant about hearing this from the mouth of a legal arbiter of someone I consider to be our occupier.
Kumu Kekailoa Perry, associate professor at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, pointed out that the likely response from Justice Scalia would be the standard non-legal but politically correct answer that most Americans answer; which is that Hawaii was legally annexed, period.
When I asked the question, Justice Scalia offered an elongated answer that incorporated an advanced vocabulary, a biased opinion and a lack of education on international law. Justice Scalia asked: Why a treaty would be needed? He said there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits Congress from annexing a foreign state through the means of a joint resolution. If the joint resolution is passed through both the U.S. House and Senate, and then signed by the president, “it went through a process.”
Justice Scalia then preceded to talk about how that same “process” was used to acquire the Philippines — which, he points out, “we gave back” — and Puerto Rico.
I asked him, “What happened in the case of Hawaii when it was annexed in 1898?”
His answer: “It’s the same thing.” He ended his response by commenting that “in terms of international law, well, there have been hundreds of years worth of problems there.”
A Native American woman soon followed with her own question regarding the sovereignty of Native American tribes. He answered her question in the same elongated manner and, following the conclusion of his response, proceeded to say that he had time for one more question because he had to go.
I shared Justice Scaliaʻs answer to my question with Dr. Jon Osorio. Osorio explained that “the Philippines and Puerto Rico were spoils of war and that the United States came into possession in ways that were well accepted internationally — especially by the European state system, which thrived on just that kind of imperialism.
Hawaii was obviously not that kind of example. That’s part of the problem and something that the U.S. simply will not acknowledge. I think that Scalia is saying that the U.S. does as it wishes and uses its own legal apparatus to accomplish its desires. The question of whether what the U.S. does is acceptable or legitimate to the international community does not seem important or even relevant to him.”
Following my experience at the Supreme Court, I was discouraged and disappointed. But Kumu Kekailoa made me realize that I should be proud of what I did by posing a tough question to someone as powerful as a Supreme Court justice.
I realized that I could not afford to let the opinion of a Supreme Court justice prevent me from seeking justice for my people. With the time I have left in Washington D.C., I will continue to make the voices and concerns of our people heard. I will remain steadfast in my goal of bringing justice to our lahui.
I will sign off with the words of James Keauiluna Kaulia: No laila, mai makaʻu, e kūpaʻa ma ke aloha i ka ʻāina, a e lokahi e ka manaʻo, e kūʻē loa aku i ka hoʻohui ia o Hawaiʻi me Amerika a hiki i ke aloha ʻāina hope loa!
Do not be afraid! Stand firm in love for this land, and unify in this thought: vigorously protest the annexation of Hawaii with America until the very last aloha aina patriot who loves this land!
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Jacob Bryan K. Aki received his B.A. in Hawaiian Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is currently pursuing an M.A. in political management at George Washington University. He is an active member of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and the Democratic Party of Hawaii.