Editor’s note: Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa is a candidate in this month’s election of delegates to a Native Hawaiian constitutional convention, or ‘aha, that will determine if a reorganized Hawaiian government will be formed. She delivered the following speech at a recent panel discussion at the Richardson Law School.

For me the most important issue is land. We Native Hawaiians need land to live upon!

Even if it is just a place to pitch a tent. We need land from which we will not be evicted and forced to live under a bridge to be swept away by flash floods. We need land to live upon where we can practice our culture and speak our own language!

We need land where we can build our houses, and our schools and our own health clinics. We need land where we can grow our own food. We Native Hawaiians are in crisis, we comprise a third of all the homeless, and we need land and housing now!

Flag waving Aloha Aina Unity Demonstrators walk along Kalakaua Avenue on their way to Kapiolani Park for a rally. 9 aug 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Flag waving Aloha Aina Unity demonstrators walk along Kalakaua Avenue on their way to Kapiolani Park for a rally last August.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Just as bad as homelessness today is the modern diaspora of Native Hawaiians fleeing Hawaii to find a house they can afford, so that they wont be homeless! Today, 48 percent of all Native Hawaiians live outside of Hawaii because we cannot afford to live in our own homeland, in the land of our ancestors, in the land where our ancestors have lived for 100 generations. Half of my cousins live away on the continent and yearn to come home. It seems like every month, another cousin decides to move to Vegas or Oregon because the housing is cheaper. How long must we wait for a solution?

Shall we wait another 20 years or until 80 percent of us have to live away?

I am a grandmother now and I worry that my grandchildren will not be able to afford land and will have to move away. Why? Because right now we have three generations living in one townhouse where four adults have college education and where three of us have PhDs, but if any one of us could not work, we could not pay the mortgage.

And I am a full professor! How do folks with less education and less pay make it in Hawaii today? The answer is simple, if they don’t live at home, many are moving to Vegas! Housing now costs so much in Hawaii that shacks are going for $700,000 and many houses on Oahu are going for $1 million. Itʻs only going to get worse. How will our grandchildren ever be able to afford a home?

I have had Native Hawaiian friends where each of their three adult children, and their spouses and children all lived in one four-bedroom house. That means that mother and father had one bedroom, and each of the 3 other bedrooms had a husband and wife and several children in each bedroom.

There were 20 adults and children that lived in that house and they were so lucky because they were not homeless! Would they prefer their own house? Of course they would and how do we support them in doing so?

We Must Have A Government

So we Native Hawaiians are in a crisis and we need land. And in order to get land we must have a government, a Native Hawaiian government, not a state agency, who can negotiate with the state and federal governments for land for Native Hawaiians. We must have a Native Hawaiian government, elected by Native Hawaiians, and serving Native Hawaiians — we need an Aupuni Mālama Hawaii! We need a government who will take care of Native Hawaiians and make sure that we have land forever in our islands to practice our culture, to speak our own language, to grow our own food, and to pass land and housing on to our grandchildren.

So how do we get a government? We have an option before us right now called Naʻi Aupuni whereby delegates would be elected to write a constitution for a Native Hawaiian government.

Then if that constitution is ratified by Native Hawaiians, an election would be held to seat a government. But some folks are saying that is a bad option, and they argue for us to wait for independence. These folks are Native Hawaiians; some of them are my students for whom I have great aloha, so I must consider what they have to say.

One objection to the Naʻi Aupuni process is that it is being paid for by the state agency, the Office for Hawaiian Affairs, and that the rolls being used are from Kanaʻiʻolowalu, also paid for by OHA. Some prefer that this process of collection of Native Hawaiian rolls be done by a grass-roots process and not by a state agency so that there be no influence from the state of Hawaii, even though the OHA funds are the 20 percent of state revenues owed to Hawaiians by state law.

Another objection to the Naʻi Aupuni process is that it could lead to U.S. federal recognition of Native Hawaiians under American law, and they argue that federal recognition would prevent Hawaii from becoming independent from America again.

I felt exactly the same way 30 years ago. I was one of the thousands of Native Hawaiians that worked for free for years organizing Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi. We wrote a constitution in 1987, held two subsequent constitutional conventions, and registered 20,000 citizens. In 1993, we led a march of 18,000 to commemorate the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and to call for a return of our sovereignty.

In 1994, we wrote a manifesto supporting fundamental rightsand we worked at the Legislature to ask for control of the Ceded Lands trust. In 1995, we began sending a delegation to the United Nations to ask for international rights to self-determination and for decolonization (and have done so every year ever since) and pushed for federal recognition under American law in 2000. For 17 years we seated a legislature that met three times a year, on different islands, and we did all of this without state money.

We believed that there were four arenas of sovereignty work:

1) International – or working at the United Nations for formal decolonization;

2) Federal – or working in Washington, D.C., for federal recognition;

3) Organizing our people – or enrolling more people into Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi to support a governing structure and a call for a land base;

and 4) Native nation to native nation treaty making – or engaging with other native nations to support their efforts for self determination.

All of us were determined to work in one of these four arenas. And we didn’t get one acre of land for our people. Why was that? We did everything right!

Federal Recognition Is Essential

Our problem in Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi was that we didn’t have any legal way to interact with the American government. We could not work out a deal for federal recognition, and without it we could not get any of the powers that be —that is, the American government at the federal level — to work with us. And, we didn’t believe we should work with the state of Hawaii.

Our other problem in Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi was that we had no money, and it was just too difficult to sustain political action as a part time effort while working full time to pay rent and buy food.

Now fast-forward 30 years. We Native Hawaiians don’t have land, we don’t have federal recognition, there are still 27,000 native Hawaiians of 50% blood on the waiting list for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homesteads, and the other 450,000 of us who are Native Hawaiian (less than 50 percent) are being forced out of Hawaii in a modern diaspora by the super-rich who are buying up Hawaii.

There are many of us, and I am one, who are very glad that the state wants to give money to support social justice for Native Hawaiians, and to help right the great wrong that was done in 1893. I think it is a sign of its aloha for us.

It costs money to organize elections, and to hold constitutional conventions. It takes money to hold elections to seat a Native Hawaiian government. And even the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls upon the states, or the colonial power, to pay for the costs of indigenous peoples seeking self-determination.

So I do not object to Kanaʻiʻolowalu or Naʻi Aupuni having state funding. In fact I am delighted that we can proceed with establishing a Hawaiian nation. 

Independence For Hawaii?

So does that mean, as my colleagues would suggest, that I do not want independence for Hawaii from the United States of America? No, it does not. If I had a dollar for every time I told a non-Hawaiian that we still want the country back, and had them look at me as if I were crazy, I would be a rich woman today!

But the independent Hawaii that I want does not seem to be the independent Hawaii that others want. I want an independent nation that is for and by Native Hawaiians. I don’t want to evict anyone, and I support giving everyone the basic freedoms of religion and speech, etc., but I follow the Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi constitution that would make non-Natives, whom we have married and whom we love, honorary citizens, with all the rights of Native Hawaiian citizens, but not the right to vote or hold elected office.

I want an independent Hawaii that honors special rights for land, language and cultural practices for Native Hawaiians.

Many others want an independent Hawaii where Native Hawaiians have no special rights to land, language or cultural practices, and wherein all people have “equal” rights. This model sounds like what we have right now under America—– what would be the difference under independence? Since we Native Hawaiians are still a minority in our homeland, and since independence folks that I have talked with won’t agree to Native Hawaiian rights, I cannot support that model of independence.

Here is something else. Both models for achieving independence for Hawaii — either decolonization through the United Nations, or deoccupation through the American military, cannot occur without the agreement of the American government.

Now how long do you think it might take for America to completely withdraw its military from Hawaii? Will it happen in 30 years? In 50 years? In 100 years?

Federal Recognition And The DOI Rules

I feel really guilty that 30 years ago I opposed state support and moving ahead. I was wrong then, and I want to right that wrong decision. I canʻt wait another 30 years. I want to see a Native Hawaiian government in my lifetime, an Aupuni Mālama Hawai‘i who will mālama my grandchildren, and I want that government to apply for U.S. federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

I have read the DOI rules (75 pages) and I find them quite fair, especially in their care for the preservation of the rights of the Native Hawaiians (50% blood quantum) to the 200,000 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands. Given how few people of any ethnicity vote in Hawaii, I consider the numbers required to ratify our new constitution are too high, but others say I am mistaken.

Will U.S. federal recognition prevent us as Native Hawaiians from achieving independence from America in the future? Will it stop the Kingdom of Hawaii that includes non-Hawaiian citizens from achieving independence from America in the future? The answer is no, but only if that is what the people want.

As a historian I have seen the political boundaries on maps change frequently over time. It was once said that “the sun never set on the British Empire,” and now it does. Those countries that were part of the British Empire were told they could never become independent, but when the people of India wanted their country back, there was no stopping them.

Peopleʻs desires and political opinions make for political change, and laws and constitutions are rewritten. That is how the world really works.

It seems that there are 1,300 Ahupuaʻa in the Hawaiian Archipelago and I want land for our Native Hawaiian nation in each of those 1,300 ahupuaʻa. I want those lands put into trust so that they can never be sold. I want a Native Hawaiian government that will work continuously to secure the decommissioning of the military bases.

I want the 1,300 acres of Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo and the return of our sacred lands at the Mōkapu Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where in the Kāne tradition, the first Hawaiian man was made. I want all of our sacred mountains put into this trust – Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Haleakalā, Puʻu Kukui, Moaʻula, Lānaʻihale, Kamākou, Kaʻala, Konahuanui, Kānehoalani, Waiʻaleʻale and Pānīʻau.

I want the Aupuni Mālama Hawaiʻi to have co-management of all the lands and waters of Hawaii, including Papahānaumokuākea.

I want the federal monies that go to federally recognized tribes for housing, health and education. I want us to build our own houses and schools. Did you know that today 40 percent of all children in the DOE schools are Native Hawaiian, but are learning almost nothing about our ancestral culture and barely able to pronounce our ancestral names? And did you know that out of all the children in the DOE schools only 1 percent are in Hawaiian Immersion? Do you think that our ancestral language will survive another 30 years of DOE mismanagement?

I want each of us who are Native Hawaiian to ask those who oppose the Naʻi Aupuni process and U.S. federal recognition to show us their plan and their timeline for securing land and housing for Native Hawaiians.

Some who oppose this process have Hawaiian Homelands; will they invite houseless Hawaiians to come live on their lands?

Others own lands in fee simple; will they give land to my grandchildren? If one argues for no dealings with the state or the federal governments, will they give up their jobs at the university? Will they give up their federally mandated Hawaiian Homelands? I don’t think so, because we all have children and we are all one paycheck away from being homeless.

Naʻi Aupuni Constitutional Convention

So I ask all of you who are Native Hawaiian to vote for those leaders who want to write the best constitution possible. I recommend that we begin to study various constitutions and documents that declare allegiance to fundamental rights and to the support of Native Hawaiian lands, language and cultural traditions. We should look at the Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi constitution, and the Bolivian constitution that enshrined the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We should look at the Tongan constitution that doesn’t allow non-Tongans to own land in Tonga, or to the Cook Island constitution that does not allow the buying and selling of land. We should look at the Norwegian and Swedish constitutions that give free medical care and education to their people.

We should proceed to make our Native Hawaiian nation and ensure that we survive as a distinct people and culture in the land of our ancestors. We should invite our cousins to move home from the continent, making sure that they have land, too. When we have 1 million Hawaiians in Hawaii and we are in the majority once more, and when we can show the world how we Mālama ‘āina and Mālama kanaka, then we can apply for independence.

Aloha nui kākou.

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