The quest of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiian people) to re-establish a native government began on Jan. 16, 1893, when U.S. naval forces invaded Hawaii in support of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

It is reinforced by the historical and contemporary injustices reflected in the low incomes, high unemployment rates, disparate incarceration rates, the disproportionate reliance on public assistance and the poor health conditions of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi in Hawaii.

It is provoked by legal suits seeking to dismantle Hawaiian land trusts established by Lāhui ‘Ōiwi Ali‘i (chiefly rulers) and the U.S. Congress and suits seeking to extinguish other Lāhui ‘Ōiwi entitlements. It has been nurtured by the renaissance of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi language, music, hula, navigation and spiritual practices.

View from parking structure at thousands of Aloah Aina Unity march demonstrators holding flags along Kalakaua Avenue on their way to Kapiolani Park. 9 aug 2015 . photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Thousands of people participated in the Aloha Aina Unity March on Oahu last August. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For a nation, sovereignty is most effectively exercised through a governing entity. For over seven centuries prior to European and American contact and through 1810, Lāhui ‘Ōiwi exercised sovereignty through the governance of Ali‘i (chiefs) who ruled the Hawaiian archipelago.

During this period, the government of the indigenous Native Hawaiians was identical to the government of the Hawaii nation-state.

In 1810, one ruling chief, King Kamehameha I, established a monarchial form of government that ruled Hawaii through January 1893. During the monarchy, the governance of the mutli-ethnic Hawaii nation-state began to be distinct from that of the self-governance of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi or the Native Hawaiian indigenous people.

The seeds of this distinction were planted when the King Kamehameha III and the Council of Chiefs allowed non-Hawaiians to become citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This distinction grew when the Hawaii government passed laws and negotiated treaties that worked against the interests and well-being of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi, such as the establishment of a system of private land ownership and the Reciprocity Treaty with the U.S.

It fully matured with the imposition of the 1887 Bayonet Constitution upon King Kalākaua.

Two Entities, Two Kinds Of Status, Two Movements

The overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, together with the governance policy of the U.S. and demographic changes that reduced Lāhui ‘Ōiwi to 21 percent of Hawaii’s resident population by the 21st century has resulted in the existence of two sovereign entities.

The dominant discourse on sovereignty portrays this as one Hawaiian nation with two choices — nation-within-nation status or independence. However, this is not true.

There are two entities:

• Lāhui ‘Ōiwi, the Native Hawaiian indigenous people, and

• Aupuni Hawaii, the multi-ethnic Hawaii nation-state.

Both have the inherent right of sovereignty and the right to exercise this sovereignty through its own government. Neither has re-established a government that is recognized at the state, national or international level. This political condition has given rise to two distinct movements for sovereignty and self-determination in Hawaii.

One movement seeks to re-establish the government of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi and define a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government similar to that with the other indigenous peoples — Native Americans, Native Alaskans and Aleuts.

The second movement seeks to re-establish the government of Aupuni Hawai‘i separate from the U.S. nation-state.

Both movements are rooted in the unique cultural and political history of Hawaii; lay claim to the national lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom currently held by the governments of the U.S. and state of Hawaii; have met challenges and obstacles; and are pursuing distinct political strategies.

A Pathway For Lāhui ‘Ōiwi

The Kana‘iolowalu Roll and Na‘i Aupuni process to elect delegates to a governance convention can re-establish a government of, by and for Lāhui ‘Ōiwi. This government has the potential to manage and control lands that are now managed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the state of Hawaii and receive decommissioned military bases.

With these lands, the Native Hawaiian government can provide housing, health care and insurance; protect subsistence resources; provide cultural education; perpetuate our language and improve the well-being of Native Hawaiians.

The Department of Interior rules will open a pathway for the government of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi to re-establish a relationship with the U.S. federal government.

In each year since the Rice v. Cayetano decision, a group of senators has filed an objection to special funding provisions for Lāhui ‘Ōiwi. Six race-based civil suits have challenged OHA, Hawaiian Homelands and Kamehameha Schools.

Such a relationship will protect federal programs that support scholarships, housing, health, education, elder care and job training for Native Hawaiians from legal challenges. It will also protect the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Ali‘i Trusts and Hawai‘i state constitutional rights of Lāhui ‘Ōiwi from race-based litigation.

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