Native Hawaiians, descendants from the union of Papa, Earth Mother and Wākea, Sky Father, have lived in these Hawaiian islands from time immemorial and have had a history of chiefly government for the past 100 generations.

At present the Naʻi Aupuni ʻAha is drafting a new constitution for a Native Hawaiian government, whose purpose is to seek land in Hawaii for Native Hawaiians to live upon, and to allow the 48 percent of Native Hawaiians who have been forced to flee Hawaii’s high cost of living, to return to live upon the land of our Hawaiian ancestors.

An issue of debate is who should be defined as a citizen of the new Hawaiian government. Some might ask if we were not writing a constitution for Native Hawaiians, why would we bother, right? We could just remain as Hawaiian Americans under the present U.S. Constitution.

However, some in the ʻaha argue for an independent Hawaiian government, separate from the United States, and they say that such a government would require that:

  • non-Natives be included in the definition of citizen, as there is precedent in the Kingdom of Hawaii where non-Natives were allowed to swear allegiance to the King and become Hawaiian citizens, and were “welcomed to do so”;
  • that we love the non-Natives we have married,
  • and that an independent nation that includes only natives as citizens is not possible (although the Kingdom of Tongan requires Tongan ancestry for citizenship).

Therefore, some argue that writing a constitution only for Native Hawaiians in a Native Hawaiian government would preclude any option of independence in the future.

A Native Hawaiian chief reclines in his home in the early 1800s in this work by the artist Louis Choris.
A Native Hawaiian chief reclines in his home in the early 1800s in this work by the artist Louis Choris. Chiefly government characterized Hawaiian life for 100 generations. Louis Choris via Wikimedia Commons

Now since it takes a majority of all residents in the State of Hawaii to agree to an independent nation and furthermore requires secession of an American state from the union, the independence option for a separate Hawaiian government is not likely to happen anytime soon. It’s unlikely that a majority of non-Hawaiians today would support independence from America. Moreover, it’s unclear if a majority of Native Hawaiians would support independence today, either; perhaps in another 50 to 100 years.

Even if independence were to happen tomorrow, how would this scenario benefit Native Hawaiians? We would still be a minority on our own islands, not able to afford to buy land and forced to flee Hawaii to make a living.

Is there another option that could provide land for Native Hawaiians, so that we could live in the lands of our ancestors, grow our food, speak our language and practice our customs? Yes, there is: It’s called the United Nationsʻ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Specifically, Articles 3, 4 and 25-27 as addressed below state:

Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.

Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Article 26:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
  2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
  3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 27: States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process. (UNDRIP 2007).

Federal Recognition Of Indigenous Peoples

The good news is that American government has agreed to the UNDRIP, and moreover, provides the status of federal recognition for indigenous peoples living within the territorial boundaries of the United States. One has to write a constitution that declares itself indigenous, or Native Hawaiian in our case, in order to apply for such federal status. It is the only way to get more land set aside for Native Hawaiians. Please note that capital “N” in Native Hawaiians includes all 500,000 Hawaiians of Hawaiian ancestry where as lower case “n” refers to those approximately 50,000 Hawaiians of 50 blood quantum who must prove quantum and can only apply for the 200,000 acres currently set aside (for which there is a wait list of 29,000 names).

Working within the current laws of the United States, and under the advisement of the United Nations, is really the only option. From 1987 to 2004, Ka Lāhui Hawaii wrote a constitution, seated a government in exile and held 31 legislative sessions, all without any state funding, but failed to secure a single acre of land. It could not get federal recognition from the American government and it faded away.

It is clear that if Native Hawaiians want access to out ancestral lands then we have to work with the American government on its terms.

Richard Armstrong, who along with Judd, proposed
Richard Armstrong, who along with Gerrit P. Judd, proposed that foreigners be allowed to become Hawaiian citizens by swearing an allegiance oath. Hawaiian Mission Children's Society via Wikimedia Commons

But what about the idea that the Kingdom of Hawaii welcomed non-natives as citizens? Well, that assertion is not completely, historically accurate. In 1845, thousands of Native Hawaiian citizens of the Kingdom of Hawaii opposed allowing foreigners to become Hawaiian citizens by swearing an oath of allegiance, as proposed by prominent foreigners like Dr. Gerrit P. Judd and Richard Armstrong, who sat with the King in the Privy Council. Native Hawaiians signed petitions stating the following opposing arguments:

  1. Concerning the independence of your kingdom.

  2. That you dismiss the foreign officers whom you have appointed to the Hawaiian officers [in the Privy Council].

  3. We do not wish foreigners to take the oath of allegiance and become Hawaiian subjects.

  4. We do not wish you to sell any more land pertaining to your kingdom to foreigners. (Kameʻeleihiwa 1992: 334)

When the Privy Council replied that they could not run a foreign-style government without foreigners to help them, Native Hawaiian citizens replied:

“The following are our thoughts:

  1. Good foreigners will become no better by taking the oath of allegiance under our Chiefs. Good people are not opposed to us; they do not evade the laws of the Chiefs; they do not wish this kingdom to be sold to others. What good can result from them taking the oath? We do not see any good reason why they should take the oath of allegiance. 

  2. Taking the oath of allegiance to this government will be the cause of greatly increasing wicked men in this land. 

  3. It is not to benefit this people, but for their own personal interests that foreigners suddenly take the oath of allegiance to this government.
  4. What is to be the result of so many foreigners taking the oath of allegiance? This is it, in our opinion; this kingdom will pass into their hands, and that, too, very soon. Foreigners will come on shore with cash, ready to purchase lands … Our King and Sovereign Kamehameha, have compassion upon us, and deliver your people from this approaching perilous condition, if many foreigners shall be introduced into this kingdom at this time, this will be our end, we shall become the servants of foreigners.

Were Native Hawaiians anti-foreigner? Were they racists? Since they reproduced and intermarried with foreigners as soon as they were available, I don’t think so. But I do think they were reacting to 25 years of anti-Hawaiian racism by non-Natives against Native Hawaiians.

In 1820, when the American Calvinist Rev. Hiram Bingham arrived and first met Hawaiians he said, “These naked and chattering savages, can they be human?” And his compatriot, Rev. Charles Stewart said, “Are they not the missing link between brute and man?”

And those sentiments were from the foreigners who were friendly to Hawaiians! Did foreigners become more “friendly” after they became citizens of the Kingdom of Hawaii?

In 1848, as soon as foreigners were allowed to swear allegiance and become citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom, they began to buy up hundreds of acres of land for an average 90 cents per acre, evicting Native Hawaiian tenants from their property. Dr. Judd began to propose to the king that Hawaii should be annexed to the United States of America! Native Hawaiians were extremely opposed to that notion.

So Much For The Oath Of Allegiance

It only got worse over time as sugar barons like Spreckels demanded more land and water for their plantations, at the expense of Native Hawaiians, and a reciprocity treaty with America. Then in 1887, the foreigners of the “Honolulu” Rifles forced King Kalākaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution, upon pain of death, allowing non-citizen foreigners the right to vote, and giving Pearl Harbor to the American military. Were these foreigners friendly to Native Hawaiians?

Queen Liliʻuokalani's bronze statue at the Capitol.
Queen Liliʻuokalani’s bronze statue at the Capitol. When she tried to undo the Bayonet Constitution, foreigners staged a coup d’etat and deposed her in 1893. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

In 1893, when Queen Liliʻuokalani tried to undo the Bayonet Constitution and forbid non-citizen foreigners the right to vote, foreigners who were born in Hawaii, like Lorrin Thurston and Sanford Dole, called for the American military to be landed to support a coup d’etat in favor of the white foreigners (including Portuguese) who were only 12 percent of the citizens. So much for their oath of allegiance to the Hawaiian Kingdom!

Other foreign led anti-Hawaiian events included:

  • 1893: Proclamation of the Provisional Government, ending the Hawaiian Kingdom and calling for annexation to America;
  • 1896: Banning of the Hawaiian language in the public schools and the beating of Native Hawaiian children for speaking Hawaiian;
  • 1900: Territory of Hawaii declared and Hawaiʻi annexed by joint resolution of the U.S. House and Senate, with Hawaiians ceding crown and government to the federal government.
  • 1910: Passed the Alawai Reclamation Canal Act that effectively took away all lands from the Native Hawaiians of Waikīkī by forcing them to buy the fill from the Alawai or forfeit their lands;
  • 1920: Prince Jonah Kūhiō forced to agree to restricting Hawaiian Homelands to 50 percent Hawaiian blood quantum, dividing our people ever since;
  • 1935: Massey case with Joseph Kahahawai murdered. Foreigners convicted of the murder had their sentence commuted to one hour of drinking champagne by the Hawaii-born territorial governor of foreign descent, Lawrence Judd;
  • 1941: Martial law declared in the Territory of Hawaii, and Hawaiian lands taken for military bases all over Hawaii;
  • 1959: Statehood vote taken without Native Hawaiians afforded the right of independence.

Since 1959, there have been hundreds of bills and actions attacking Native Hawaiians and Native Hawaiian land rights, including the attack and arrests of Native Hawaiian protectors on our sacred mountain Mauna Kea. Now in 2016, non-Hawaiians are proposing in the Hawaii State Legislature HR 1635 and HB 2173, designed to take more Hawaiian land from the Native Hawaiians.

Please note that foreign citizens were a problem even when they were only 12 percent of the citizens in 1893. Now that Native Hawaiians are in a minority in the State of Hawaii’s population, and 48 percent of Native Hawaiians have been forced to leave Hawaii to survive, how could we ever expect that the non-natives would favor Native Hawaiian land rights in an independent “Hawaiian” government?

This is why Native Hawaiians, like all indigenous peoples of the world, have a right to write a constitution and form a government where the citizens are only Native Hawaiians; it is the right of our survival as a people. This Native Hawaiian government can seek to take care of the needs of Native Hawaiians, such as access to land, housing, education and health.

Therefore I am glad that the United States affords indigenous peoples the right of federal recognition. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is preferable to the present with no solution at all.

Under the plan of federal recognition, Native Hawaiians can negotiate with the American government, both federal and state, to accumulate ancestral Hawaiian lands for grandchildren, and for our continental cousins, who are 48 percent of our population, to move home to live in Hawaii. And, we can continue to live in harmony here at home with the non-Hawaiians whom we have married.

I am very excited about writing a new constitution for a Native Hawaiian nation and I ask all the people of the state of Hawaii support our good work.

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