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Nai Aupuni said Wednesday it will not be conducting a ratification vote on the proposed Native Hawaiian constitution produced by a convention process, or aha, last month.
Instead, Nai Aupuni — a private nonprofit organization supported through funds from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs — said it believes that it is the aha participants that can “best advance the ratification vote and conduct the important process of educating our communities about the constitution.”
The participants “represent a diverse and multigenerational cross section of the Native Hawaiian leaders from Hawaii, the North American Continent, Asia and Europe,” Nai Aupuni said in a press release.
Members of the aha say they are already proceeding to educate people about the constitution and raising money for a ratification vote that could take place by the end of this year.
Naalehu Anthony, an aha participant, said Nai Aupuni’s announcement had been expected.
“That had been the sentiment from the close of the aha, that Nai Aupuni would not participate in the ratification effort,” he said. “There were a handful of us, supporters of the movement, that had already started a grassroots funding campaign.”
The group, which does yet not have a formal name, has a website (alohalahui.com) to raise private funds — one that as of Wednesday morning had brought in $5,000 — and another website (HawaiianNation.com) that is under construction.
“Aloha Lahui” can be translated as “love the nation,” but Anthony said a name for the new group was less important than the intent to move forward with nation-building. He said he and other aha participants have been participating in outreach efforts to “further articulate what a constitution means” and to raise money.
“I would say that this came out of the aha as well — a sentiment but also a very real sense of unity and wanting to move forward,” he said. “Having been to almost every day of the aha, I saw young people working with kupuna and people I have known my entire life growing up with the movement who for a quarter century had never sat in a room with each other, let alone for a month. They did it for aloha lahui, for this place and in the spirit that we are moving forward.”
Another aha participant, Mahealani Cypher, agreed and stressed the grassroots-driven nature of the efforts.
“It’s actually something beneficial for all of Hawaii,” she said of the aha process and the proposed constitution. “There is a lot of confusing information going out, and I want to assure people to not be afraid of it.”
Within the aha, however, there was dissent, and agreement on the constitution was far from unanimous.
Meanwhile, another group, Aha Aloha Aina 2016, has held its own meetings on nationhood. It not only opposes Nai Aupuni but also rejects U.S. Department of the Interior efforts to federally recognize Hawaiians as it does other indigenous groups.
Nai Aupuni has also been the target of legal action by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which fought Nai Aupuni’s plan to have a private election for aha delegates before Nai Aupuni gave up on the idea last fall.
But now, leaders of Nai Aupuni say that the group has achieved its goal: to provide an opportunity for Native Hawaiian leaders “to exercise their inherent right to self-determination, to discuss self-governance options and, if they so decided, to develop a constitution that would unify and best serve the current and anticipated needs of Native Hawaiians.”
Kuhio Asam, Nai Aupuni president, said in the organization’s press release that the aha participants “evidenced a remarkable willingness and ability to identify leadership, build critical teams, and respectfully support the voices of many divergent opinions. It is for these reasons that we are deferring to the aha participants to further advance their work.”
As for any continuing legal challenge by the Grassroot Institute, Nai Aupuni’s legal counsel Bill Meheula says such efforts are moot now that it won’t hold a ratification vote. He said Nai Aupuni is “hopeful” that the case will be dismissed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Meheula also said remaining grant funds of a little over $100,000 to pay for the aha will be returned to the Office of Hawaii Affairs, and that Nai Aupuni would later share publicly how several million dollars in OHA funds were spent.
Kelii Akina, who leads Grassroot Institute, criticized Nai Aupuni’s announcement.
“Despite their continued assertions that their actions are lawful and democratic, and that they are soliciting the full spectrum of opinions from the Native Hawaiian people, every decision Nai Aupuni makes flies in the face of such claims,” he said in a statement. “At this point, it is obvious that the state recognizes that it lacks the support of the Hawaiian people as well the citizens of the state as a whole. Otherwise, why would they continue to hide from a public vote?”
Akina continued: “After the millions that have been spent on the state’s nation-building process, from the marketing and lobbying efforts to the aha, what do the Hawaiian people have to show for it? An unconstitutional race-based election effort and a ‘constitution’ that the state seems to want to wash its hands of. This represents a significant waste of funds that could have been better used on the projects that Hawaiians truly care about — like health care, job training, housing, and education. Perhaps it’s time for Nai Aupuni and the state to open their books and show some accountability to the Hawaiian people for this failed project.”
Others have different concerns.
“I find it frightening how quickly their process is becoming progressively less democratic and less accountable as it moves forward,” said Dr. Kalamaoka’aina Niheu of Aha Aloha Aina. “It’s the height of arrogance to think that this un-elected body of only 88 people is trying to position themselves to speak for all Kanaka Maoli, define who is and is not Hawaiian, and worse yet, that anyone is taking them seriously. Rather than educating and including our people, the same small core group is sowing confusion in our community by constantly trying to divorce themselves from the taint of their most recent name: first the Akaka Bill to Kau Inoa to HSEC to Kanaiolowalu to Nai Aupuni to Aha 2016 and now a fundraising site called Aloha Lahui? A’ole pono kela.”
Niheu added: “Aha Aloha Aina follows in the footsteps of the Kue Petitions and the 1993 Tribunal Komike, convened by our great kupuna of the Independence movement, Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell. We are unafraid of taking this process directly to our community because we have trust in our communities. Everyone is welcome. Unlike Nai Aupuni, our kupuna will not be barred entry by a chained gate and we will not arrest those who simply ask to bring their concerns to the table.”
But OHA Trustee Peter Apo, a Civil Beat columnist, said, “My take is that it is a good move on (Nai Aupuni’s) part. I suspected that they would kind of distance themselves from the process from a legal perspective, and I also don’t think they have the money even if they wanted to proceed.”
Apo added: “And then I think they came somewhat to the conclusion that the aha was really pretty positive, that the constitution is out there, the aha leadership seemed really competent. They probably felt it was in good hands and OK for them to bow out. There is a new center of gravity.”