Earlier this month, while I was walking in downtown Honolulu, a Native Hawaiian kupuna visiting from the Big Island reached out with his hand and stopped me as I almost passed him by. “Excuse me brah, I like ask you one question,” he began. “Who cleans this place?”
“No one!” I answered, much to his surprise. “As you can see, there’s dead animals on the ground; trash all over here; and someone even left their dirty underwear in the bushes!”
Stunned by how aware I was of all the surrounding details, the man told me how Oahu was “a disgrace” and a perfect example of how the state has failed to do its basic duty. On his way to visit the Legislature to raise concerns, he revealed to me that he believed all of this was a result of the overthrow of the Kingdom, and that he was putting me and everyone else “on notice.”
I told him I agreed wholeheartedly with him, asked if I could pray briefly with him, and after invoking a blessing of success upon his efforts, we shook hands, and went our separate ways.
Though I would not consider him a sovereignty activist, a perception that the state has mismanaged the islands and brought about poor outcomes for Native Hawaiians is a key fissure in the many fault lines that divide locals today.
This session, the Legislature has proposed with House Concurrent Resolution 37 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 37 to “convene a blue ribbon reconciliation commission to examine and formulate a reconciliation process relating to issues of past, present, and future importance to the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America.”
The contentious Thirty Meter Telescope project brought to the surface a lot of pent up emotions over culture and religion, and served as a spark for public demonstrations all across the islands over not just the telescope, but over Native Hawaiian outcomes in general.
Unfortunately, yet another commission will have little actual impact on “reconciliation” between Native Hawaiians and the state of Hawaii. The Legislature has a historic habit of creating task forces stuffed with hand-picked stakeholders who come up with a glorified wish list of objectives and best practices that at the end of the day are ignored.
Not Getting A Fair Deal
The divide between Native Hawaiians and the state is more than just debating the historical details of what has happened since 1893 or how to make people feel better.
Hearing Native Hawaiians oppose the TMT, Homeland Defense Radar and other projects over ancient graves, cultural artifacts and environmental concerns is not only predictable, it is inevitable under poor economic conditions. This is not a local phenomena; it is a historical pattern repeated the world over.
The ongoing assertions of Native Hawaiians against local development are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s King Richard II who bemoaned, “We can call nothing our own except for our deaths and that little patch of earth that will cover our buried bodies. For God’s sake, let’s sit on the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings, how some were overthrown and others killed in war.”
When people feel that they don’t have a place in the system and that nothing they do, good or bad, can result in progress, the only thing left is conflict.
Forget a blue-ribbon commission.
First and foremost, Hawaii must solve the housing crisis. Native Hawaiians need to be home owners, not just renters, to have a long-term stake as active participants in the community. And while I can hear in my mind detractors saying, “but Danny, in ancient Hawaii we didn’t own the land, sea or sky” my response is thinking like that is precisely what the establishment uses as a convenient excuse not to remedy the crisis.
Second, Hawaii needs to stop penalizing poverty. When we have a government that wants to tax stormwater, tax miles driven on the road, tax visits into Honolulu, tax property to pay for education, tax healthcare, and tax everything else imaginable, we aren’t raising revenues, we are suppressing impoverished people from climbing the economic ladder.
Between all the fees, fines, taxes and the already expensive cost of living, locals are treated like serfs on a feudal plantation. Like Rocky Balboa, Hawaii residents have to ask, “Yo, don’t I get some rights?”
Last and most importantly, we need to all recognize that Hawaii in 2020 is not a fair place to work, live and play. We are living in a palace economy where the next big success depends on a law passed by the Legislature, or a contract issued by government, rather than the innovation of local ideas and the triumph of local people.
In Hawaii, rather than enforcing existing laws or taking care of our current responsibilities, our government just creates new laws on top of defective ones and more responsibilities on top of unfulfilled ones.
And what is the result? Our people are impoverished, our lands are covered with trash, and politicians live as career barons and kingmakers.
Native Hawaiians can’t take pride in a state that is falling apart. We don’t need “reconciliation” in Hawaii. We need the existing Hawaii government to do their damn job and get this state working again. You’ll be surprised how well that brings everyone together again.
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Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.