I don’t know about the rest of the Hawaiians out there, but I’m tired.
I’m politically tired. I’m emotionally tired. I’m spiritually tired. I don’t think the exhaustion of being Hawaiian and politically active gets discussed enough. People outside of activism circles enjoy a certain voyeurism; you can observe what is unfolding without actually understanding the complexities of what is unfolding or being impacted by it.
Civic consciousness is a grind. Being aware of your actions and their impacts requires a lot of mental energy. Questions are constantly running through your head: Is this a good thing I’m doing? Is it fair? Is it just? Am I harming anyone? Anything?
I think the kids these days call this being “woke,” and the idea of tying this to an “awakening” is precisely what it is. Yet, unlike how some people perhaps (incorrectly) understand it, it isn’t simply a moment or singular actions – it is a way of life.
Lawmakers are considering creating a special commission to resolve Native Hawaiian issues.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
This awakening seems to be growing, thankfully. It was on full display at the Oscar’s this past weekend, with winners Taika Waititi talking about the importance of indigenous storytelling, Joaquin Phoenix’s passionate advocacy for animal rights, and climate activist and acting legend Jane Fonda walking on stage with a previously worn dress and the red coat she wears when being arrested at climate protests.
On Monday, Hawaiians were back to the grind. Again, they were taking off work and using their own time to testify at the House Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs Committee on House Concurrent Resolution No. 37. HCR 37 is a proposed resolution “Requesting the Governor 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 governor himself sent in testimony in “strong support,” with written testimony claiming “House Concurrent Resolution No. 37 Presents a United and Comprehensive Way Forward for All the People of Hawai‘i.” Yet, despite its seemingly neutral and benign title, it was very clear that the resolution and governor’s support was really about Mauna Kea.
The attorney general also supported the resolution, testifying in person, in addition to providing written testimony. It honestly boggles my mind how the attorney general was in court only last week aggressively subpoenaing the financial records of nonprofits active in the protection of Mauna Kea, but then stands before the House with a straight face advocating for a reconciliation process.
Similar testimony in support was submitted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Human Services, Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim, Maunakea Observatories and Imua TMT.
A range of opposition came in from the community, particularly Hawaiians, including a petition with hundreds of names opposed to the measure.
I’m a big fan of the idea of reconciliation, but what is critical to remember about reconciliation is that the what isn’t nearly as important as the how. Resolving centuries of injustice isn’t going to suddenly emerge from an HCR. It just doesn’t work like that.
I don’t entirely hate this HCR. The intent and idea aren’t bad ones, but there are critical problems with it.
First, there seems to have been the total sum of zero community engagement behind it. If this was something that emerged from negotiations with the kia‘i or community leaders, then show that. Put on a big press conference with all the community and cultural leaders who helped shape this. Absent that, I’m going to assume this came out of a Cracker Jack box.
Second, this plan bites off way more than it can chew. The resolution states that “the Legislature request the Blue Ribbon Reconciliation Commission to make recommendations that:
Identify processes that can be documented and replicated; and
Propose reconciliation measures that can be implemented…”
That first recommendation is okay. There should be some concrete movement on identifying processes for reconciliation. Lest we forget, it was process that ultimately led to the failure of Na‘i Aupuni. So yes, let’s start talking about a better process: one that is transparent, community-based and focused on the individual self-determination of Hawaiians. Let us finally take the time to learn to crawl before we try to take off sprinting.
Yet to expect this commission to “propose reconciliation measures that can be implemented” is ridiculous — totally and utterly ridiculous. How can any singular panel, especially one that has not been fairly selected by the Hawaiian community itself, legitimately claim to propose reconciliation measures for the claims of over half a million Hawaiians?
Further, as its first task, the resolution seeks to “examine and establish a reconciliation process related to Mauna Kea.” It is my understanding that the Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs Committee has already agreed to remove this language from the resolution, but it was a bad idea in the first place.
This discussion on reconciliation, which must (if it is to succeed) also include discussions on a process to address restitution, remediation and restoration, is long overdue. Yet, using it as a poorly veiled cover for finding a “solution” for Mauna Kea just isn’t going to work.
Hawaiians have had their shoulders to this particular grind for a long time. We may be tired, but we’re patient. We know the path to justice is a marathon, not a sprint.
We’re in no rush, even if the state and TMT are.
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Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.