For the last six months, we were on the road with our new book, The Return Voyage; we drove across the American continent and spoke out on behalf of my husband's people. We return home to witness the budding fruit of years ofloving-labor on behalf of the sorely oppressed Native Hawaiian people, and their inspiring culture.
We arrive home to witness the awakening of a people who have waited stoically formore than a century; who have suffered the occupation of their fragile land, and the attempted obliteration of a matriarchal culture that prevented war for 12,000 years. Hence: aloha - in the presence of all of God's creation in every breath. A more responsible, welcoming, and generous people do not exist on this good Earth.
Under a deluge of foreign selfishness, corporate greed, arrogant religious righteousness, and racism brought to the shores of these Islands by an occupying nation (ours) the voice of the Native Hawaiian people surfaces.
Exactly coinciding with our arrival home (we had no idea when we booked our flights), the U.S. Department of Interior's representatives arrived in Hawai'i to hold hearings across the Hawaiian Islands. On our first day in Honolulu, the last of the four hearings was being held on the Island of O'ahu.
Allow me to digress here. I must explain the background for the U.S. Department of Interior'srather sudden decision to hear what the Native Hawaiians might have to say. As I reported in an earlier essay on this page (see: Something Powerful Is Happening in Hawai'i) the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is the only governing body that purportedly speaks for the Native Hawaiian people. Nevertheless, OHA has a board of trustees that are elected by any resident of Hawai'i - not simply Native Hawaiians. The board members are also not required to be Native.
For years, OHA has worked against the interests of the people they were supposed to represent, and for their own political agenda. They spent millions of dollars to unsuccessfully lobby a Congressional Act (the Akaka bill) that would have succeeded in locking the independent and internationally recognized Hawaiian nation into a tribal status like the the Native Americans.
In recent months, OHA hired a new Chief Executive Officer, Kamana'opono Crabbe PhD, who became a force for moderation and healing. A deeply educated and culturally attuned kanaka maoli who managed to convince his board of eight to unanimously agree to neutrality - to back off their position supporting the continued subjugation of the Native Hawaiians under the U.S. Department of Interior's thumb.
He then took the next step and sent a letter to the more-appropriate U.S. official- Secretary John Kerry at the U.S. Department of State. The letter asked for clarification of the legal basis for both the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the U.S. overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. It was a brilliant and very courageous move that six of the eight of his board members opposed - and they ordered the letter rescinded. His job at OHA wasendangered - but his brave and forceful actions to unite his people into one strong voice had taken hold. Voices that had been silenced for years awakened.
The U.S. Department of Interior rushed to hold these hearings in an attempt to silence the Native Hawaiians once again; to lock in the U.S. corporate and military interests on these islands. The Department of Interior arrived with an armload of paper and a list of five designated questions. Essentially, the Native Hawaiian choices were reduced to: Should the Department of Interior act alone, or enjoin the kanaka maoli in forming a "government within a government" relationship, under their department's control? For all the paper-work handed out at these hearings, in truth, these were the only choices offered.
We Arrive Home
On our first full day on O'ahu, we boarded the city bus for an hour ride (and two transfers) into the heart of the Native Hawaiian community in Kapolei. The conversation began and the excitement built on the bus itself. 'Iokepa engaged Native Hawaiians (coming home from work in the city) who'd either already attended one of these hearings, or had viewed them live on community television. Already, on a simple bus ride, the words sounded vibrant and emotional; they resonated with conviction.
We descended the bus, into the arms of 'Iokepa's dear younger sister, Momi, at the Makakilo elementary school. 'Iokepa signed his name on the required list to testify at the hearing; he was number 67. Testimony was strictly limited to two-minutes. He told me that he had no idea whether he would speak at all. As always, he patiently awaits ancestral guidance - and acts accordingly.
One hundred and fifty-seven men and women signed up to speak; many more crammed into that hot elementary school cafeteria to listen. They held signs, applauded loudly - and yes, jeered as well. We were there for three and a half hours - a half an hour past the three-hour deadline.
I was one of very few Caucasians in that gathering - this wasn't about my voice. I write this as a witness. I have been, in the past, in far more comfortable seats, and in far breezier venues for three and a half hours of commentary - and I have found myself bored and miserably uncomfortable. But not there, not then.
It has been a very long time since I listened to every syllable, every nuance, every reaction of the crowd. I felt like the proud witness to a sleeping giant finding its voice.
Repeatedly, almost unanimously, I heard this: "A'ole! A'ole! A'ole! A'ole! A'ole! (No!) to every one of your five questions," to the panel. There were five Interior Department representatives and one Justice Department person elevated on the platform. Every Hawaiian who testified was required to speak into the designated microphone, facing the designated camera so that their testimony would be "recorded." Their passion raged: "This is a nation, not a tribe. We've been illegally occupied."
I feel a deep frustration as I write this - an absolute inability to recreate the excitement, the empowerment, the joy of this gathering - the sense of being witness to something so pono (righteous), so healing, so very....overdue. For each of these sixteen years since I met 'Iokepa, I have absorbed the truth of the oppression of these people, the fullness of the desecration of their beloved land, and the powerlessness to which they have been assigned.
Then they called number 67 - 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani - and he stayed seated and silent next to me. He allowed his turn to pass, listening always for his Grandmothers words. Others spoke, time passed, and he leaned over to me and said: "I'm going up."
'Iokepa pushed the microphone aside as he does. He turned his back to the elevated panel, and he spoke only to his people. His back was rigid, his voice carried and resonated at full volume. In the most political gathering Native Hawaiians have witnessed in twenty years, he spoke of culture.
"I am 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani. I am from Kaua'i visiting family here on O'ahu. Our gifts - ike hanau - have been given by our ancestors. You answers are yours from birth. Our strength lies in our ike papalua." (The ability to access the ancestors' wisdom.)
He paused: "My grandmothers told me that what will happen on the Hawaiian Islands is a stepping stone for cultures around the world to emulate."
Then he stood stock still, his eyes filled with tears, and he struggled to re-capture his voice as he looked out over the sea of attentive brown faces. "You're beautiful," he whispered, "a hui hou aku..." (Until we meet again.) He stepped quickly to his cafeteria seat next to me.
Later, he told me: "I've never felt what I felt when I stood and looked at those faces. I was drenched in humility."
We left O'ahu as scheduled, five days later - and on the exact day of our arrivalon Kaua'i, the Department of Interior hearings had followed us home. We attended and again heard the unanimity of the kanaka maoli voice. This time, 'Iokepa spoke only with his presence on our Island after six months away.
It was our friend, Rick, meeting us at the Kaua'i airport who offered: "It seems to me, there is a cultural inevitability." I couldn't agree with him more. It ispast time to right the violence and pain that continues to be inflicted on the people of this Island nation. Please add your voice to their cry for freedom.