At the end of almost every Return Voyage gathering in these past years, well-intentioned folks have asked ‘Iokepa: “What can I do to help?”
He answers: “When you hear that things are changing on the Hawaiian Islands – and you will – I ask that you offer a prayer for the Hawaiian people.”
There is pending now, before the United States Congress, a legislative bill, officially named The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 – more commonly referred to as the Akaka Bill. Supporters across the United States have written us: “Finally, the Native Hawaiians will be recognized as the unique people they are – the theft of your land will be made right.”
To our many friends, allow me to clear the political fog. The Akaka Bill – which has been bouncing around Congress since 2000, and which passed the House of Representatives a number of times, but repeatedly died on the floor of the Senate – is absolutely not the change ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani has in mind. Instead of freeing his sorely oppressed Native Hawaiians, this Akaka Bill slams the final nail into the coffin that has incarcerated the kanaka maoli since the arrival of the first Calvinist missionaries.
The intention of the Akaka Bill is to silence ‘Iokepa and his brethren. The bill essentially says: “We (the government that was imposed at gunpoint) tell you (the native people who’ve inhabited these islands for 13,000 years) what you deserve.” This Congressional bill codifies the existing reality: Accept what we offer and shut up.
Under this bill, all authority remains with the original colonizers, who were, when they first arrived, Calvinist missionaries, then their sugar cane baron sons, and then when sugar cane ceased being profitable, their real estate developing grandchildren.
Under the Akaka Bill, the transfer of ‘Iokepa’s nation into the hands of the U.S. Interior Department insures the federal government’s continuing privilege. Those in power – either corporate or governmental – retain power. Those disempowered (the impoverished Native Hawaiians) remain powerless.
These aboriginal people, who have for 13,000 years welcomed guests to their Islands with open hearts, are asked now to relinquish their claim to freedom. Under the Akaka bill, they consent to become another Indian tribe, minus tribal rights to pursue land claims in the courts. It essentially legitimizes the land theft.
Still today, the grandsons and great-granddaughters of the two-dozen families who overthrew the Hawaiian nation proudly and publicly display a framed photograph on the walls of their homes. The photo cements their claim to Island “aristocracy.” It captures the moment that their sugar cane cultivating ancestors held guns to the head of the last remaining Hawaiian monarch.
Queen Liliuokalani, gun to head, bravely held fast to her cultural values. In her final aloha she refused to shed her people’s blood, and she was imprisoned by the men who claimed her land. The U.S. Congress rubber-stamped the take-over of this sovereign nation.
The perpetrators made their fortunes desecrating the land that fed a native people and outlawed every Hawaiian spiritual practice.
In 1993 (on the 100th anniversary of the take-over), President Bill Clinton signed a Congressional Apology Resolution, acknowledging the facts I’ve described and supporting the native claim. At the conclusion of the signing, Senator Slade Gorton (R-Washington) said in the Congressional Record: “…the logical consequence of this resolution would be independence.”
‘Iokepa’s people have profound spiritual gifts that can and will inform the Earth’s behavior. They are in no way or manner a political people – and that fact has been used as a knife against them. It has been in the political arena, for almost 200 years now that the gentle, loving, beautiful Native Hawaiian people have been disenfranchised in the name of greed.
The Akaka Bill is not what ‘Iokepa or his people choose.
Native Hawaiian, Wesleyan University anthropologist J. Kehaulani Kauanui wrote in her recent book, Hawaiian Blood:
But the paradox for the Kanaka Maoli is that the state of Hawai’i, and arguably the U.S. government, has its own investment in seeing this political goal (the Akaka Bill) obtained because it would limit Hawaiians’ full sovereignty claim and extinguish land title – namely the kingdom, crown, and government lands – and thus settle the state’s ongoing “Hawaiian problem.”
So…the federally driven legislation threatens to amount to yet another land grab in the guise of “Protecting Hawaiians.”
Politics makes strange bedfellows. It is sometimes hard to tell your friends from your foes.
Passage of the Akaka Bill by the U.S. Senate, to date, has been withheld not by the Native Hawaiians themselves – who remain, as usual, rather powerless in this political conversation. It has been killed by the far-right. It has been killed by U.S. senators who argue, ironically, that any acknowledgment of a native claim to their culturally unique identity is “racism.” In other words, the very people who brought the concept of racism to this isolated Island chain (where Native Hawaiians accepted all without judgment) are the same people now calling the kanaka maoli “racist” for claiming their cultural inheritance.
And the confusion gets thicker. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is a state government agency that has been assigned (by the governmental and corporate powers-that-be) the role of“speaking for the Native Hawaiians” has spent millions lobbying on behalf of passage of the Akaka Bill – which would guarantee these political office-holders continued political influence.
No wonder our good friends are confused. No wonder the media is confused. No wonder President Barack Obama is confused. Each absolutely believes that this legislation might bring some healing to an indigenous people who die younger, live sicker, and are most likely to be homeless, impoverished, incarcerated. These are all well-meaning allies of my husband’s people who have been victimized (and baffled) by the millions spent to pass this bill, the public relations blitz, and the rhetoric of fear. (“Without Akaka, you’ll lose what little you have.”)
In sum: The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 is a case of false advertising. It is not the ticket for good – unless by that we mean, “The missionaries came to do good, and they did well instead.”
The Native Hawaiian people deserve to decide their own future. That cannot happen within the U.S. Department of Interior. The Native Hawaiians are not a tribe. They are a nation – and their nation is occupied.