Is it possible that indigenous peoples - Native Americans from the tip of Chile to the North Pole - and yes, the Native Hawaiian people out in the middle of the Pacific as well - still pose a threat to the rest of us immigrants, settlers and colonizers? Is it possible that these indigenous peoples, who have, by this point in time, been dispossessed of every conceivable cultural, economic, and political strength, still manage to pose a threat to our non-indigenous lives and livelihood? Whew, I wouldn't have thought it. I have lived on Hawai'i among the Kanaka Maoli (aboriginal people) for eighteen years. How can a people who have had their language, their Hawaiian names, their knowledge of the healing plants, their mediation methods, their every spiritual and cultural practices outlawed for 150 years - only to be re-birthed to generations of ignorance - threaten? How can a people who had their sacred 'aina (land) stolen at gunpoint (and refused to use available guns to retaliate) possibly be a threat? With what do these people have left to threaten?
And yet. 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani answers my rhetorical questions like this. "Guilt." He believes that because we carry in our short and long term memories a history of oppression (and in our DNA, the cellular memories of ancestral wrongs), we are posed and ready for the fight - for the retaliation from those we have wronged.
I look at this a bit differently. I think most people are reticent to give up privilege. The Calvinist missionaries came in 1821 to the Hawaiian Islands, but spreading Christianity was never enough. Their sons became the sugar cane and pineapple barons importing Asian field workers who were contracted to do their bidding or else. The Native Hawaiians and their powerful culture were in the way of the missionary need to own. (The indigenous had no concept of ownership; they saw themselves as stewards of the land that their Creator owned.) At gunpoint, the dozen missionary families on the Islands (the Big Five families on Kaua'i) deposed the Hawaiian queen, and took what they wanted. They wanted this independent nation; then they wanted American statehood. These same families still wield out-sized influence in Hawai'i.
'Iokepa described it this way: "They brought the sword of Christianity (and shamed my people about our beliefs), and then they installed the shield of America (to protect their privilege)."
And so the habit of privilege for the immigrants/settlers/colonists (the Hawaiians call us, "malihini - guests") is entrenched. There are some powerful expectations among the settled white folk on these Islands.
I am prodded to write this particular Post in reaction to a singular letter-to-the-editor in my local Kaua'i newspaper. But I assure you that I would not be wasting my words if this were were a simple outlier - a singular woman shouting her unhappiness at a world that doesn't conform to her expectations.
Gini Stoddard writes:
"Give me a break. 'A New Look at an Old Holiday' is the heading of an article on the front page of the Garden Island... The subject reads, 'Nine cities rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.' Thank goodness no city in the state of Hawai'i has done this. The indigenous people of the United States didn't discover America... Why this country has allowed so many people to cave in to these radicals who want to change...our way of doing things is beyond me."
It is too easy to dismiss these opinions as the words of one cranky woman. They are not; they are representative.
I live among an indigenous people whose any word or gesture directed at reclaiming or celebrating their authentic culture poses a threat to many "locals." 'Iokepa has only to raise his passionate voice a decibel, and he is called an "angry Hawaiian." Any word or action that emanates from a Native Hawaiian, and does not imitate an idealized, marketable version of the tourist-ready fantasy threatens. 'Iokepa's mid-back-length, silver hair, for goodness sake, threatens. Tourist and "locals" alike demand as their due, something that they call, "Aloha." In their version, it means: a passive, accommodating picturesque caricature of a Native Hawaiian in a grass skirt.
In fact it means: "In the presence of God in every breath." It's a call to respect every living part of Creation as a part of self. Now that may well be a message that should threaten our greedy, selfish, consumer driven society. Just maybe the view in that mirror terrifies.