September will mark seven years since 'Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I took this low-tech, low-profile, ancestral-driven show on the road. That is seven years since we packed up our ten years of grooming on the beaches of Hawai'i and took the Hawaiian Grandmothers' wisdom and our stories to those willing ears and hearts across the United States. In these years, 'Iokepa has repeated his Grandmothers' words often. He's been nothing if now consistent. When the good folks in our audiences raise their hands and ask, "What can I do to help?," he has answered always, "When you hear something positive happening on the Islands, please offer a prayer for the Hawaiian people."
We have waited faithfully and patiently during our seventeen years together for just that. We remind ourselves that our wait is neither as long nor as faithful as six generations of 'Iokepa's ancestors had been forced to wait.
Forced for 150 years by a determined effort to annihilate a culture that welcomed strangers with open arms, open hearts, and open hands. One hundred and fifty years, during which Calvinist Christian missionaries and their off-spring enforced ownership of a land that was never owned - but shared and stewarded.
One hundred and fifty years, during which American missionary-enforced laws forbade every Native Hawaiian cultural practice - forbade a 12,000 year mediation ritual that prevented war, hierarchy, gender segregation and greed; practice that fostered shared community responsibility. "Laws" that inevitably deposed the last Hawaiian queen at gunpoint.
It has been a very long wait indeed.
In 1972, the oppressive laws - forbidding the spoken language, the healing arts, even denying a Hawaiian child an Hawaiian name - were lifted. In these years since: the original hula that was always and only prayer (outlawed during those years) has been reborn; the plants and their healing qualities has been reclaimed; language immersion schools have been birthed. But the struggle to sovereignty - the right to steward their nation's land, the right to govern themselves - has been thwarted at every turn.
Thus, some of the most generous, caring and forgiving people on the face of this good Earth have had their lives circumscribed by some of the greediest and most superficial institutions on the planet - tourism for one, and it's subsequent destructive force. These people, who revered and protected every piece of their Creator's creation - human and natural - now come face to face with gates and no-trespassing signs.
In the face of an occupying culture that is directly at odds with the values of their ancestors, a great diversity of impassioned Native Hawaiian voices have been raised since 1972. These strong native voices have been uniformly mocked and dismissed by the occupiers, who are making fortunes off the sacred land of the aboriginal ancestors. Clearly, the efforts of the kanaka maoli - the original people - to reclaim stewardship and sovereignty over a desecrated and dying land has threatened those who have accrued wealth on that stolen land.
These occupiers, the profit-makers, laugh at the diversity of Native Hawaiian objections - what they mock as factions: "The Hawaiians don't know what they want." But they are quite wrong about that. 'Iokepa has been insistent in these years: "Remember the civil rights movement in the United States; there were many factions. But when you harness all that passion, when it comes together..."
That brings me full circle. The time has come, and there is reason to celebrate it. Reason to acknowledge that something very positive is happening. In some ways it feels like a miracle (to a people who determinedly acknowledge miracles). In some ways it feels like the reasonable and likely outcome of the efforts (arms, hearts, and passion) of so many Native Hawaiians.
Here is what is happening.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been, for the last thirty-six years, the means by which the State of Hawai'i has politically governed the Native Hawaiian people and their assumed interests. It has (through its elected board - not always native) been regarded with deepest suspicion by many Hawaiians, who distrust what has seemed, at best, a puppet of the almost uniformly non-native state political machine - and at worst, as an utterly dysfunctional collection of folks intent on holding onto political office and little else.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been accused, without overstatement, of being a force to prevent Hawaiian sovereignty and stewardship. They were fear-mongers for: "Accept what's offered, or you will have nothing at all." They were clear opponents of groups that favored national independence.
In recent years, when they asked the kanaka maoli to sign up for a Native Hawaiian Roll with the stated intent of being the voters for the future fate of the indigenous people - a vast majority of the kanaka maoli refused to submit their names.
But quite suddenly, that has changed. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs hired a a new Chief Executive Officer. 'Iokepa and I have had the pleasure of meeting Kamana'opono Crabbe, PhD. We were enormously impressed. The man - a humble Native Hawaiian of deep intelligence and profound connection to the values of his ancestors - is making a difference. Apparently his Board of Directors agree, because just this month they have voted unanimously to become neutral in this nation building process; to use their considerable influence and monies to support the process.
"When the Office of Hawaiian Affairs announced a new plan to achieve nationhood, I knew there would be many skeptics Had we not done this before only to...? ...We have made many mistakes. We know people are skeptical about our pledge to remain neutral in this process and they have every right to be.
"This time is different. We're listening... We are truly committed to be a facilitator and convener. This means we won't take sides, but we will bring together a broad cross-section of the Native Hawaiian community..."
For seven years now, 'Iokepa has trumpeted these words on our website; they remain there still:
“For too long, we have allowed others to divide us. The Return Voyage takes us back to our genuine ohana – in its aboriginal meaning: ‘Everyone and everything you can see, that you can wrap your heart around, is your responsibility to take care of.’
“We agree on so much more than we do not. We agree that we – who are descended from the original ancestors – are brothers and sisters. We agree that our personal freedom relies on knowing who we are and who our ancestors were. We agree that the Creator entrusted the Islands to our care – that we are its stewards. We agree that we come from a people who took responsibility for one another, and for every part of the living creation. We agree: The time to share our message with the world is now.”
Now, Kamana'opono Crabbe, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chief executive officer concurs:
"We need to stop focusing upon what divides us, but on what brings us together. We need to focus on our common bonds. We need to do this in the spirit of kakou (the inclusive us): one people, one nation, one Lāhui (the aboriginal name for Hawai'i)."
This month, seventy Native Hawaiian leaders, representing the span of opinion on the future of the Native Hawaiian nation, were convened. This month, more than 121,000 (and counting) have signed up to be part of the plebiscite of the future nation. In September, there will be an election of delegates from among these who have agreed to sign onto the Native Hawaiian Roll. ('Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani signed on this week.) Later, those delegates will undertake the incredibly challenging job of creating a governing document for the Hawaiian nation. Still later, there will be a referendum among the indigenous on the Native Hawaiian Roll to approve or disapprove the governing document. It will not be a quick nor an immediate process. But it is a process worth investing in.
Neither 'Iokepa nor I minimize the magnitude of this undertaking. There are Native Hawaiians who like things just the way they are and are sorely afraid of change. There are Native Hawaiians who want to find a middle ground - which means a Nation Within A Nation status similar to what the Native American tribes agreed to accept. There are Native Hawaiians who simply want their nation back - no strings attached.
How people would or will vote is anyone's guess. There are powerful external forces that will attempt to influence and divide. Kamana'opono writes: "For us at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a win isn't a specific form of government. A win for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs would be bringing everyone at the table, letting them talk...and keeping them involved in the process."
There is no disagreement about this fact: The Hawaiian nation was stolen illegally at gun point, in opposition to America's own laws. The Apology Bill, proposed by President Bill Clinton and ratified to by the United States Congress in 1993 admitted exactly that.
And so, full circle once again. This month's turn-around is a miracle, because there have been decades of conflict among Native Hawaiian true believers. It is also a completely reasonable outcome of...let me count the ways: the kumu hula who reawakened the depth of the prayer; the language immersion teachers who stoked the fire of what seemed lost; the generation of educated young adults who have passed through the Kamakakuokalani Hawaiian Studies Department at the University.
But that's just the beginning. It is equally the outcome of those who were imprisoned because they refused to carry other than Native Hawaiian identification or to cooperate with the American military defilement of sacred ancestral land, or protested the removal of ancient burial sites for hotels construction. All of it, every last bit of it - and every single Native Hawaiian who vowed his or her greater loyalty to the heritage of his ancestors - in whatever manner she saw fit. Ironically, that is the miracle, I imagine - keeping the faith.
And so, it's time now. To all the bright, caring, compassionate humans with whom 'Iokepa and I shared our story, and the much-greater story of a magnificent culture defiled. Here's the answer to your recurring question: "How may I help?"
'Iokepa's answer remains the same. Hold the Native Hawaiian people and their empowering culture in your heart and thoughts. Offer a prayer
And now this Postscript:
Our friend Phil, in Louisville, Kentucky, read the essay (above) and with typical wit and wisdom, quoted Winston Churchill: "It's not the end. It's not the beginning of the end. It's the end of the beginning."
With the ancestors' guidance, we optimistically proceed.