‘Iokepa and I read a New York Times editorial page column, and sucked in our collective breath. We were aghast that the editorial writer could have so completely missed the mark. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood, the Times writer began: “The 50th state turns 50 on Friday, and the strange thing is how wildly and jubilantly the islands aren’t celebrating.” The writer explained the lack of celebration: “The reasons are sad but obvious… Tourism is in the tank.”
Because the task of opening minds and hearts is something we take seriously, I am compelled to respond.
Thousands of Native Hawaiians (both on the Islands and within the United States) grieve the fact of statehood. Native Hawaiians were resoundingly outvoted by the malihini – guests – that they had welcomed to their homeland. Being born on the Hawaiian Islands does not make anyone kanaka maoli – nor does dying there. Newcomers remain guests of a people who celebrate their connection to every living being. Decisions made about the past, present, or future of their sovereign land belong to those who carry that ancestral genealogy.
The history books aren’t ambiguous. The independent nation of Hawai’i was annexed in 1898 in direct violation of U.S. law. In that year, the American government forcibly turned my husband’s independent nation into a U.S. Territory – and turned Queen Lili’uokalani into a prisoner and martyr for her people.
The U.S. government acted at the behest of a dozen American pineapple and sugar cane tycoons – for the purpose of padding their bank accounts. Hawaiian sovereignty was eradicated at gunpoint. Fully 95% of all living kanaka maoli petitioned their opposition to Washington. It fell on deaf ears. The petitions remain still in the U.S. National Archives.
My husband’s people have not changed their minds. They have not benevolently acquiesced to the theft of their native homeland. The New York Times editorial writer mentioned in passing: “Underneath is the unresolved pain of the Native Hawaiians, unhappy over long unsettled land claims and economic disadvantage.”
‘Iokepa and I take another deep breath. It has been fully 185 years since the missionaries’ sons discovered wealth in sugar cane and fenced the kanaka maoli off their own land. That many years since missionary-imposed laws forbade native people their language and every cultural practice.
All injunctions remained on the state’s law books – and enforced – until 1972. The native people continue to suffer excruciating losses. In all ways, they are an almost invisible minority – tucked away in marginal geographic and economic pockets of ill-health, acute poverty, and crime.
‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani, says: “God gave the stewardship of the Islands to the kanaka maoli. But there are people who believe they need to own them. They destroy the land and the ocean; they level our sacred places – and then they go home. But we have no other place to go – this is our home.”
These gifted and compassionate kanaka maoli have suffered every known indignity of oppression; it continues still. Yet ‘Iokepa says with passion: “We have not been conquered – no more than Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. was conquered by their assassins. We have not forgotten.’”
Perhaps the greatest violation was not the law that incarcerated and murdered the holders of the knowing, that closed down the ritual and prayer, and that refused these people their own names. The greatest violation, I believe, was silencing another people’s story. The guests came, they shut down the native voices, and they wrote their own version of my husband’s family’s story. We are all – every one of us – the poorer for it.
Celebrate statehood? You must be kidding.