Exactly as they are doing elsewhere on the continent this week, here in Hawai'i Americans are casting early-voting ballots in primary elections. We are voting for state offices - the governor, the legislature; we are voting for federal offices - the U.S. Senator. Unique to the Islands, we are voting, as well, for the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs - the only governing body for all things and anything Native Hawaiian.
I'm an American, and so, a few days ago I seized the opportunity to cast my democratically guaranteed vote for each of these offices. I am an American living in my husbands occupied Hawaiian Nation and I was also able to cast my ballot, without impediment, for the board members who will govern the lives of my husband's Native people.
But my husband, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani, who can trace his genealogy on these Islands to the number of generations that it takes to span 13,000 years, is forbidden to vote in the land of his ancestors.
To be a "sovereign" Hawaiian is to live always and only your national identity. That identity is kanaka maoli (original people) in the land of Lahui (nation, gathering ). To be a sovereign Hawaiian is to claim the blood that runs through your veins; the generous, inclusive, responsible culture that dictates your every interaction. Aloha (in the presence of their Creator in every breath) is meaningless outside of the context of a culture that honored every element of that Creation.
There are almost a half a million Native Hawaiians who claim that blood, that genealogy, that incredibly loving culture. If, like my husband, they choose to live only that culture, and identify only with their own nation, then they will carry no government identification that asks them to assign loyalty and heart to another nation - and thus, they may not vote.
In truth, they do not care to vote in American federal elections; nor in the American state elections. Of course, they would not - they are not of that occupying nation. Nevertheless that occupying nation (ours!) exercises control over almost every piece of their sacred 'aina (land), and thus their lives.
So herein lies the irony:
'Iokepa carries no identification at all that would make him an American. He simply carries a computer generated, laminated, photo ID - recording his age, weight, height, and address. When we're traveling, it gets him through TSA. Again and again he repeats to airline security, "I am not an American; I am a sovereign Hawaiian."
He has an ancestry that defines this land we walk and he treasures it. The sovereign Hawaiian nation had international recognition among the nations of the world - preeminently, the United States of America. And then, its unarmed queen was deposed at gunpoint by American sugar cane and pineapple barons to solidify their land ownership claims in 1893. An American Congress ratified the take-over; Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned; the sovereign Hawaiian nation became a U.S. territory. This is the history.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Congress reversed itself. They signed a Congressional Resolution, acknowledged the illegal overthrow of my husband's nation - and they apologized.
Senator Slade Gordon (R-Washington) said in the Congressional Record at the time: "...the logical consequence of this resolution would be independence."
The peaceful Native Hawaiian people are no longer waiting for the U.S. to right its wrong. They are organizing. They are taking matters in their own hands. They are wondering, along with 'Iokepa: "When does a sovereign Hawaiian get to vote?"