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What kind of sovereignty might be historically and morally justifiable, as well as politically possible?

(c) Copyright 2000 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

What kind of sovereignty might be historically and morally justifiable, as well as politically possible?

In many ways, the demand that Hawai'i be "returned" to kanaka maoli is comparable to the demand that the United States should be carved up into pieces, with each piece being returned to the Indian tribe that formerly controlled it. Actually, the Indian tribes have a far better historical, legal, and moral claim than the kanaka maoli. The Indian tribes were indigenous for many thousands of years; Polynesians only arrived in Hawai'i around 400, with the final wave (whose descendants are now the kanaka maoli) arriving around 1300. All ethnic groups in Hawai'i are settlers (see the section on "Indigenous or Immigrants"). The Indian tribes were slaughtered or forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, while the kanaka maoli eagerly welcomed European and American settlers, culture, and religion. Kanaka maoli welcomed newcomers as full partners, establishing a constitution providing full and equal voting and property rights for all citizens. As a result of kanaka maoli self-determination exercised by their monarchs and chiefs, they became a minority of residents and citizens in a constitutional monarchy that provided equal voting and property rights for all by the time of the overthrow and annexation. When a queen ascended the throne who tried to reassert strong monarchial powers and control by kanaka maoli over the 74% who had no kanaka maoli blood, the monarchy was finally overthrown. (See the section on "Guests vs. Partners")

After many years of study, soul-searching, and sitting on the fence, I have come to adopt a view of history and law that kanaka maoli are NOT ENTITLED to sovereignty. I am not saying they don't want sovereignty or shouldn't want sovereignty. Most importantly, I'm not saying that KM should not have sovereignty, or that I would not support them having it. As you will see, I am very much open to both the view that KM should have sovereignty, and that I might support it and happily live under it. The question I am addressing in the next paragraph is not whether KM SHOULD have sovereignty, but whether they are ENTITLED to it.

Here is a quick review of the main points argued in other sections of this website.

(1) I believe the overthrow of the monarchy was legitimate. Of course it was illegal, as all revolutions are. Of course the U.S. assisted, as it often happens that outside powers assist revolutions (France assisted the American revolution). But on balance, the overthrow was a response to internal political pressures, would have happened without outside assistance, and indeed the presence of the U.S. might have helped prevent bloodshed. The 1500 citizens of the Honolulu Rifles on the streets, along with other groups opposed to the monarchy, gave a show of force that far outnumbered the 157 U.S. troops. There are many more arguments why the overthrow was legitimate, but that's not the main point of this essay. (2) I believe the annexation was legitimate. There was not a treaty, but a treaty was not required. There was an offer by one government and an acceptance by another government, thereby making a binding contract. The joint resolution was passed by 2/3 of the Senate and more than 2/3 of the House; and the document containing the Newlands Resolution was exchanged in public solemn ceremonies on the steps of the Palace by duly authorized representatives of both governments. (3) I believe that Hawai'i was not predominantly a KM nation during the 20 years leading up to the overthrow and annexation. During the years of the overthrow and annexation, according to OHA Native Hawaiian Databook, 74% of the population of Hawai'i was non-kanaka maoli. To be clear: only 26% had even one drop of kanaka maoli blood. For many years prior to the overthrow, most of the government officials, including cabinet officers, were non-kanaka maoli, many elected legislators were non-KM, most of the private land and wealth was non-KM. In other words, Hawai'i was not predominantly a KM nation during the 20 years leading up to the overthrow and annexation; and following the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, the monarch was not much more than a figurehead. (4) I believe that the "ceded" lands belong to all the people of Hawai'i, not just to KM. Ever since the Mahele of 1848 the government lands had belonged to the government, held on behalf of all the people, not just KM. And the crown lands belonged not to the monarch personally, but to the office of sovereignty (when a monarch died, crown lands were passed to the next monarch, not to the dead monarch's personal heirs), so when the monarchy was overthrown, the crown lands became government lands (Lili'uokalanai tried to get compensation for "her" crown lands in 1910 with a lawsuit against the U.S. in the U.S. Court of Claims, and was turned down because of the reasons I cited here). The fact that the government lands always belonged (and still do!) to all the people, combined with the fact that Hawai'i was not predominantly a KM nation, means that the lands were never "stolen from the kanaka maoli people." Finally, the 20% of ceded land revenues earmarked for OHA came about only because there were 5 purposes cited for use of ceded land revenues -- but those 5 purposes were never intended to be designated as 20% each. At the time of annexation, the Newlands Resolution and the Organic Act required that all revenue from the ceded lands "shall be used solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other public purposes." The purpose was to protect the public lands of Hawai'i by making it clear that the ceded lands were to be controlled by the U.S. government during the territorial period only because the U.S. had sovereignty, but that the lands would be used for the people of Hawai'i and the revenues would be used entirely to benefit the people of Hawai'i and not simply go into the U.S. general budget. 59 years later, at the time of Statehood, when these lands were ceded back to the new State of Hawai'i, there were five examples cited to show how the ceded land revenues might be used to benefit the residents of Hawai'i. One of those five examples was "for the betterment of native Hawaiians." So based on the fact that one out of five equals 20%, the legislature decided to give OHA 20% of ceded land revenues. But this 20% figure was established by an act of the state legislature, and can be changed by an act of the legislature at any time. There is nothing mandatory about the 20%; and, indeed, the segregation of a portion of revenue to benefit only one part of the population is probably unconstitutional. Since kanaka maoli comprise about 20% of the population, they would receive "their" 20% of ceded land revenues even if all 100% of those revenues went to the general fund or was spent for public education, as was the case between 1959 and 1979. (5) The statehood vote in 1959 was legitimate. If a judgment is made that it was flawed because it failed to offer independence as one option, then hold the plebiscite again and include whatever options you want. But any plebiscite cannot be limited to only KM -- it must include all registered voters of the State of Hawai'i, possibly excepting U.S. military people who are in Hawai'i only for a short rotation of military duty. (6) Kanaka maoli, resulting from the Tahitian invasion around 1300 A.D., are not indigenous to Hawai'i, any more that the Norman invaders are indigenous to England. If it is Polynesians as a whole whose presence in Hawai'i is important, their presence dates back only to about the year 400, and in that case Polynesians are indigenous to Hawai'i to a lesser extent than the Anglo-Saxons are indigenous to England. (Also, Tahitians or Samoans coming to Hawai'i today are not considered by kanaka maoli to have sovereignty rights in Hawai'i, so clearly the claim to be indigenous does not extend to the length of time that any and all Polynesians have been here) And while it is true that the bones of kanaka maoli ancestors are in this land, it is also true that many more bones of many more generations of kanaka maoli ancestors are in Europe and Asia (since most KM have less than 50% blood quantum), but nobody would argue that KM have a claim to sovereignty in Europe because the bones of their ancestors are there.

There are no historical or legal or moral reasons why kanaka maoli are ENTITLED to sovereignty. But if kanaka maoli decide that they WANT sovereignty, there are two ways that might happen, and I would probably support the first way reluctantly, and support the second way enthusiastically. Both ways require political support, or at least acquiescence, from both the State of Hawai'i and the United States. But I do believe such support could come about. If there is violence, it will destroy the needed political support and kanaka maoli will never get sovereignty. If the 20% of current population who are kanaka maoli try to take away the vote and property rights from the 80% of the population who now have them, they will fail.

There are three claims whose interrelations are being discussed here:

(1) An independent nation of Hawai'i should be restored de facto as well as de jure.

(2) The nation of Hawai'i should include the entire pae 'aina (all the islands and waters).

(3) Only kanaka maoli should have the right to be full citizens: i.e, the right to vote, hold office, and own property on the same basis as all other full citizens.

My view is:

that #3 and #2 are historically, legally, and morally incompatible with each other;

that if #1 and #3 are both desired then #2 must be abandoned;

that if #1 and #2 are both desired then #3 must be abandoned;

that if #2 and #3 are both insisted upon, then #1 will never happen.

My argument is really very simple and obvious, yet apparently very difficult for many kanaka maoli to come to terms with.

The Kingdom of Hawai'i that existed prior to 1893 (or prior to 1887 if you prefer) had tens of thousands of people with zero kanaka maoli blood who had full voting rights and full property rights. All citizens or subjects, including non-kanaka maoli who were merely denizens, had the right to vote. All subjects, denizens, and even foreigners had the right to own private property. This is the nation that was overthrown. This is the nation whose lands were "stolen." This is the nation to whom any reparations will be owed. It is not a nation defined by race, nor by descent from the people who occupied these lands prior to 1778. This multiracial nation with equal voting rights and property rights for non-kanaka maoli is the only nation that has any conceivable legal, moral, or historical right to be restored.

If kanaka maoli want to establish an independent nation controlling the entire pae 'aina in which only kanaka maoli can vote or hold public office, such a nation never existed before and has no claim to legitimacy. To establish such a nation it would be necessary to take away voting rights and property rights from the 80% of the population who now hold those rights at least de facto and probably de jure as well.

The real choices are these: (A) Kanaka maoli establish a nation in which only kanaka maoli have full voting or property rights, but such a nation would be established on only a part of the islands, roughly proportionate to population, and such a nation would be known by a new name such as Kanakaland, because it would be nothing like any Hawai'i that ever existed; or (B) A restored nation of Hawai'i is established which might be independent, might include the entire pae 'aina, and must include equal voting and property rights for all.

One way sovereignty could come about is this. Kanaka maoli would identify territory that they want and negotiate with the State of Hawai'i to agree on the territory. I shall call this territory Kanakaland, because within Kanakaland, only kanaka maoli would have the vote, and only kanaka maoli could own property. Kanakaland could be an independent nation, with full sovereign rights such as controlling immigration, defining citizenship and residency, controlling banking, commerce, zoning, budget, education, land management, cultural affairs, law-making and enforcement, prisons, public welfare, and foreign affairs. Fishing rights, water rights, etc. would clearly have to be negotiated with the State on an ongoing basis. Such territory would be at least in proportion to the population that agrees to become citizens of Kanakaland. It would probably be much more than a proportionate share of land with a focus on the obvious "Hawaiian" areas. Citizens of Kanakaland and citizens of Hawai'i would have the right to travel freely between their territories, subject to the laws and jurisdiction of whichever territory they are traveling in. Foreigners in Kanakaland other than citizens of the State of Hawai'i would be subject to whatever requirements Kanakaland imposes, including prohibiting admission to them (There might be a negotiated agreement to provide a uniform set of traffic regulations and a single traffic court system) Each nation determines its own taxes and expenditures, and how its indigent or infirm citizens will be cared for. Maybe the name Kanakaland sounds offensive. Some might think it should be called Hawai'i while the other partition should be called Haoleland. But there are far more non-whites than whites among the non-kanakamaoli, and I don't think the Japanese and Chinese and Filipinos would like to be thought of as Haoles. Kanaka maoli have no more legal, historical, or moral right to a separate race-defined homeland than any other racial or ethnic group. Nevertheless, if kanaka maoli feel strongly enough about establishing such an independent nation, the people of the State of Hawai'i and of the United States could conceivably be persuaded to allow it. I would not want to live in Kanakaland, but would very much appreciate being able to travel there, just as citizens of Kanakaland would presumably want to travel occasionally to Hawai'i or even to the rest of the United States.

What makes Kanakaland attractive to KM is that only KM have the vote and the right to own property; and KM decide everything for themselves. It is true sovereign independence. What makes Kanakaland acceptable to non-KM is that non-KM still remain citizens of the State of Hawai'i and the United States, still vote and own property, and still control the highly "developed" and wealthy areas which they currently dominate anyway; and non-KM get rid of what some of them see as a huge burden of the disproportionate number of KM who fill the public schools, the prisons, and the welfare benefits. One obvious thing that makes Kanakaland unattractive is that it resembles an Indian reservation on the continent. Whether it would develop poverty and social devastation like the Indian reservations in unclear. Kanaka maoli seem much better educated and have a much more entrepreneurial spirit than continental Indians. Kanaka maoli have a proud tradition of overcoming adversity and growing through a powerful cultural and economic renaissance over the past few decades. Kanaka maoli lower classes might be able to break away from dependence on state wardship and follow the lead of the growing kanaka maoli middle and upper classes. Maybe Kanakaland could become a highly desirable place to live. Both KM and non-KM might support the Kanakaland model on the basis of the endangered species argument: kanaka maoli are a rare and endangered but very beautiful and desirable plant species, which needs a place where it can live separately and thrive without the pigs eating them or the foreign plants driving them to extinction.

The Kanakaland option might be possible even if there were violence in establishing it. KM might be able to shoot and sabotage and maumau their way into forcing concessions to create Kanakaland. But the resulting Kanakaland would be much smaller in size and poorer than if it were established peacefully. The bitterness of non-KM would produce a brutish and nasty negotiation, and hostility toward necessary on-going cooperation. Tourism would be dead; good will would be gone on both sides. But if both sides observe non-violence, then negotiations might be fair, and in the end aloha could prevail on both sides.

If kanaka maoli insist on holding meetings and elections limited to kanaka maoli, then the results will apply only to kanaka maoli. For example, if the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is successful in continuing the restriction of voting to kanaka maoli alone, then OHA is setting up a kind of Kanakaland. Ha Hawai'i held an election a few years ago to determine whether a process should begin to convene a convention to propose a plan for sovereignty. That election was restricted to kanaka maoli. As a result of a yes vote, an election was held to elect delegates to the Native Hawaiian Convention, meeting symbolically in the State of Hawai'i legislative chambers. But since that election was limited to kanaka maoli voters, and the delegates were required to be kanaka maoli, therefore any results of that convention will be nothing more than a proposal representing a kanaka maoli viewpoint. Such a procedure restricted to kanaka maoli alone cannot produce results binding upon non-kanaka maoli. If 20% of the population, defined entirely by race, is permitted to take away the vote from the remaining 80% of population and exercise sovereign rule over the entire archipelago, that would be the very definition of institutionalized racism (one race has actual power to force its will upon all other races, for no reason other than racial entitlement). The whole point of this website has been to show that kanaka maoli are not ENTITLED to any special privileges merely on account of race. But they certainly have the same rights as all other racial or ethnic or religious groups to hold private meetings, elect officers of their organizations, decide matters of political strategy, and support candidates for public office in elections open to all citizens of the State of Hawai'i. If OHA, Bishop Estate, Hawaiian Homelands, Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, Punana Leo, Kula Kaiapuni, and all the other kanaka maoli organizations were grouped together under the umbrella of a private corporation, whose members are all kanaka maoli, the result would be a kind of Kanakaland which already exists to some degree within the State of Hawai'i.

There is a better option than Kanakaland. I shall call this the All-Hawai'i option for sovereignty. It is a very simple concept, very fair to everyone, yet very difficult to bring about. All people who are permanent residents of Hawai'i might freely vote to establish an independent nation of Hawai'i. They all get the vote: one person, one vote. They all have equal property rights. There is no distinction on voting rights or property rights between kanaka maoli vs. non-kanaka maoli; neither during the voting to decide to establish the nation, nor after the nation is established. The new nation of Hawai'i includes all the land, sea, and air territory of the current State.

The All-Hawai'i option is clearly possible only if there is no violence, and there is a majority among all voters that sovereign independence is desirable. Suppose world leaders holding the Nobel Prize for Peace came to Hawai'i, along with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu (South African peace and reconciliation commission) the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and other great moral and spiritual leaders. Suppose kanaka maoli leadership from all factions, together with non-kanaka maoli leaders, held a public meeting to show their solidarity in offering the amazing gift of a firm and irreversible commitment to non-violence, and offering that ho'okupu with full ceremony TO the assembled moral and spiritual world leaders. Just imagine the tremendous moral pressure such an event would create upon the State of Hawai'i and the people of the United States to persevere in good-faith discussions to create the All-Hawai'i type of sovereignty. And by acting in such a majestic way, kanaka maoli would clearly demonstrate to everyone that they deserve to be the leaders of a sovereign, independent nation of Hawai'i. What a shining beacon of hope that would be for the whole world.

If such a thing happened, perhaps the people of Hawai'i might vote in favor of the sovereignty plan, and might then vote overwhelmingly in favor of kanaka maoli to be the lawmakers and office-holders of the new nation. The fact that kanaka maoli comprise only 20% of the population and have only 20% of the votes would not matter. We would have an independent nation of Hawai'i where all 100% of the residents can vote and own property, and where overwhelming majorities of all races vote for kanaka maoli out of love and respect. The love would come because the kanaka maoli will have demonstrated clear moral superiority and political leadership to go along with their already-recognized beautiful culture and profound spirituality. The respect would come because of the way kanaka maoli have shown their ability to overcome adversity -- to come back from more than two centuries of devastation with their culture reviving and their growing accomplishments in law, business, land management, and scholarly work. In short, we would have a Hawai'i in which many kanaka maoli would be looked upon in the way the great ali'i were looked upon in ancient times, and many non-kanaka maoli would gladly take the role of maka'ainana. But if the residents of Hawai'i do not choose to become an independent nation, or if they do not choose kanaka maoli to be their leaders, then kanaka maoli would clearly be exercising racist force or fraud to impose such race-based sovereign independence upon the people against their will.

The ancestors of African Americans were brought to America in chains and lived as slaves. For many decades after the Civil War their descendants lived in poverty, prevented by law from voting or living in certain areas or holding certain jobs. As the laws were gradually changed to become color blind, these people were severely discriminated against in ways outside the laws. Beginning with the famous Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954, African-Americans were given the right to attend desegregated schools, and gradually legislation was passed that provided affirmative action programs to give them advantages in hiring, promotions, bidding on government contracts, etc., to make up for past discrimination. Some African-Americans focused all their energies on "playing the system" for all it was worth, viewing these affirmative action programs as absolute permanent entitlements, and using these programs to grab wealth and power. Others used the affirmative action programs in the way they were intended, to provide a temporary remedy to past discrimination that allowed them to gain a foothold for self-improvement; and there is now a large and growing African-American middle class and upper class. In recent years these affirmative action programs have been curtailed, provoking outrage from those who formerly made a career out of exploiting them as though they were permanent entitlements. But those who used the affirmative action programs as intended have now outgrown the need for them. In the long term, the United States cannot allow there to be any special, permanent entitlements based on race, sex, or national origin. All individuals must be treated equally under the law, and it is only individuals who have rights, not race-defined groups. In Hawai'i there has been a long history of race-defined affirmative action programs to benefit kanaka maoli, beginning with the act of Congress that established the Hawaiian Homestead program in the early 1920s. Numerous programs are now in place that give special benefits available only to kanaka maoli. As with African Americans in the continental U.S., some kanaka maoli choose to think of these special benefits as permanent entitlements, and complain about the restrictions on who can gain access to them (50% blood quantum) or how the benefits are funded or distributed. Some people make a career out of exploiting these benefits and demanding more. But as in the continental U.S., the time has passed for race-based affirmative action programs to remedy past discrimination or poverty. Kanaka maoli are free to pursue their culture on the same basis as all other groups. Hawaiian culture and language are deeply embedded in the history and culture of Hawai'i, and are justifiably given special deference by all other groups -- not as a matter of legal right but as a matter of love and respect felt by all toward the host culture. All persons and groups seeking advancement will find more lasting success by working directly to achieve it than by trying to extract special benefits from a system of race-based entitlements now receding into the past.

(c) Copyright 2000 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved