Open letter to Congress and to the People of Hawai'i

(c) Copyright 2001 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

Aloha U.S. Senators and Representatives

Please oppose the Native Hawaiian Recognition bill, S.81 and H.R. 617. Please also oppose the Native Hawaiian Healthcare bill, S.87 and H.R.562. First, a few paragraphs to familiarize you with the legislative issues in Congress. Then, a letter "from the heart" to the people of Hawai'i telling my personal feelings about Hawaiian sovereignty.

These bills are highly controversial, because they endorse racial separatism and ethnic nationalism. They have the explicitly stated purpose, and the actual effect, of dividing Hawai'i's people along racial lines. The recognition bill does this by setting up a separate sovereign political entity for racially-defined Native Hawaiians (even those with only one drop of native blood). The healthcare bill does this by stating a separatist manifesto in its preamble "findings," and then providing free healthcare to all members of one race regardless of need. This is contrary to the democratic ideal of giving help to people based on need, regardless of race. The people of Hawai'i are thoroughly intermarried and intermingled. We live, work, pray, and attend school side by side in the most racially integrated society in all of America. What history and the free choices of people have joined together, let not Congress rip asunder.

For reasons why members of Congress outside Hawai'i should be VERY concerned about these bills, and should oppose the Hawai'i delegation on a matter that appears to be only a special-interest bill for Hawai'i, please see

For a more thorough analysis of the Native Hawaiian Recognition bill, please see and for an analysis of the Native Hawaiian healthcare bill, see

For an extensive analysis of the general issue of Hawaiian racial separatism and ethnic nationalism, please see

There is no historical, legal, or moral justification for race-based political sovereignty or racial entitlement programs for ethnic Hawaiians.

What follows is an open letter "from the heart" to the people of Hawai'i regarding Hawaiian sovereignty. A somewhat shorter published version of this article can be found at


Aloha to the People of Hawai'i:

Occasionally an advocate of race-based political sovereignty for ethnic Hawaiians will write or speak "from the na'au" (from deep down inside) expressing strong feelings of pain or anger. Well, I have strong feelings too. There is no historical, legal, or moral justification for race-based political sovereignty or racial entitlement programs for ethnic Hawaiians. Scholarly and legal analyses of the issues can be found on my website:

But this essay is from my na'au. It is intensely personal. It is a defense of equality, unity, brotherhood, and aloha for all.

I first visited Hawai'i in 1982. In 1992 my body returned to permanently join my soul, which had never left. The magical 'aina (land, sea, and sky) made the gods easily visible here. I loved Hawaiians and their language, hula, music; ideals of aloha, lokahi, ha'aha'a, 'olu'olu, etc. explained by George Kanahele. I spent several years full-time (teacher's pension) studying Hawaiian language, history, and culture, at first naively assuming the sovereignty activists are right. But study, thought, conversation, and gut-wrenching spiritual struggle convinced me otherwise.

Studying the culture and language has not made me an expert, but shows the sincerity of my love and respect for the Hawaiian people and their cultural and spiritual heritage. My limited knowledge surpasses that of many ethnic Hawaiians, including some activists too busy politicking to learn "their" heritage. Some activists oppose my learning these things. Because if everyone can share culture and language, then the only thing the activists can claim as unique is a gene or two. "Eh brah, you got da koko, you Hawaiian. You no got da koko, you no Hawaiian" (having the blood is both necessary and sufficient for being Hawaiian, they say).

It grates to hear highly-educated, highly-paid, Hawai'i-born university professors speak about loss of culture and language which they themselves haven't bothered to learn. It is insincere, patronizing demagoguery. When a sovereignty activist opens a political event with a chant or prayer in Hawaiian, ask why. Do they think the gods don't understand English? Or are they merely trying to impress the audience? Some activists get upset when I, a haole malihini (white newcomer), dare to speak "their" language, or say a prayer in Hawaiian when helping restore a heiau (stone temple). They forget where the written language came from, and that many prayers and chants survive only because they were written down (Hawaiians did not have any written language until the missionaries from New England arrived in 1820 and created one). Much of the culture today, and virtually all the linguistic fluency, has been learned from books or special-purpose workshops rather than from routine upbringing. Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike acquire cultural or linguistic authenticity through sweat-equity rather than blood-equity. I am not a "wannabe" Hawaiian. I am saying that some blood-Hawaiians have only the blood, and may be merely wannabes in any cultural or spiritual sense.

I believe all persons are inherently equal, unlike some activists who think genetics determines one's standing before God. I believe we should all be equal under the law, unlike some activists who think ethnic Hawaiians are entitled to racial supremacy, superior voting rights, and special property rights. I believe Hawaiian culture deserves special respect as first among equals, a great treasure of the world, and a unique defining characteristic of Hawai'i. But it grates to hear someone say ethnic Hawaiians are the hosts, and everyone else is merely a guest. Most people with any Hawaiian blood today have mostly non-Hawaiian blood. 99% of the bones of every ethnic Hawaiian's ancestors are buried somewhere else in the world -- even a 100% blood-quantum Hawaiian has less than two thousand years of ancestors buried here and tens of thousands of years of ancestors buried somewhere else. All those ancestors deserve respect.

Newcomers to Hawai'i became full partners. John Young, a sailor from England, was held captive by Kamehameha and soon thereafter voluntarily stayed with the King, becoming an important advisor. His expertise enabled Kamehameha to destroy his enemies. Young was given chiefly status, the governorship of Kamehameha's home island, a homestead near the great heiau of Pu'ukohola, and marriage into the family (becoming grandfather to Queen Emma). Newcomers brought written language, Christianity, and the rule of law; all eagerly embraced by Hawaiians. Gerritt Judd almost single-handedly saved Hawai'i's independence in 1843. Tens of thousands of Japanese and Chinese came to work on the sugar plantations. Filipinos came to work on plantations, in healthcare, and hotels. We are all equal partners in Hawai'i, and it is morally wrong for sovereignty activists to claim racial supremacy.

It grates to hear that this is the only homeland for Hawaiians, but everyone else has some other homeland. Tell that to a person of ethnic Asian or Euro-American ancestry whose family has lived in Hawai'i for 5,6, 7 generations. Telling a multigeneration Japanese family they can look to Japan as a homeland is like telling an African-American to go back to Africa. Indeed, telling this malihini I can go back to Boston is grossly improper, because Hawai'i is my homeland, adopted in my heart through struggle and tears. As the song says, "He loa ka helena ma ke alahele, e huli wahi ma keia ao ... He Hawai'i au." It has been a long journey on the path to find a homeland in this world ... I am Hawaiian.

Hawaiian racial supremacists say that non-ethnic-Hawaiians asserting equal rights is a form of cultural genocide. Nonsense. In the early decades of the Territory, with equal voting rights for all citizens, Hawaiians dominated the legislature. But at the same time Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian-language newspapers (freely published contrary to claims the language was illegal) slowly declined. Over the past 20-30 years there has been a great renaissance of language, hula, music, voyaging, and archeological restoration -- all within the U.S. legal system of equal rights, and supported by all ethnic groups. The population of ethnic Hawaiians fell to about 39,000 at Annexation, but since then has multiplied sevenfold to about 200,000 inside Hawai'i and perhaps 100,000 living elsewhere. Hawaiian population, health, language, and culture have improved enormously within the U.S. orbit compared to the final 40 years of the monarchy.

Of course some Hawaiians are poor. So are some Asians and Euro-Americans. If Hawaiians are worse off than other groups, they will get most of the government help under any system that gives help based on need alone. There's only one reason to give help based on race instead of need, and that is to divide people along racial lines. If some people prefer special culture-based healthcare, education, etc. then make such things available to all cultural groups. Let a variety of providers offer services, and let government help pay for services to needy people, who can choose whatever style they prefer.

It grates to see professors, lawyers and administrators demanding racial entitlement programs to help poor downtrodden Hawaiians. What they really want is to save their own highly-paid jobs. OHA should help people, but instead spends millions on advertising to boost its own image. DHHL was supposed to put Hawaiians "back on the land," but instead built ordinary suburban housing like Waimanalo and Papakolea -- and recently completed the Kalawahine project providing upscale housing for stockbrokers and fire captains. The theory in 1921 was that if Hawaiians were given fee-simple land they would sell it and fritter away the money. But Hawaiians today can care for themselves without oversight from paternalistic bureaucrats. Why not convert those leases to fee-simple? Before DHHL there was a homestead program giving land to people without racial restrictions. The Barrett case seeks to end OHA and DHHL. Sovereignty activists stir up emotions by saying the elimination of DHHL would throw tutu out of her hale (throw auntie out of her house). Nonsense! Future homesteading leases could still be awarded to people based on need without racial restrictions, and OHA's money would be well-spent to convert existing leases to fee-simple (neediest families first). But of course the staffers wouldn't like losing their jobs.

It grates to hear Hawaiian supremacists portrayed as underdogs. OHA has about $400 Million. Bishop Estate (oops -- Kamehameha Schools) has 6-15 Billion (estimates vary). These two institutions have lots of lawyers, accountants, and paid lobbyists. Most large lawfirms have lucrative contracts with them, refusing to represent their opponents who must rely on pro-bono attorneys hoping to collect fees and expenses if they win. When OHA wants to oppose Rice or support the Akaka bill, it buys full-page ads in the newspaper, and commercials on TV and radio, sends lobbyists to Washington, and pays for glitzy cocktail parties. When I and my friends want to support Rice or oppose the Akaka bill, we send e-mails and letters. That great propaganda factory in Manoa has taxpayer-funded professors, staffs, buildings, and hundreds of students supported by tuition-waivers receiving good grades and degrees for towing the party line; while I and my friends have to hustle to get a rare speaking engagement out in the community.

All humans are inherently equal, and should be treated equally by government under the law. A colorblind society need not be colorless. Equality provides a guarantee of fundamental fairness, allowing multicultural pluralism to thrive. Political unity supports cultural diversity. Hawai'i is a rainbow of colors and cultures, each beautiful and unique. Wouldn't that rainbow look weird if the colors were placed as thin stripes in separate parts of the sky?

I am opposed to racial separatism. I am opposed to ethnic nationalism. And I speak on behalf of many ethnic Hawaiians who feel intimidated by the activists. I get phone calls, e-mails, and hushed conversation from Hawaiians thanking me for voicing their feelings. Some have considerable standing in the community; some are unknown. They ask me not to reveal their names. They are afraid. How sad. And also very understandable. Because some activists for racial supremacy are not bashful about saying, "We were once warriors too, you know -- and I hope for all our sakes we aren't forced to using more than pens." A hint or threat of violence is itself an act of violence, and must be repudiated. The African-American civil rights movement succeeded, as my friends and I are now succeeding, by speaking truth to power, standing up for what's right, and using the courts when necessary to obtain justice. Like those activists, I too am descended from people who once were indigenous. My native, aboriginal ancestors practiced slavery and human sacrifice, and used clubs and spears against their opponents. Some parts of history are best left in the past.

The people of Hawai'i are thoroughly intermarried and intermingled. We live, work, pray, and attend school side by side in the most racially integrated society in all of America. What history and the free choices of people have joined together, let not politicians and racist demagogues rip asunder. Support equality, unity, brotherhood, and aloha for all.

For a statement of basic principles, see For an analysis of some of the actual proposals for Hawaiian sovereignty, see the following webpage and judge those proposals against the positive principles:

Aloha kakou. Mahalo.

Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.
46-255 Kahuhipa St. Apt. 1205
Kaneohe, HI 96744
tel/fax (808) 247-7942


The following article appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser of Sunday, February 25, 2001. This article is one of many like it that Ken Conklin's essay above is responding to. A few additional replies appear afterwards. The article can be found on the Advertiser website at

A thousand little cuts to genocide

By Alani Apio

The first in a series of three open letters to the citizens of Hawai‘i

Me, I'm a Hawaiian. I'm an artist and a playwright. I'm not a politician, lawyer, or historian. So, I’m gonna tell you here how I feel from my na‘au — my guts.

Then in my next articles, I’ll try to unwind my guts to figure out how I end up feeling this way and possible directions I see open to us.

My opinion: The things many of you say and do amount to 1,000 little cuts against us. And these cuts represent a subversive, long-standing cultural genocide against the Hawaiian people. Cultural genocide against the Hawaiian people.

Nobody executes us. No one lynches us. No government enslaves our children or rapes our women. No citizenry chains us up and drags us from the backs of pickup trucks. No homicidal maniac gassing us. Just 1,000 little cuts to our self-esteem, self-identity, cultural pride — to our souls.

Rather than obliterating the people, like so many Hitlers have tried, simply obliterate the glue that binds them: culture. Just enough slices to leave blood on the scene, but no actual bodies.

Nobody will come out publicly and say, "Screw Hawaiians" — that's not "Politically Correct." But you and I know many feel this way. It’s cultural genocide in 1,000 little back-yard, back-handed, unofficial cuts. A slow bleeding to death through 1,000 tiny cuts that no one knows how to stop and nobody will admit to doing.

So, here's my take on what many of you honestly think and feel, but dare not say in public. Here are the cuts:

Concerning the two new federal lawsuits continuing the attack on Hawaiian assets, rights and entitlements, Barrett v. Cayetano and Carroll v. Nakatan (If they prevail, the Hawaiian Homes Commission, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and native Hawaiian gathering rights will be found unconstitutional), I hear this:

"Blah, blah, blah. Yada, yada, yada. So what. Damn Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been a sorry mess since it began anyway. Hawaiians didn't suddenly die off in great numbers when everyone voted and a non-Hawaiian got in! Hell, Hawaiians didn't even raise a fuss. And why should one ethnic group get monies from a pot of land that’s supposed to be everyone’s! Bunch of dysfunctional Hawaiians — take it down!"

That’s what you think, isn't it? An easy, juicy, seemingly well-deserved cut to Hawaiian self-governance.

How about Hawaiian Home Lands? I hear:

"Give us a break! What a sorry legacy that’s been. Remember Kapono's song, "Sonny's been waiting." Well, thousands are still waiting, people still dying on the lists — but the earth doesn’t stop turning and plenty of people are homeless! Why should Hawaiians get singled out? Why should one ethnic group get land practically free, and cheap loans to build their houses, while the rest of us Hawai‘i-loving, tax-paying citizens gotta work for ours?

What’s up with that? And you know those lazy, stupid Hawaiians are using the extra money they save on their mortgages on Hawaiian Homes to do drugs, get drunk, rip each other off, and kick the crap out of their wives and kids! That's why they stay on the bottom of all those damn social indicators. Hawaiian Home Lands are Hawaiian ghettos, for crissakes! Cut it DOWN!"

This is what you feel, isn't it? Cut the closest thing we’ve got to a nation

Gathering rights? You grumble:

"Why is everything connected to Hawaiians about taking? Taking state money, taking state land, taking state resources! Why should they have a right to go on private property and take, take, take? Isn’t private property as sacred and American as democracy itself? Isn’t this right to own our own land free and clear what our veterans fought and died for? Cut that one down!"

Come on, admit it, that’s what you say to each other at your kitchen tables and out at the country clubs. Cut off access to maile, heiau, koa, and p¯haku so we can't define ourselves as different, continue to force us to assimilate under the guise of "equal rights for all." Make it illegal to gather the things we need to define ourselves as different, and then argue that we voluntarily gave up our cultural practices. Brilliant, "Catch 22" cut.

1,000 tiny slashes that make us unable to be who our k¬puna told us we are. By the way, my grand-aunt had to wear a sign around her neck in elementary school that said, "Do Not Speak Hawaiian to Me."

So the outright murder of Hawaiians doesn't happen — that would be racist genocide and so un-American. The murder of Hawaiian culture, though, happens every day, slowly: tens of millions of state dollars go every year to the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau, which sells us, Hawaiians, as the "Host Culture" to market the state, but there's never been a state-recognized, state-funded hula halau.

The state will pay a highly respected Japanese artist from Maui more than $300,000 to do a bronze sculpture of a scantily clad, mythic Hawaiian man offering water to all the tourists at the convention center, but there was not one native Hawaiian artist commissioned in the original artwork plan.

The Advertiser stated in a recent editorial:

"... the task for Hawaiians ... for self-determination now is to set aside the past and work toward a unified future. This means ... less dwelling on the far-distant past — the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom — and more attention to the future. What happened happened. It was an unhappy moment for many, but more than a century has gone by."

More than 600 years had passed before we "remembered" our trans-oceanic voyaging and launched the Hokule‘a. Hula was banned in public in the 1800s. Use of our native language was effectually destroyed by the provisional government in public and private schools in 1896 and in government in 1900 by the territorial government.

If we can forget the overthrow because it happened in the "far-distant past," then let's forget Hokule‘a, hula, and ‘olelo Hawai‘i. Wouldn't like that, would you? So how come it’s okay to "remember" all the things that make money through tourism and marketing, how come we get to "renew" all the happy, fun stuff: hula, paddling, voyaging, etc., but are shut down consistently when we remember the stuff that's going to cost something or make someone uncomfortable?

Well-intentioned, educated, sympathetic, influential cuts that mask a greedy, hypocritical, arrogant, decidedly American ideology. American ideology is to forget the past because America was largely built on land stolen through government-sponsored genocide against native Americans and wealth garnered from slavery. While this generation benefits, it doesn’t want any moral responsibility for those atrocities. And, in Hawai‘i, many flat-out deny any connection between the past and present: Hawaiians aren’t suffering now because even if wrongs were committed, "... they were done to your ancestors, and you’ve benefited greatly by being American."

In other words, "No dead bodies, so shut up!"

The genocide of Hawaiian culture may not be complete for another 20, another 50 years, but it will happen — unless we re-establish our sovereign nation.

People with Hawaiian blood will still be here, but my culture — distinct and unique from everyone else — will have bled to death.

So, are you, the citizenry of the Aloha State, arrogant enough to think that without Hawaiian culture this place will still be the same, that there will still be aloha? I know many of you believe that.

I hear many local people, people who have been here for generations, people like Uncle Ben who’ve pulled themselves up outta Kalihi by their own bootstraps and into Washington Place, people who "feel" Hawaiian, believe they've got this "aloha" thing down and that we’ve become moot: Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture aren’t necessary for this multicultural society. That, to me, is a big gamble. If you’re wrong, and we are necessary, then the residents of Hawai‘i will have truly destroyed paradise — both the land and the spirit.

But you are willing to gamble that, aren't you? Because if we're not needed then that saves a helluva lot of land and power. Land and Power. This is all about Land and Power, baby.

So, of course you’ve got to take down Hawaiian Homes, OHA and gathering rights. And then you'll take Kamehameha Schools, Queen Emma’s Trust, and Queen Lili‘uokalani’s Trust too, because that’s an obscene amount of land and power. And why wouldn’t you want Hawaiians to have land and power? "Because if those Hawaiians ever do manage to unite their sorry asses together, those assets and ali‘i trusts will provide them the financial and political clout to sue us for some 1.8 million acres — with back rent, plus interest — from 1959, when the Territory made a deal with the U.S. called the "Statehood Act." Hell, with that kind of land and power consolidation, they could successfully sue the U.S. for reparations and completely overthrow the islands' power structure!"

Now you know why there’s never been a complete inventory of the ceded lands.

If this isn’t what many of you think, then why are we where we are? Why didn’t you speak out against Rice? Why aren’t you speaking out against Barrett, Goemans, Carroll, Burgess, Twigg-Smith, Conklin, et. al? Responsibility belongs to everyone who lives here, and being passive does not release you from responsibility.

So, now this educated, moderate, peaceful kanaka is taking the P.C. gloves off and cutting back. Paper cuts only, mind you. But I gotta let you guys know, I'm feeling like so much has been, and is being, ripped from my na‘au that I've got nothing to lose.

You wanna "feel" Hawaiian? Come, feel 1,000 tiny cuts. We were once warriors too, you know — and I hope for all our sakes we aren’t forced to using more than pens because of everyone’s passivity or denial of responsibility and reality.


In addition to Ken Conklin's response posted above Alani Apio's essay, the following are also among the responses submitted to the Advertiser "Letters to the Editor.” All three of these letters were published on March 1, 2001 and can be found at


Alani Apio’s February 25 commentary suggests there is common ground in the debate over Hawaiian sovereignty. We all support participation in Hawaiian culture. But that goal is harmed by programs that exclude people from participation based on ancestry.

Cultures are learned and lived, not genetically inherited. We all benefit from learning about and participating in Hawaiian cultural activities. Traditionally, Hawaiian culture has welcomed newcomers and new ideas.

Apio’s cultural argument does not justify exclusionary programs like OHA and DHHL. Programs that exclude people based on ancestry violate both the Hawaiian tradition of openness and the American Constitution. They pay off some people, regardless of any knowledge of Hawaiian culture, while driving away others who appreciate it and want to participate. Blood-based programsdivide Hawai`i along racial lines, aggravating the racial resentment illustrated by Apio’s overheated rhetoric.

To learn, practice, and take pride in culture, people do not need separate ethnic governments. Government best assists people to flourish culturally when it treats them as equal citizens, guaranteeing them individual rights of free expression and association. The First Amendment protects these rights for everyone. Democracy is stronger when citizens have a diverse range of cultural choices. The State properly subsidizes Hawaiian culture with public money so that everyone can participate.

Let’s drop the obsession with blood and follow the Hawaiian and American tradition of openness.

Patrick W. Hanifin; Honolulu, Hawaii; Email:


Paper Cuts, Indeed.

I recently read Mr. Apio's editorial that was presented in the form of an open letter so I am responding to Mr. Apio. I come from an Multi Cultural background, Jewish, Irish, my wife is part Indian and Norwegian. I have lived in Hawaii for over 27 years. I am married and have two young children that were both born here in Hawaii.

Mr. Apio speaks of Warriors. Well I am an ole man that was a Warrior in his youth. I witnessed personally the effects of War on people so I pray that he would cease these veiled threats and learn that we all need love and truth in our hearts if a solution to this issue is to be found. I personally think that Mr. Apio needs to spend more time with his neighbors of all clutures in these islands.

I can assure you my family and friends do not sit around the kitchen table and grumble about Native Hawaiian demands, lawsuits and false claims of history on a daily basis. For the most part we are concerned with paying our Taxes, paying the rent or house payment etc. and the future of the children of Hawaii.

However I do wonder if 22 years ago we had not established OHA, if the hundreds of millions of dollars that now choke their coffers would be enough to help our public schools out of the dilemma they now face. Keeping in mind that all the funds from Ceded Lands went to the Dept. of Education prior to OHA's establishment. Would this help Native Hawaiian's? Of course, the vast majority attend public schools.

All of the people of Hawaii are just trying, as Native Hawaiian's are, to make ends meet and enjoy our beautiful State. That's right, OUR BEAUTIFUL STATE. It belongs to us all, not a Race or Culture. We all live in these Islands and all our ancestors came here from somewhere else. There are no superior cultures or religions in America. As a Race of People Native Hawaiian's have traditionally and to this day had representation both in the State and at the Federal Level. Governors, Congressman and masses of local officials are of Native Hawaiian descent. We have a Senator from Hawaii that is Native Hawaiian. On a federal level this makes Native Hawaiian's the most represented minority in the U.S. However, there is one quote in Mr. Apio's letter that I do agree with. "GIVE ME A BREAK"

The only cuts Mr. Apio has are self inflicted.


Roger Grantham; Lahaina Hawaii; E-mail:


The pain that underlies the comments made by Mr. Apio are one more reason why the divisive hype surrounding native Hawaiian "issues" accomplishes little for anyone -- native Hawaiian or not.

America is a land of great spiritual opportunity for those who get an education, work hard and stay out of trouble. On the other hand, the entitlement mindset (eg., "someone owes me something because of what I chose to believe happened a hundred years ago...") is bounded by profound societal and personal risks. Those who chose the latter lifestyle will get little or nothing of genuine value for their effort -- and they will make themselves and others miserable in the process. Therefore, because so few individuals actually benefit, tax dollars should not be spent on projects designed to "recompense" an entitled few. Indeed, it's time Hawaii and the U.S. federal government stop wasting precious resources on such mean-spirited nonsense. Instead let's get our schools fixed, foster respect for others and get to work.

Mike Rethman; Kaneohe, HI; E-mail:

In addition, the following letter was published on Sunday March 4. It is especially significant because its author is Native Hawaiian. Its URL in the Advertiser is


Blame the problem on ‘Hawaiians only’

Me, I’m a Hawaiian, too. I’m also part Chinese and part Filipino. My Chinese and Filipino relatives knew they couldn’t rely on anybody but themselves to get educated and buy their own land. But they did it, on their own, without the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, without the Office of Chinese or Filipino Affairs, without special entitlements, without any freebies at all.

What’s Alani Apio complaining about (Focus, Feb. 25)? As I see it, Hawaiians have got it pretty good here in Hawai‘i. We’re not discriminated against at all. If you look at all the government programs, we’re the favored race.

Just look at the list of "Hawaiians only" freebies:

Kamehameha Schools, with an estimated $8 billion for Hawaiians only.

More than 100 bills passed in the Legislature favoring Hawaiians only.

In recent years, Congress has awarded more than $440 million for Hawaiians only.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs now holds almost $400 million — for Hawaiians only.

Hawaiian Home Lands, where more than 200,000 acres of public lands and $30 million more every year are for Hawaiians only.

With all these special privileges, what is preventing Apio from living, speaking and being Hawaiian? Is it perhaps all these race-based freebies themselves that are causing the cultural genocide he feels? Has the degrading message (that if you have a drop or more of Hawaiian blood, you are a victim who cannot make it on your own) taken its toll? Have the years of racial grievance systematically destroyed the pride and self-esteem of generations of Hawaiians?

Is it time for us to free ourselves from the bondage of dependency by cutting off OHA and all the other well-intentioned but degrading programs and breathing the fresh, clean air of equality?

Sandra Puanani Burgess E-Mail:


Since the publication of the above items, Mr. Alani Apio wrote a sequel to his first essay. The sequel is another diatribe demanding reparations, and “restoration” of a “nation” for racially-defined Native Hawaiians. It can be read at:

Attorney Patrick Hanifin responds to Mr. Apio, showing that Apio uses the word “nation” in 5 different ways, and that the nation that historically existed, the Kingdom of Hawai’i, was not race-based. Mr. Hanifin’s article can be seen below in its entirety, as originally submitted. It can also be found on the Advertiser website as it was published after some cuts.

Apio’s Confused Lament for an Alien Nation

by Patrick W. Hanifin

Alani Apio (March 25) admits to being in a “place of . . . confusion” and then proves it: The Hawaiian nationalism he advocates is indistinguishable from the racism he denounces.

His confusion arises from using the word “nation” in five inconsistent ways: (1) A government – specifically, the monarchical government of Hawai`i that was overthrown in 1893. (2) An independent country – specifically the country that Kamehameha I founded and that endured until 1898 when America annexed the Republic of Hawaii. (3) An Indian tribe – without precedent in Hawaiian history because there has never been a Hawaiian Indian tribe. (4) A territory – the `aina that he loves and that was here millions of years before any human. (5) A group of individual citizens.

The last use of “nation” is the most confused. He never explicitly tells us how the members of this group can be identified.

Apio does say that the “nation” that he wants to restore is the one that Kamehameha I created - the Hawaiian Kingdom. He acknowledges that “the Hawaiian Kingdom wasn't race-based.” Kamehameha created the Kingdom by conquering his rivals with the help of immigrants like Englishman John Young (Queen Emma’s grandfather). Under the Kingdom’s rule of citizenship, anyone born here was a citizen and anyone who came here could become a citizen. Many immigrants and their children became judges, legislators and government executives.

Like the multi-ethnic Kingdom, its multi-ethnic successors, the State of Hawai`i and the United States, follow the rule of citizenship by birth and naturalization. Apio shares with his fellow citizens the equal right to participate in a sovereign government. He has a equal right to try to learn whatever he thinks is deepest and most valuable in human culture and so make it his own culture. (Like the rest of us, he gets no guarantee of success.) He has what he says he wants. Why is he so angry?

Equality isn’t good enough for Apio. He claims to belong to a group that deserves more than equality with the rest of us.

In his superior group he includes himself, his family, and other people he calls “Kanaka.” What these “Kanaka” have in common is “shared genealogy” and “shared ancestors.” He also mentions a “shared culture” but he describes people as “Kanaka” even though they are happily “assimilated” into American culture. He ignores people who participate in Hawaiian culture but lack “Kanaka descent.” Thus, living a distinctly Hawaiian culture is neither necessary nor sufficient to be “Kanaka.”

Ancestry is necessary and sufficient. Anyone who can trace his ancestry in Hawai`i back to 1778, before the first non-“indigenous” people arrived, gets to be a member of Apio’s “nation.” This definition picks out the same individuals as the State’s definition of “Hawaiian,” which the Supreme Court held Rice v. Cayetano is racial. Only the label has changed.

Apio defines “racism” as a doctrine of “inherent differences” among groups and “the idea that one's own race is superior." The moral evil of racism is that it divides people into superior and inferior groups based on ancestry. As the Supreme Court said in Rice, “it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of by his or her own merit.” The evil is the same regardless of the size of the hereditary group: a race, a nationality, a tribe, or an aristocracy.

Apio rightly attacks the Hawaiian Homes program as racist because it requires a certain blood quantum. But so does his “nation.” He reverts to “the racist ideology of blood quantum” that he denounces: a member of Apio’s “nation” must have Hawaiian blood. As the Supreme Court said: “Ancestry can be a proxy for race; it is that proxy here.”

The nationalism Apio advocates is actually another one of those alien imports he despises. It is the blood nationalism invented in central and eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. Blood nationalism excludes everyone who lacks the blood of the indigenous group: for instance, a Jew or a Turkish immigrant can never be a true indigenous German.

Governments based on blood nationalism claim to “preserve and perpetuate” the nation’s culture, as Apio hopes to do, but ultimately they destroy culture. If you want to see where blood nationalism leads a multi-ethnic society, look at the bloody ruins of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Interpreting Hawaiian culture in terms of a blood nationalism that is alien to Hawaiian history is what keeps Apio in his “place of anger and confusion.” He rejects the “infuriating implication that we as Kanaka are not capable of handling life” but claims that some people commit suicide – the most extreme case of not being capable of handling life – because they are “Kanaka.”

Apio sincerely believes his gut feelings about Hawai`i’s history. But where historical facts are at issue, gut feelings aren’t enough. The courts are full of plaintiffs who sincerely believe that they have been wronged. Some are right; some are wrong. That’s why we hire judges and juries: to look beyond feelings and find the facts.

Once the confusion created by using “nation” in five different ways is sorted out, all the rhetoric about an “oppressed nation” demanding the return of a “stolen nation” comes down to this story: A group defined by ancestry – the “Kanaka” – exclusively controlled the government of the independent country of Hawai`i. In 1893, America invaded and stole from the Kanaka group that government and the territory it owned.

But Apio admits this story is false: “because the Hawaiian Kingdom wasn't race-based, therefore it's wrong under both nations' laws for America to acknowledge only indigenous Kanaka” as entitled to privileged status.

An oligarchy of the richest Hawaiian and haole men governed the Kingdom in 1893. Most ethnic Hawaiians could not even vote. Ethnic Hawaiians were a minority in Hawai`i. They did not own the Government Lands, the government did. As Apio admits, they did not have any special group rights to land or power. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. (For the historical evidence, see

Apio’s admission of error is not altered by his anti-American diatribe. That is merely “yo’ momma” rhetoric (as in, “I’m wrong, but yo’ momma’s an [expletive deleted].”)

Apio abhors racism, yet he advocates superior privileges for his own group defined by ancestry. He tries to reconcile his confused feelings by advocating a Kanaka “nation.” But, at bottom his “nation” amounts to a demand that Hawai`i should be torn out of the American Union so that a minority defined by racial ancestry can have a privileged position over their million fellow citizens.

In the Civil War, the Confederacy tried to preserve racial privileges by taking states out of the Union. Opposing the Confederacy, hundreds of thousands of brave Union soldiers fought and died for America and for the fundamental principle that Americans of all races are entitled to equal political rights.

Ultimately, Apio faces a choice: Does he stand by what he calls “the ideals of America — truth, justice, equality,” that “provide the groundwork for the denial of any and all inequalities and discrimination”? Or does he stand with the Confederacy -- for secession, division and racial privilege? He cannot finesse that stark choice by inventing a Kanaka “nation” with citizenship defined by racial ancestry.

Like Apio, Hawai`i faces a choice. In Apio’s words, will we “continue to fight and divide ourselves and 'ohana over an arbitrary, baseless, racist notion of koko — blood”? Or will we pursue the American ideal of equal rights for all – never fully achieved but still worth striving for?

Patrick W. Hanifin is a Honolulu attorney.

Mr. Hanifin also has several other articles on this website related to this newspaper article. For an informal discussion of the issue whether reparations are owed to ethnic Hawaiians for the overthrow of "their" "nation" in 1893, see

A much longer scholarly version of that article on reparations was published in the 1982 Hawai'i Bar Journal, containing 152 footnotes. See:

Mr. Hanifin's most recent scholarly essay is a brief history of citizenship and voting rights in Hawai'i, showing that even under the laws of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, all persons born in Hawai'i, regardless of race, and all newcomers who became naturalized citizens, had fully equal voting rights and property rights with natives. Thus there was no Hawaiian "nation" belonging to the race of Native Hawaiians (who comprised only 40% of the population at the time of the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy).


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(c) Copyright 2001 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved