Strong Opposition to Akaka Bill Brushed Aside and Publicly Characterized as Support

The following article was published on September 6, 2000 in the newspaper "Honolulu Weekly" by columnist Robert M. Rees. It is reprinted here by permission of the author. Note that the title "Hearings Theft" was written by Mr. Rees.

(c) Copyright 2000 Robert M. Rees. All rights reserved.

Hearings Theft?

If the U.S. Congress gets accurate reports about the Aug. 28-Sept. 1 Akaka Bill hearings -- that Hawaiians who testified seemed mostly opposed, by 9 to 1 according to some accounts, to federal recognition -- it could damage the bill's chances.

The point of the opposition, as one protester's sign read, was "Total Independence for Kanaka Maoli." (KHNL-TV got it precisely wrong when it described the sign carriers as supporters of the bill who believe it's the only way to achieve independence.).

However, the point got swallowed up by all the hostility. Sen. Daniel Akaka, on Tuesday, had to plead with the audience to "pay respect to us," and was ridiculed when he said, "I'm not doing this for me."

The crowd, on Wednesday, heckled Sen. Daniel Inouye with sounds of mock alarm when he said, "I have tolerated demonstrations that would not be tolerated in any meeting of the U.S. Senate. I hope the demonstrators don't tempt the chair, because I am prepared to take action."

It got so bad that William Amona, while giving eloquent testimony against the Akaka Bill, paused to admonish the demonstrators to "share who we [the Hawaiians] are."

All this ugly hostility allowed the bill's supporters to dismiss the opposition as what the Honolulu Advertiser called "juvenile," and to arrange for the theft of the hearings. Supporters of the bill contrived to establish as an article of faith that the actual proceedings were only meaningless gatherings of rabble-rousers, and that the general will of the Hawaiians had emerged in ways not apparent to most of us.

Rep. Neal Abercrombie was applying this spin as early as the second day of the five-day hearings. At the official blessing of his campaign headquarters that evening, when asked about the apparently strong opposition to the bill, Abercrombie responded that "phone calls and letters" to the congressional delegation were overwhelmingly supportive. The next day, Akaka's spokesperson, Paul Cardus, was quoted in the press as saying nearly the same thing.

By Friday, in a note passed to this writer, a member of the U.S. Senate entourage wrote, "As you might suspect, the harassment and intimidation of witnesses that has been conducted over the past four days has caused numerous witnesses to decide not to come before this forum if they support the bill, but the written testimony submitted is overwhelmingly in favor of the bill."

Our careless TV stations and daily newspapers helped to convey the impression that opposition to the bill was coming from a few rude radicals, and ignored that the actual testimony and audience sentiment was running against the bill. For example, following Thursday's full day of testimony that was mostly opposed to the bill, the Advertiser on Friday morning headlined, "OHA's Trask backs natives bill."

There was no coverage of in any medium of Keoni Agard's request to the audience on Wednesday, the most crowded day, that all those opposed stand up. At least half the audience of 200, without hesitation, rose to its feet.

The opposition was minimized out of existence. Testimony submitted in favor of the bill by Dr. Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at Manoa, urged the congressional delegation to "heed the opinion of the majority of the Hawaiian people, and not let the very vocal minority who opposed this bill deter you in your enthusiasm for this stage of reconciliation."

Still, serious questions remain. If the Akaka Bill passes, will a scholar, a century down the road, offer up the records of the hearings as proof that once again widespread opposition went unheeded? After all, UH scholar Noe Noe Silva, whose book on the anti-annexation movement will be published by the Princeton University Press next year, notes in her Chapter 5 that, "lack of historical reference to such large and organized resistance is typical of colonial situations…"

(c) Copyright 2000 Robert M. Rees. All rights reserved.


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