Kamehameha School Plans To Use Hawaiian Culture As A Vehicle For Ethnic Nation-Building

(c) Copyright 2002, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

In August, 2002 an important administrator at Kamehameha School publicly stated the concept that Hawaiian language and culture should be a primary vehicle for ethnic nationbuilding, and that Kamehameha School should be the leader in such a movement. The newspaper essay is copied below.

This statement of intent is important, for many reasons. Kamehameha School / Bishop Estate is the largest private landowner in Hawai'i. It is the wealthiest K-12 school in the United States and approaches the wealth of richly endowed universities like Harvard and Yale, holding somewhere between $6-15 Billion in assets. For many decades it has been the premier school for educating the best and brightest among ethnic Hawaiians, and has maintained a racially exclusionary admissions policy (only students with some degree of Native Hawaiian blood could be admitted). Recently the school has formed a partnership with the State of Hawai'i Department of Education to provide curriculum and administration at selected public schools with high concentrations of ethnic Hawaiians, in return for paying only 20% of each school's operating expenses. Thus, Kamehameha School's ideological commitments will become increasingly influential in the public school system. Kamehameha will control the content of what and how the children learn, while leaving the taxpayers to pay for 100% of the enormously expensive capital costs (building the schools) and 80% of the faculty and staff salaries, electric bills, school supplies, etc. Children will be indoctrinated with Kamehameha's views on Hawaiian history, U.S. and world history, biology and geneology, Hawaiian language, "Hawaiian values," etc.

In its early history the school had a conservative educational policy, providing vocational training for boys and homemaker training for girls, and seeking to enroll orphans and indigents. Gradually it merged the genders. It adopted an academically rigorous admissions test to support a challenging college preparatory curriculum. However, the ethnically Hawaiian character of the school was largely confined to the genetic background of the students, while the curriculum was nearly indistinguishable from other elite private schools. But in the last 20 years the curriculum has been changing, reflecting the growing desire of ethnic Hawaiian activists to create and assert a separate identity. Its standard high school course on Hawaiian history was broadcast live to all the islands on a distance-learning cable TV summer course in 2002. The course is academically rigorous and ideologically "correct," portraying Hawai'i's history as filled with Western imperialism, American colonialism and military occupation, suppression of Hawaiian language and culture by outside powers, illegal overthrow of the monarchy, illegal annexation to America, a racist subjugation of Hawaiians during the Territorial period, and a modern period filled with ethnic pride and a growing passion for racial separatism and ethnic nationalism (euphemistically called "self-determination"). It should come as no surprise that some students emerging from Kamehameha School in recent years have become aggressive public advocates for ethnic nationalism.

The racially exclusionary admissions policy has come under attack from civil rights activists, and school officials fear the increasing scrutiny of government agencies charged with protecting civil rights. The greatest fear is that the IRS might withdraw Kamehameha's tax-exempt status, which reportedly could cost a Billion dollars in back taxes and 40% of current and future income. To forestall such a disaster, the schools' Maui satellite has agreed to admit one token non-ethnic-Hawaiian student to the 8th grade for Fall, 2002. That token desegregation decision caused a major uproar among ethnic Hawaiian activists who want to maintain the racially exclusionary admissions policy. Those familiar with Hawaiian history may fear even this tokenism if they recall the drastic consequences when King Liholiho Kamehameha II in 1819 committed a single breach of protocol by sitting down in public with women to eat. That token gender desegregation of dining brought down the entire ancient religion, producing a royal order for the destruction of all the religious temples and idols, and provoking a war in which defenders of the old religion were exterminated or forced into submission.

The racially exclusionary admissions policy, and the rabid response of many ethnic Hawaiian activists to a token desegregation, shows a certain attitude. The ideological nature of the Hawaiian history course beamed throughout Hawai'i from the mother campus shows a certain attitude. Establishing a partnership with the public schools, but only in areas heavily populated by ethnic Hawaiians, shows a certain attitude. There is nothing in the will of Princess Pauahi that restricts admission to only ethnic Hawaiians; so, the persistence of that policy even in the face of losing Billions of dollars in tax exemptions shows a certain attitude.

And now that attitude will be more widely indoctrinated into the minds of ethnic Hawaiian children, and an increasing number of children who have no native blood, as Kamehameha school leverages its power by providing 20% of operating costs in return for control of curriculum and administration at selected public schools.

It is in this framework that we must understand an essay published in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 6, 2002. The author, Randie K. Fong, is head of Kamehameha Schools Performing Arts Department, and has been with the school for many years. Kamehameha tightly controls what its staffers say to the media, so this is clearly an important statement. The head of the performing arts department at Kamehameha is not the minor position that it would be at an ordinary high school. The annual Song Contest, an 80 year-old tradition, is a major event in Hawai'i, broadcast live on TV to all the islands. It is held in a huge indoor arena in Honolulu, packed to the rafters with people admitted by hard-to-get tickets. All songs are in Hawaiian language, and are focused on the basic theme for the year. The 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade boys compete against each other for prestigious trophies; likewise the girls. A panel of expert judges award points for correctness of Hawaiian language, choreography, musical interpretation, etc. There is a major opera-like production at halftime. When the judges announce the awards, the roar of the crowd can be heard from Hilo to Hanalei as youngsters with lei up to their eyeballs weep for joy and embrace their classmates.

Hawaiian culture has its beautiful, wonderful aspects. It is a great treasure for the people of Hawai'i and of the world. The culture and language are flourishing today more than at any time in the previous century and a half, and doing so under the sovereignty, freedoms, and protections of the United States and State of Hawai'i.

But dangerous undercurrents are also at work that would balkanize Hawai'i along racial lines. The activists promoting racial separatism and ethnic nationalism for Native Hawaiians understand the tremendous power of Hawaiian music, chanting, hula, visual arts, and prayers to the ancient gods. The activists understand that these things rouse the pride and passion of ethnic Hawaiians, and also elicit respect and support from those with no Hawaiian blood. Thus, Hawaiian culture can be used as a vehicle for promoting ethnic nationbuilding within the ethnic Hawaiian community and for getting the support or acquiescence of others for such an agenda.

The emotional and political power of culture, music, art, architecture, film, and language were well-known by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who said that the government of the wise philosopher-kings must carefully control the arts. Their power was well known by propaganda experts in the Communist Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany. One of Hitler's closest advisors was Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. He worked closely with artists, musicians, writers, and architects to harness the music of Beethoven and Wagner, the writing of Goethe and Nietsche, and the talents of a new generation. Architects like Albert Speer, and filmmakers like Leni Riefenstahl ("Olympia" and "Triumph of the Will"), produced inspirational masterpieces that stirred German passions for fascism in the 1930s and kept people enthusiastically loyal even when bombs were falling on them in the 1940s.

It could be good if Kamehameha School decides to strengthen its focus on Hawaiian culture and language as the core of a rigorous college preparatory program, with admission open to children without regard to race. Every private school has a unique character. Students, parents and alumni strongly support and identify with what makes a school unique. Kamehameha clearly belongs in the pantheon of distinguished Hawai'i private schools including Punahou, 'Iolani, Damien, St. Louis, and others. All these college preparatory schools have selective admissions policies to support high academic standards. What makes Kamehameha unique is its focus on Hawaiian culture. No other school in the world has anything comparable to the annual Song Contest. No other school has the same perspective on Hawaiian history, or the focus on Hawaiian language, or the strong working relationships with activities like voyaging canoes, taro patches, and restoration of heiau, fishponds, and ahupua'a. With that sort of cultural focus, Kamehameha Schools will always attract more ethnic Hawaiians than non-Hawaiians. Those non-Hawaiians who meet the standards and choose to attend Kamehameha will grow up to make valuable contributions to the perpetuation and flourishing of Hawaiian culture.

But it is important that Kamehameha's focus on Hawaiian culture and language not also be accompanied by a focus on race. That would be the hallmark of racial fascism. Imagine telling children that the gods gave birth to these islands, and to their Hawaiian ancestors, so the gods, the land and the ethnic Hawaiian people have an unbreakable family bond not shared by those who lack Hawaiian blood. What then is the place of the child who has only other ancestries? This is an ideology of racial supremacy, and of the right of one racial group to rule these islands while all others are merely guests or second-class citizens. If such a mythology is taken literally, and non-Hawaiians are also excluded from the student body, then the students will grow up feeling entitled to rule and never having true friendships (as equals!) with non-Hawaiians. The presence of a substantial number of non-Hawaiians among the student body will allow everyone to make friends, and will serve as a reality check against racial fascism. Kids have a way of being very honest and direct. Racial fascism cannot survive their scrutiny, unless segregation serves to bolster it and prevents any challenge to it.

Those ethnic Hawaiians activists who are not students at the school, or their family members, or alumni, have no more right to shape the future of the school than the rest of Hawai'i's citizens. It is blatant racism to insist that the school is the property of ethnic Hawaiians as a group. That is the attitude one would expect if Hawaiian culture and language and the very islands themselves are treated as racial property. That is the ideology of the zealous defenders of a racially exclusionary admissions policy. Three hundred years ago Hawaiian culture was only for ethnic Hawaiians. Today we all share kuleana for it -- both the right to participate and the responsibility to take care of it. Let’s not follow the racial separatists. Kamehameha can lead the way toward multiracial unity in support of Hawaiian culture.

Randie Fong is a nice person, who probably has the best of intentions. The staff at Kamehameha are warm and loving, their aloha shining forth as an inspiration to students and to all of us in the community. The annual song contest is a major treasure (which I have had the privilege of personally attending twice and watching on TV every year). Kamehameha School renders a great service to all the people of Hawai'i by providing full-time education to some students, and enrichment programs, tutoring, and scholarships to many more. But there is danger as well. The danger is that the poison of racial separatism and ethnic nationalism implicit in the admissions policy and in parts of the curriculum will become a spreading infection as Kamehameha reaches out to partner with the public schools, leveraging its vast wealth to dominate their curriculum and administration. The danger is that Hawaiian culture and the powerful emotions it conveys will be harnessed in the service of an evil political agenda. The ghost of Joseph Goebbels may be haunting Kamehameha School, and may soon begin traveling to neighborhood public schools throughout the islands.

The following essay by Randie Fong is positive to the extent that it encourages Kamehameha to focus on Hawaiian culture and language. It is, however, both negative and dangerous to the extent that it recommends harnessing the culture, language, and Kamehameha School in service to an agenda of racial supremacy, racial separatism, or racial nationalism.

Please read Randie Fong's essay (Honolulu Advertiser, Tuesday August 6, 2002), then re-read the above commentary, and then step forward to support a future of unity, equality, and aloha for all.

The essay is copied below in its entirety, and can also be found on the Honolulu Advertiser website at:


Posted on: Tuesday, August 6, 2002


Creative vision is needed for Hawaiians

By Randie K. Fong
Head of Kamehameha Schools Performing Arts Department

Educating more Hawaiian children is a noble goal in itself, but there needs to be a greater purpose, one that is connected to a clear, creative and dynamic vision for the Hawaiian people.

Is it enough that we simply "reach" more Hawaiians? What about the quality and substance of that "reach?"

Given the sweep of historical trauma and the ever-shifting social and political landscapes that will likely continue to marginalize Hawaiians, we must use education to build up and maintain a stronger and more cohesive Hawaiian community. Kamehameha Schools' educational role must be to work toward a dynamic and thriving Hawaiian society in the 21st century and beyond.

We must visualize the future of the Hawaiian community as an innovative and culturally-connected world where cutting edge technology and ancestral truths coalesce; where Hawaiian and English are spoken with equal facility and eloquence; where our land and all of our natural resources are protected, maintained and available for responsible use; where Hawaiian teachers, fishermen, scientists, mechanics, construction workers, physicians, executives, businessmen, musicians, politicians and farmers can recount their own genealogies, lead family devotions, resolve conflicts and be able to express the stories and songs of our people with spirit and pride.

We need to be inspired to unite politically to protect and defend native rights in a variety of arenas (land, water, self-determination, etc.).

We must treat our Hawaiian community as a special habitat within which Hawaiian culture can regenerate, stabilize and flourish. We must provide for the world more accurate profiles of Hawaiian culture so that the range of global industries and political entities can be better informed.

Native Hawaiians must be cohesive enough as a community that we can invite non-Hawaiian entities to the table to work together for the betterment of our native homeland.

If Hawaiians have ever needed responsible leadership, creative vision and bold warrior instincts, it's now. As Kamehameha policy makers move to affect change in the admissions and other policies, may they do so within the larger vision of realigning educational efforts to create a cohesive, thriving and culturally-connected Hawaiian community for generations to come.


The essay at the top of this page, by Ken Conklin, was posted on the Honolulu Advertiser discussion bulletin board. Someone responded and raised a few points that merited further explanation. Here are those points and the further explanation:

I believe the intent of Uncle Randie's(For indeed he is as an uncle to me) essay was to say that Hawaiians need to be joined together and not divided. Joined together by culture and not to furthur the sovereignty-like movements or racism. There is nothing wrong with pride in yourself and in your ethnic(cultural) backgrounds. Kamehameha should be used to an extent, to furthur the Hawaiian culture. This may accomplish two things 1) Keep the Hawaiian Culture alive 2) Instill more pride in the Hawaiian culture. Some of the statements [you] made seem to be extreme. I'd also like to see you expand on this statement "It is, however, both negative and dangerous to the extent that it recommends harnessing the culture, language, and Kamehameha School in service to an agenda of racial supremacy, racial separatism, or racial nationalism" so i may see why you make that statement. I am led to believe that it too is extreme and may have come from you reading too much into the essay. I do not mean to offend you or gather hostility, i am just trying to gain more of an understanding on your stance. Mahalo no kou manawa.


Response from Ken Conklin:


Thank you for your mana'o. It is certainly possible that I read too much into Randie Fong's article. But it is also possible that I did not, and that's why I wrote my essay. Hawaiian language, hula, oli, mele are filled with kaona -- intentional double meanings, triple meanings, etc. Maybe I've become too immersed in such things! But I think Mr. Fong writes with a pretty clearly expressed message that Kamehameha School should harness Hawaiian culture in service to ethnic nation-building. His intent becomes especially clear if you re-read his article http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2002/Aug/06/op/op03a.html

AFTER you have read my entire essay on my website. https://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/kamschooluseculturefornationbuilding.html

Here are a few other things that also fit the pattern.

As you may know, King Kalakaua's motto was "Ho'oulu ka lahui." I prefer to interpret it to mean: Increase the nation; or: increase the population. But it also means "increase the race," and I have been told by sovereignty activists that Kalakaua was speaking with the racial meaning. Professor Jon Osorio certainly uses the word "Lahui" racially in his new book "Dismembering Lahui." Kalakaua was concerned both with the need to go to Japan to recruit newcomers to work in the sugar plantations, and also with the need to re-invigorate the dying race of kanaka maoli and make their numbers increase rather than decrease.

The reason I mention Kalakaua's motto "Ho'oulu ka lahui" is that Haunani Apoliona, chairperson of OHA, has adopted as her motto for OHA and for her new long-term strategic plan: "Ho'oulu Lahui Aloha" which she translates as: "To Raise a Beloved Nation." Her explicit objective is nation-building. No matter that OHA beneficiaries clearly indicated in a widely circulated poll that they place primary importance on spending OHA's resources on education, healthcare, housing, and other genuine needs of the people, Apoliona and OHA are placing top priority on protecting racial entitlement programs (i.e., their own jobs and bureaucracy) and ethnic nation-building (i.e., lobbying for the Akaka bill to establish and raise a nation).

Randie Fong is head of the Performing Arts Department at Kamehameha. He has special kuleana for the arts, including the song contest. That's why his plan to use the arts to support ethnic pride and ethnic nation-building must be taken seriously, and deserves to be compared with the work of Joseph Goebbels and especially with film-maker Leni Riefenstahl and architect Albert Speer, who did the same kind of work for the Third Reich. In Hawai'i we already have some pretty powerful propaganda films put together by the production company Na Maka O Ka 'Aina, including both uplifting cultural films and also films like "A Nation Within" and the 30-minute assemblage shown in the Barracks at 'Iolani Palace for people taking the tour. Another good example is the short clip shown at the beginning of every "First Friday" TV show, evoking powerful feelings of combined racial pride and angry determination, showing kanaka maoli made to look extremely "tribal" or "indigenous" in dress and appearance doing ceremonies or sports in the countryside, and marching through the gates at 'Iolani Palace, and screaming "I am NOT an American," etc. Reminds me of some mass meetings in Germany with swastika banners all over the place and powerful music and emotional speeches by der Fuehrer. Most of the sovereignty propaganda arts we see in Hawai'i are not harsh like the stuff in the First Friday clip. Most of it is victim-grievance stuff that builds a deep but quiet resentment or simmering anger, like plays portraying Queen Lili'uokalani being "betrayed" or "imprisoned," or a bunch of (local) haole guys in uniform with rifles on the steps of 'Iolani Palace, or films about Kalaupapa or Papakolea, or the song Mele 'Ai Pohaku, or the somewhat more militant recorded music of the group Sudden Rush.

Something else that fits the pattern of using culture and language very explicitly for ethnic nation-building is what's going on with the older Hawaiian language immersion schools but especially with the new Hawaiian culture immersion charter schools. The language immersion schools' tendencies in this direction are explained at

and the Hawaiian culture charter schools have very explicit intentions of indoctrinating children for ethnic nation-building, and are very dangerous:

Particularly frightening was a bill in the Legislature in 2002 to establish a completely separate "public" (i.e., taxpayer-supported) school system consisting of all the Hawaiian culture immersion charter schools, with explicit guarantees of racial majorities for Native Hawaiians and guaranteed racial administrative control. For the gory details, see

So, although I may be reading more into Randie Fong's article than what he intended, I am extremely concerned about this tendency toward racial supremacy, racial separatism, and racial fascist nationalism. Sorry I have to speak so strongly, but then we are dealing here with something that is powerfully evil. This is why I and my colleagues in Aloha For All are struggling so hard to dismantle OHA, to fight the Akaka bill, and to seek the abandonment of Kamehameha School's longstanding racially exclusionary admissions policy. I believe this whole topic of Hawaiian sovereignty is as important to Hawai'i, and as filled with possibilities for evil, as the issue of slavery was in 19th Century America. So, e kala mai ia'u for getting a bit strong with my language sometimes.

One sentence you write says this: "There is nothing wrong with pride in yourself and in your ethnic(cultural) backgrounds." I agree there is nothing wrong (indeed, much good) in pride in yourself. However, it's less clear whether pride in one's culture is appropriate (because very few individuals deserve praise for the overall status of an entire culture), and I am especially disapproving of pride in one's race. There is a very thin line between racial pride and racial prejudice, because both are forms of racial profiling. If you like being praised for the good things about a racial group you were born into and had no choice, then you must also acknowledge the legitimacy of being individually held responsible and taking personal blame for the bad things about the history and present of a racial group you were born into and had no choice. So be very careful about that one. I have written a careful, scholarly (and not too lengthy) initial analysis of this issue of racial pride and prejudice at https://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/prideandprejudice.html

Me ke aloha pumehana i na kanaka maoli Hawai'i 'oiwi a me na po'e a pau noho ana ma Hawai'i nei

Ken Conklin


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Email: ken_conklin@yahoo.com