Does the U.S. Owe Hawaiians Anything?

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

Some kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) claim that the United States owes them land, money, and political recognition because of the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

157 sailors and marines from one navy ship in Honolulu harbor came ashore for a few hours to help maintain order, and they did so intentionally at a time that was very helpful to those trying to overthrow the queen. But1500 members of the Honolulu Rifles, who 6 years previously had imposed the Bayonet Constitution, were also on the streets. The local members of the Honolulu Rifles outnumbered the U.S. troops ten-to-one, and the Honolulu Rifles were the people who actually seized control of important government buildings, disarmed the royal militias, and enforced the overthrow both on January 17 1893 and in the days and months thereafter. The 157 U.S. troops who came ashore returned to their ship soon after their arrival. The Republic of Hawai'i held power for the next five years without any assistance from the U.S., and despite the strong opposition of the queen's friend and political ally, President Grover Cleveland, who tried to pressure the Republic into undoing the revolution and restoring the queen. The U.S. role in the revolution was minor compared to the role of the local Honolulu Rifles, and President Cleveland's efforts to restore the queen were substantial and timely -- and far more effective as an apology than anything that might happen 107 years later. When the queen surrendered during the revolution of 1893, she chose not to surrender to the local Committee of Safety and the Honolulu Rifles who had actually overthrown her, because she realized such a surrender would be final. Instead, she chose to surrender to the United States, because she thought she might have a chance at getting the U.S. to reverse it. Wouldn't everyone who loses a battle to one enemy love to choose to surrender to someone else who is less intimidating, more generous, and far away?

The government and crown lands were held by the government of the Kingdom on behalf of all the people of Hawai'i, not just the race of kanaka maoli. The crown lands were not the private property of the individual monarch, but were held by the office of the monarchy to support the maintenance of that office (crown lands were passed to the next monarch, not to the personal heirs of a deceased monarch); and following the overthrow, the crown lands became the same as government lands -- owned by the government of behalf of all the prople, not only kanaka maoli. And even today, those ceded lands (both crown and government) are still held by the governments of the United States and the State of Hawai'i on behalf of all the people of Hawai'i. There were no "stolen lands" as a result of the change of government, and no compensation is owed. (See website: ). The last time I looked, kanaka maoli were using the ceded lands on the same basis as all citizens of Hawai'i -- airports, harbors, roads, schools, universities, public housing, public parks, public hospitals, welfare programs, military protection, etc.

Furthermore, at the time of the overthrow and annexation, only one out of every four residents of Hawai'i had any kanaka maoli blood at all. According to the Native Hawaiian Databook, in 1900 74% of the population of Hawai'i had no native blood. Probably about half of the citizens of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, even before the overthrow, had no native blood. Non-kanaka maoli comprised not only 3/4 of the population, but also held most of the high-level government offices and controlled most of the wealth. The Kingdom that was overthrown was NOT a racially-defined kanaka maoli nation. All citizens regardless of race or geneology had full and equal voting rights and property rights, and even some non-citizen residents had those same rights. So it is very obvious that IF the U.S. owes any reparations or reconciliation for the overthrow of the Kingdom, such things are owed not to the race of kanaka maoli, but to all the people of Hawai'i, most of whom were non-kanaka maoli then, and 4/5 of whom are non-kanaka maoli now.

During the period before the overthrow, the kanaka maoli minority mostly sided with the queen, who was correctly seen as being their ally rather than an impartial monarch of all the people. So, when the revolution succeeded, the kanaka maoli felt themselves to be the losers. And indeed, kanaka maoli suffered losses of political power and suppression of their language and culture during the Republic, from 1893-1898, partly because the victors felt a need to consolidate their hold on power in the face of continuing unrest (including an armed counterrevolution which was easily defeated). The repression of kanaka maoli during the period of the Republic was far more gentle than what Kamehameha did to his enemies after he defeated them. The ex-queen was "imprisoned" for knowing in advance about the failed Wilcox counterrevolution and allowing the storage of guns in her flower garden -- her "imprisonment" consisted of a few months of house arrest in a room in the Palace that is larger than my apartment, where she had a loyal servant, writing and quilting materials, etc. Contrast that treatment with the death sentences the ex-queen insisted she would impose on those who had revolted against her if U.S. President Grover Cleveland had succeeded in restoring her to the throne. And following her release, she freely engaged in political activities and traveled to Washington D.C. to engage in political activities seeking restoration of the monarchy and opposing annexation. Immediately following the annexation and establishment of the territorial government under the United States, in the year 1903 kanaka maoli were 70% of the members of the territorial legislature, and the legislature voted unanimously to seek statehood. Kanaka maoli dominated the legislature for several decades, and their population has grown steadily since then. Compared to life before the annexation, kanaka maoli prospered under the U.S. territorial period.

Many kanaka maoli sovereignty activists today demand "reconciliation," restitution, and political recognition from the United States; but their real agenda is to revive a counterrevolution. Some sovereignty groups seek independence from the United States, wherein the entire territory of the current State of Hawai'i would become an independent nation in which only those who have kanaka maoli blood would be eligible to vote. Such a nation never existed in any period of history, but the activists feel entitled to establish it, and point to the U.S. apology bill (PL103-150) as evidence that the U.S. acknowledges their right to do so. Indeed, some of these activists believe that only kanaka maoli should have the right to decide whether such an independent nation shall be established. See the survey of sovereignty activists on the issues of who gets to vote and own property, included in a master's thesis: The apology bill has had other consequences tending to undermine legal authority, as kanaka maoli defendants in civil and criminal trials cite the apology bill to support their claim that the state and federal governments lack jurisdiction in Hawai'i.

The United States government has been generous in providing special race-based programs to help kanaka maoli (and only kanaka maoli) with medical care, educational programs, and land for building houses, in addition to all the usual programs available to all needy people regardless of race. But the existence of these special race-based programs, and the continual renewal of them, is taken by the activists as proof that the United States has established a trust relationship with kanaka maoli, defined by race, and that the trust relationship is now legally binding upon the United States and constitutes a form of political recognition. Imagine that if I offend someone, and then apologize, he then uses my apology as proof of culpability and files a lawsuit against me demanding compensation. Imagine that if I hand a dollar to a needy person on the street on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but then walk by on Thursday without giving him the dollar, he comes after me and tells me I owe him a dollar because I have established a trust relationship with him.

The sovereignty activists are demanding that the United States, which may have had a 5% responsibility for the overthrow, must pay 100% of the "damages" in restitution. Like lawyers in civil liability cases with several defendants, the activists are pursuing the "deep pockets" of the wealthiest defendant under a theory of joint and several liability. But any restitution morally owed by the U.S. for its minimal involvement in the overthrow was more than paid by the actions of President Cleveland in seeking to restore the ex-queen. His inability to do so, and the defeat of the Wilcox counterrevolution, and the maintenance of power by the Republic during several years of opposition from the United States president, demonstrate clearly that the real responsibility for the overthrow lay with the local revolutionists, who maintained a strong hold on power throughout the succeeding years until the annexation. If somehow the U.S. were now to reverse the overthrow, what would be restored is the Kingdom as of the day before the overthrow. As of January 16, 1893, the Kingdom was operating under the Bayonet Constitution of 1887 which the U.S. had not intervened to produce: the monarch unable to either appoint or dismiss the cabinet ministers without approval by the legislature; both houses of the legislature elected; most legislators being non-kanaka maoli just as most voters and most residents were non-kanaka maoli; and the government very unstable and on the brink of revolution.

I believe that the United States must abandon all so-called "entitlements" for kanaka maoli, defined by race. And the use of the phrase "persons descended from those who occupied the lands now known as the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778" is, of course, a racial definition. As shown above, the Kingdom of Hawai'i was multiracial, with full and equal voting rights and property rights for all, with most of the population having no native blood.

The Kingdom of Hawai'i became a multiracial nation through the decisions of the sovereign monarchs, exercising self-determination for their native people while also serving as monarchs of all the people. Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III was a kanaka maoli sovereign king, son of Kamehameha the Great, who created the Constitution of 1840 providing full and equal voting rights for all citizens, regardless of race. He also created the Great Mahele of 1848-50, providing full and equal private property rights for all citizens, later extended to include non-citizens as well. Some historians might say that in doing these things, the king was overly influenced by foreigners, or haoles; and he was responding to economic forces that limited his sovereignty. But didn't Kamehameha III have sovereignty? Would a newly restored sovereign nation of Hawai'i today be able to avoid even more severe economic and cultural pressures? Kauikeaouli was undisputed monarch, and exercised self-determination for the kanaka maoli people at the same time he exercised sovereignty on behalf of all the people. None of the kanaka maoli sovereign monarchs ever restricted voting rights or property rights to kanaka maoli alone; yet some of today's kanaka maoli sovereignty activists disrespect the decisions of those sovereign monarchs and seek to create an independent sovereign nation that would strip voting rights and property rights from 80% of the population who are non-kanaka-maoli.

"Entitlement" programs restricted to kanaka maoli are unnecessary as reconciliation or restitution, are racially discriminatory against the other 80% of the population who also have many needy people, perpetuate an entitlement mentality where people look to government for handouts rather than looking to themselves for initiative; and such programs give encouragement to activists who use them as evidence of a trust relationship and recognition of a political entity seeking independence. Race-based "entitlements" are unconstitutional, immoral, and actually harmful to the recipients in the long run.

Does the U.S. owe Hawaiians anything? Yes, it owes kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) the same thing it owes to all residents of Hawai'i: the equal protection of the laws, the constitutional rights we all enjoy as citizens of the United States, protection against enemies both foreign and domestic, and help for those who cannot help themselves. When help is given, it must be based on need rather than race. The U.S. has generously funded various "entitlement" programs for kanaka maoli, and those programs have been growing in recent years. Some kanaka maoli individuals and organizations have become dependent upon those programs and upon the governments that provide them, just as substance-abusers become addicted to the poison they ingest and the pushers who provide it. The termination of race-based entitlement programs will inevitably be accompanied by painful withdrawal symptoms, and all who love the victims must work hard to offer compassion and help during the transition.

If there is to be a restoration of sovereignty to an independent nation of Hawai'i, such a restoration must be made to the nation that was overthrown and annexed -- a multiracial, multiethnic nation with full and equal voting rights and property rights for non-kanaka maoli, who constituted most of the population then and 80% of the population now. Sovereignty is for a nation, not just for a single race.

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