On September 5, 2007 the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing to receive testimony about the Akaka bill from five invited guests: Haunani Apoliona, Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, Robert Klein, Jere Krischel, and Boyd Mossman.
Below is the testimony of Jere Krischel.
A slightly modified version of this testimony was also published on Hawaii Reporter online newsaper on Monday September 10, 2007 under the title "Debunking Myths Surrounding the Akaka Bill" at
Learning about the Akaka Bill
How will it affect you?
Aloha, members of the committee, and thank you for inviting me, and giving me this opportunity to share my mana'o on this topic close to my heart.
Aloha also to the esteemed Mr. Mossman, Ms. Apoliona, Mr. Klein and Mr. Blaisdell - I have a great respect for all of them and their many accomplishments, even though I believe they are on the wrong side of particular issues. I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and listen to theirs.
I have several themes in my presentation today --
1) a discussion about the historical basis for the Akaka Bill, or any form of race-based sovereignty;
2) a short side trip into a discussion of individual and collectivist civil rights;
3) some notes about the dramatic difference between what is proposed in the Akaka Bill, and current Native American/Alaskan tribal recognition law;
4) the history of the Akaka Bill and efforts to obtain and retain race-based benefits;
5) and finally, some words about the dangers of dividing our interconnected people by race, and some thoughts about considering everyone in Hawaii as Hawaiian.
First, some ancient history.
Much has been made of the supposed parallel between Native Hawaiians and Native Americans and Alaskans. The argument that it is only fair to treat Native Hawaiians the same way we treat some groups of Native Americans and Alaskans has been eloquently put forth by Akaka Bill supporters on several occasions. On its face, this appears to be a simple matter of protecting what seem to be self-evident and reasonable special privileges. However, the truth is far more complex.
One could argue that there are concrete differences in the ancient history of Native Americans and Alaskans and Native Hawaiians, but the more important differences are post-contact. Although all of the groups suffered from diseases they were exposed to by contact with the larger world, Native Hawaiians share none of the history of total oppression, subjugation, or political and cultural devastation that was common in the North American narrative.
We are all very familiar with the story of initial contact in Hawaii - Captain Cook, initially mistaken for a god, was killed in battle on the Big Island as he tried to recover some stolen goods. The narrative gets a bit fuzzy when it comes to Kamehameha - we all learn in school that he conquered the islands, and pushed people over the Nuuanu Pali, but we rarely hear of his close advisor and in-law John Young, a British sailor who was central to Kamehameha's military success and the government of the unified Kingdom. Where historical fact completely falls apart in the common perception, especially in the past 30 years of aggressive historical revisionism, is the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Although well covered by Kuykendall and Russ, two prominent historians of Hawaii in the 20th century, the Hawaiian Kingdom and the Hawaiian Revolution have been reinterpreted and misinterpreted time and time again over the past 30 years, both by activist scholars as well as some of our most powerful politicians. The 162 U.S. peacekeepers landed during the revolution have gone from passive albeit sympathetic observers of the local rebels, to a full scale invasion force and part of a deep conspiracy. The letter of Grover Cleveland to Congress on December 18, 1893, proclaiming the overthrow an "act of war", is made prominent and definitive - ignoring his referral of the matter to Congress, the results of their investigation exonerating the U.S. troops from any misconduct, and his acceptance of the new Republic of Hawaii as the lawful government of the Hawaiian Islands. The imprisonment of Queen Liliuokalani, instead of being known as a reaction to her involvement in the 1895 counter-revolution against Republic of Hawaii, is blamed on the United States instead, and even mistakenly dated to the 1893 overthrow.
Here are some undisputed historical facts often glossed over --
* The Hawaiian islands were unified by Kamehameha with non-native Hawaiian aid and advice, most prominently by John Young -- and this Kingdom was not race-based in its inception;
* The Hawaiian Kingdom, under Kamehameha III in 1840, established equal rights regardless of race, with the first constitution declaring all men "of one blood";
* In 1887, in response to the corruption of Kalakaua, a new constitution was forced upon the Hawaiian Islands by Kingdom residents and subjects primarily of European descent and leaders of the business and political establishment -- the first constitution which limited voting by race in the history of Hawaii. If you were to guess that native Hawaiians were those forbidden to vote because of race, you'd be wrong -- it was Asians who were disenfranchised, and Asians who did not regain their rights until well after annexation to the United States;
* The groups which organized the anti-annexation petitions in 1898, later embraced joining the United States, establishing the Hawaiian Independent Party, and sending both Robert Wilcox and Prince Kuhio to congress;
* In 1959, over 94% of the people in Hawaii voted for Statehood, including the vast majority of native Hawaiians.
This steady increase in political power for ordinary native Hawaiians, this continuous exercise of the individual right to self-determination through the ballot-box and civic participation, hardly speaks of a "history of suffering", as described by Akaka Bill proponents. Queen Liliuokalani herself acknowledged in her later years that "The best thing for [Native Hawaiians] that could have happened was to belong to the United States ."
==Peoples versus people==
Moving on from history, let's talk about what "civil rights" really are.
Although certainly the United States Commission on Civil Rights is dedicated to the protection of civil rights, this term has become ambiguous over the years. At first, the idea of equality was an individual one - that an individual person could not be treated differently, and that each individual deserved the full protection and exercise of their civil rights. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 represents one such codification of individual rights, stating "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." This is a commitment to equal treatment of every individual.
Another idea about civil rights has emerged since then, one that is inherently in conflict with the idea of individual civil rights - the idea of collective civil rights. The current Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has not been ratified by the United Nations, states "Indigenous peoples have the right to the full and effective enjoyment of all of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are recognized in the Charter of the United Nations and in the human rights law;" One can argue whether or not such different treatment of individuals according to what "peoples" they belong to is a good or bad thing - but one cannot avoid the inherent conflict between trying to treat each individual equally, but treating groups of people un-equally.
And how does this relate to the Akaka Bill? The question before us, even if you were to whitewash all the history, and ignore all the precedent, and accept every spurious claim made by native Hawaiian victimhood activists, is one between a collectivist idea of civil rights, and an individual idea of civil rights.
John R. Bowen, in Anthropology Today, Vol. 16, No. 4. (Aug., 2000), pp. 12-16., wrote:
"…the trope of indigenous/foreigners has been invoked to justify violence. Christopher Taylor (1999) points out that some Rwandan Hutus, in justifying their violence against Tutsi people, drew on narratives that depicted the Hutus as Rwanda's 'indigenous people' who had been conquered by Tutsis."
At what point does a collective right of the Hutus, as "indigenous" people, trump the individual right of a non-indigenous Tutsi to avoid genocide? When the concepts of individual civil rights and collective civil rights come into conflict, which one should hold sway? At what point does a collective right of people who share even the smallest bit of genetic background, trump the individual civil rights of their cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbors?
==Race-based by any other name==
Moving on from individual rights versus collectivist rights, let's talk about the dramatic difference between the Akaka Bill and current Native American/Alaskan tribal law.
Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett has argued that the Akaka Bill is not race-based -- a common refrain that simply does not stand up to strict scrutiny, nor the judicial record. Both Rice v. Cayetano and the United States Commission on Civil Rights report of May 4, 2006 make it clear that "descendants of the native indigenous people" is simply a proxy for race.
Mark Bennett has also argued that the Akaka Bill simply asks "to be treated the same way all other indigenous Americans are treated in this country." Yet the Akaka Bill notably lacks any of the 7 criteria required by the BIA for tribal recognition:
The petitioner has been identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900.
A predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times to the present.
The petitioner has maintained political influence or authority over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until the present.
A copy of the group's present governing documents including its membership criteria.
The petitioner's membership consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe or from historical Indian tribes which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity.
The membership of the petitioning group is composed primarily of persons who are not members of an acknowledged North American Indian tribe.
Neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the federal relationship.
Membership in Native American and Alaskan tribes is not given to anyone who has any amount of Native American or Alaskan blood -- but the Akaka Bill would create a new government for anyone with even the smallest racial tie to pre-1778 immigrants to Hawaii. Far from asking for parity with Native Americans and Alaskans, the Akaka Bill goes much further, obliterating all qualifications except for race.
==Follow the money==
So why are we here talking about separating native Hawaiians apart from their neighbors, colleagues and family to form their own separate government?
A cynical person might say it's all a matter of money and self-interest. Ever since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which awarded 40 million acres and nearly 1 billion dollars, thought has been given to getting that same kind of prize for native Hawaiians.
I've recently been given the opportunity to research the presidential papers regarding the Native Hawaiians Study Commission, held during the Reagan administration, through a Freedom of Information Access request. The records of notes, meetings and memos have shown that the Native Hawaiians Study Commission Act of 1980 was strongly promoted by Hawaii politicians, with the hope of reaping similar reparations. However, the Native Hawaiians Study Commission report of 1983, after significant deliberation, concluded (and rightfully so), that there was no basis for any reparations. Needless to say, the report was a disappointment to many who thought that money and land were just around the corner.
A decade later, after 3 years of cunning legislative maneuvering, in 1993 the Apology Resolution was passed and signed by Bill Clinton, ignoring the findings of the Native Hawaiians Study Commission and providing the foundation for future claims. Akaka himself stated on September 4, 1999:
"I wanted the United States to admit liability for the 1893 overthrow to neutralize the 1983 Native Hawaiians Study Commission's Majority Report conclusion that the U.S. government was not liable for the loss of sovereignty or lands of the Hawaiian people in the 1893 overthrow."
And now, for the past 7 years, Akaka has tried to leverage that symbolic resolution into concrete legislation protecting and extending special race-based privileges. Mr. Mossman has been rather blunt about it himself, flatly stating that the Akaka Bill is meant to protect against equal-rights lawsuits, to preserve "the benefits and entitlements received by Hawaiians today".
==The melting pot==
So why does this bill seem so dangerous, so offensive to the spirit and culture of Hawaii?
Hawaii is a particularly special place in the world. It has been the quintessential melting-pot, with a wonderful mix of cultures and immigrants from all over this planet throughout its history. It is probably one of the most absolutely human places on this earth. Thanks to the basic view held forth by the first constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, that all people were "of one blood", Hawaii has been the birthplace of new "indigenous" groups of people with mixed ancestry, with no other homeland or presence on the planet but in the Hawaiian islands. Where else, besides Hawaii, can you find a homeland for someone who is Japanese, Chinese, German, Irish, Spanish and Filipino? And where else in the world can you find a homeland for someone who is Japanese, German, native Hawaiian, and English? And why would you dare to treat those two people differently, simply because of a fractional part of their ancestry?
Race is a terribly divisive and pernicious concept. Asians were once considered so foreign that they could never be anything but "alien" in the United States, much less Hawaii. On July 26, 1894, regarding the refusal of the vote to Chinese in Hawaii, the Advertiser wrote, "Chinese is an alien in Hawaii, as he is everywhere away from the land of his birth. He brings the Orient with him." Champ Clark, congressional representative from Missouri, said in 1898, protesting the thought of the annexation of Hawaii: "How can we endure our shame when a Chinese Senator from Hawaii, with his pigtail hanging down his back, with his pagan joss in his hand, shall rise from his curule chair and in pigeon English proceed to chop logic…"
Today we recognize as self-evident the lunacy of asserting that a given racial group is so foreign as to never be truly "American". Such attitudes are those of xenophobic racial supremacists living in isolation from others, with a distinctly twisted concept of American identity. Why then, do we accept blithely the implication that every other racial group in Hawaii except for those with the smallest bit of pre-1778 immigrant blood, is so foreign as to never be truly "Hawaiian"? Hawaii is a place, not a race, and the insistence that anyone who does not have the proper pre-1778 immigrant bloodline cannot be truly Hawaiian is just as vile as aspersions made against other immigrant groups in the past and present.
==Laying the blame on your cousins==
Though it may be considered impolite to mention, most native Hawaiians are not mostly native Hawaiian. According to OHAs own research, only 10% of people with partial native Hawaiian ancestry have 50% or more native Hawaiian ancestors. This high rate of intermarriage is a direct function of treating people as equals, and not discriminating by race in matters of love. I assert that this is what we should aspire to, not some racial separatism, as well-intentioned though it may be.
One particularly disturbing aspect of the idea of splitting our state into "native" and "non-native" is the fact that most native Hawaiians are only part-native Hawaiian. People speak of native Hawaiians as oppressed, or endangered, or somehow worthy of special treatment because of the past. But within most native Hawaiian's ancestry, are all the other races being asked to have lesser privileges and lesser rights. If someone's great-grandmother was native Hawaiian, but their other 3 great-grandmothers and 4 great-grandpas were all haole, why are they given credit for the sufferings of one of the eight, but not blame for the oppression dealt out by the other 7? Why is it that non-native Hawaiian cousins, who only differ from their native counterparts in the smallest amount, must bear the burden of their own ancestry as well as the 7/8ths left over?
This one-drop rule, reminiscent of Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, is pernicious in its application now as it was then. If your grandma was an annexationist, and your grandpa was a royalist, should you be blamed for the overthrow? Should you be given reparations for the overthrow? Take Strom Thurmond -- should his part-black daughter be given special privilege because her ancestors were slaves, or should she be made to pay because her ancestors were slave owners?
==We are one people==
Although at one point in time, the people living in Hawaii could be considered fairly distinctly, this moment is far in the past. Whereas we were once easily categorized into just Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Caucasian, and native Hawaiian, those lines have blurred over the centuries. Like a jar of different colored sand, layered upon one another, once shaken, it can never be split up into its component parts.
We of Hawaii, of all races, are one people. We are sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, calabash cousins, children, parents, tutus, wives, husbands, schoolmates, neighbors and friends. Even when we don't share the same blood, we share the same heart. To divide us by our genetic lineage is counter to the very essence of Hawaii .
My mother went to Maryknoll with Ms. Apoliona. I went to the same school as Mr. Twigg-Smith, right across the street from their school. Twigg-Smith fought in the same war as Senator Inouye. My father sailed with Nainoa Thompson with the Hokule'a from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1985 on the escort vessel Dorcas. My cousins have gone to Kamehameha Schools, and even Senator Akaka is related to me, an only slightly more distant cousin. We are all related, all intertwined, and I'd bet that nobody in this room is much more than a few degrees separated from each other by marriage, by blood or hanai.
Akaka Bill supporters, and supporters of collectivist rights for native Hawaiians often insist that their motivation is to help improve the demographic statistics for health, wealth and education for native Hawaiians. However, they are confounded by the high rate of intermarriage and the low rate of blood quantum, and the imprecise application of the infamous "one-drop" rule of the Jim Crow era (a time when a white woman could give birth to a black child, but a black woman could never give birth to a white child…today the claim seems to be that a Japanese woman can give birth to a native Hawaiian child, but a native Hawaiian woman could never give birth to a Japanese child).
Worse than that, the social ills they are attempting to remedy are directly harmed by the imprecise nature of racial classification -- what we need in Hawaii is targeted help, based on need, to those who need it. Using race as a proxy for need only misdirects resources that could be used to attack the problems cited by racial collectivists. When we use the one-drop rule to measure the demographic performance of a given group, we must be careful not to confuse correlation with causality -- although as a group, native Hawaiians may have more needs than other groups, it does not mean that they have those needs because they are native Hawaiian.
About the only thing that can be said in favor of it is that if the new race-based government was able to wrest reparations from the federal government, the other 49 states may be forced to contribute to the economy of the islands for a lie told about the history of the islands over 100 years ago by radical activists.
==Conflating race and culture==
Another stated premise of the Akaka Bill is to protect existing race-based programs and therefore protect and preserve Hawaiian culture.
But how can we separate out the contributions of all the non-native Hawaiians to the culture of Hawaii for the past 200 years? The highest example of Hawaiian cultural revival, celestial navigation, was re-introduced by a white man and a Micronesian sailor. Even the preservation of the Hawaiian language itself owes deep debts to the missionaries who helped codify the Hawaiian alphabet, and worked tirelessly to expand literacy in the Hawaiian Kingdom. The preservation of culture, any culture, is not dependent on racial boundaries or classifications, and this is especially true for a group which has since the moment of contact in 1778, embraced all humans as equals.
Hula does not require special blood. Honoring Pele does not require special blood. Speaking olelo Hawaii does not require special blood. Having a deep spiritual connection to the lands and waters of our islands does not require special blood. Eating fish and poi does not require special blood. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about Hawaiian culture that requires us to divide ourselves by race in order to preserve it. Every program of OHA, every class taught at Kamehameha Schools, every plot of land leased by DHHL would be just as effective at preserving the Hawaiian culture if they did not discriminate by racial background. A Portuguese homesteader with a cheap lease can work the land just as effectively as his part-Hawaiian cousin. A Japanese student can learn and study ancient Hawaiian song, dance and religion, just as well as their part-Hawaiian cousin could. A Filipino man can just as easily learn to be a professor of Hawaiian language, and pass on the ancient tongue of Hawaii just as well as his part-Hawaiian brother in-law.
OHA Trustee Boyd Mossman seems to conflate the idea of race and culture, and has spoken of the "people who make Hawaii Hawaii." He has spoken of the "people whose home, whose aina, whose spirit these islands are." He has fretted that without the Akaka Bill, "Hawaiians will be no different from Californians, Georgians or New Yorkers." But what is wrong with being a Californian, or Georgian? Why is Hawaii not the home, not the aina, not the spirit of the fourth, fifth and sixth generations who immigrated to Hawaii after 1778? Why aren't all Hawaiians, regardless of race, the people who make Hawaii Hawaii ? Why is the beautiful, mixed culture of Hawaii today something that needs to be owned and mastered by one race, and one race alone? Why do we need to set up racial hierarchies like they did in the old plantation days, and put native Hawaiians above Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino?
The native Hawaiian population in 1778 has been estimated to be upwards of 300,000. It reached its nadir in the late 1800s, with only 39,000. Since annexation and statehood, it has blossomed to over 400,000, spread all across the United States and the rest of the world. By the end of this century there will be over 4 million if the trend continues. Although at one time, an argument could have been made that native Hawaiians were on the brink of extinction, this is absolutely no longer true. Native Hawaiians are thriving and growing, prominent in both industry and government in the Hawaiian Islands and the United States.
One of the fears expressed by Akaka Bill supporters is that somehow, without a focus on race, the culture of Hawaii will somehow be diminished or lost. They seem to be of a belief that without the proper bloodline, somehow the culture and practices aren't genuine -- akin to believing that Mozart can only properly be played by Austrians, or French only spoken by those of native Gallic descent, or that the Pope must be Italian. Not only is this fear unfounded, but it threatens to drive the culture they wish so desperately to preserve to extinction.
Culture survives by expanding its reach, not by limiting it. The future of olelo Hawaii will be bleak if we only teach it to part-native Hawaiian children. On the other hand, if every child in the State of Hawaii was required to take at least a year of Hawaiian language, olelo Hawaii would be strengthened and preserved in perpetuity. Same thing with hula, or celestial navigation -- we preserve the culture by making sure that *everyone* is exposed to it, and enriched by it. Limiting our target audience to those with the proper bloodline only serves to retard the growth and advancement of culture.
Hawaiian music is a particularly apt example -- although we have some ancient Hawaiian song, chants and music, today Hawaiian music is much more than the product of a single race. The guitar Ms. Apoliona plays on was brought here by Europeans. Same thing with the ukulele played by Braddah Iz. The influences of the blues, reggae, rock, pop, classical, jazz - they all have become a part and parcel of Hawaiian music.
So is Hawaiian music any less Hawaiian if played by a Filipino? Is it any less Hawaiian when sung by a Japanese person? It is any less Hawaiian if it uses instruments, scales and chords imported from abroad?
Of course not. To preserve these things we shouldn't discriminate. Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian language, Hawaiian music and Hawaiian dance are not race-based. They don't discriminate. Having the proper bloodline doesn't make you better at them, nor does having the "wrong" bloodline make you any worse.
==OHA for all Hawaiians==
It has been clearly admitted that the Akaka Bill is an attempt to protect existing race-based programs from legal challenge. Unable to convince the courts to ignore the 14th and 15th amendment, proponents of race-based programs hope to legislate their way out of their inherent unconstitutionality.
And why? What is it about race-based programs that make them any more effective than race-blind programs?
Let us for a moment imagine that OHA served anyone in Hawaii, regardless of race. Imagine for a moment that their programs to improve the health, wealth and education were open to all people in need, rather than just a single racial group. Would this prevent OHA from helping needy native Hawaiians? Of course not! A health program would be just as effective at helping a part-native Hawaiian family to avoid diabetes if it included helping their Portuguese neighbors. A program to help jump-start small businesses would be just as effective at helping a part-native Hawaiian entrepreneur if it included helping their Japanese cousin. A program to help improve literacy and education would be just as effective at helping a part-native Hawaiian high-school drop out if it included helping their haole friend.
Now, I understand that there are 160 federal programs which have had "native Hawaiian" tacked onto them, and that this federal pork may only be available to the State of Hawaii when it plays the race card. Getting the U.S. congress to fund race-blind programs in Hawaii may be a harder sell than preying upon some sense of white-guilt they may have. Maybe this is the only good reason for the Akaka Bill -- but this is a dangerous path to follow. Although this federal money may seem like it comes for free, it costs us our soul. To get this money, we need to divide ourselves by race, deny our brothers, sisters and cousins, and forsake the values which have made Hawaii into the special place that it is.
My family has been in Hawaii for over 100 years. My extended family has been in Hawaii since before 1778. And all of my family deserves to be treated equally. That is what we should mean when we talk about "civil rights" -- civil rights are the rights we ALL share. Civil rights do not discriminate. I pray that the Hawaii Advisory Committee helps protect the civil rights of all humans in the State of Hawaii, and that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights does as well.
Mahalo, and thank you for letting me share my mana'o.
Native and indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands, without direct pre-1778 ancestry
Send comments or questions to:
SEE ALL PUBLICLY AVAILABLE TESTIMONY PRESENTED TO THE HAWAII ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO THE U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS DURING AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER 2007
SEE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE AKAKA BILL
SEE WEBPAGES ABOUT HAWAIIAN SOVEREIGNTY ISSUES IN ADDITION TO THE AKAKA BILL