What really happened at the ʻAha, part IV

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The international committee struggles to have its alternative documents to the federal-recognition constitution put before the participants for consideration.

in Hawaiian Sovereignty March 31, 2016 05:06 PM

Above: Assisted by Oʻahu participant Leona Kalima (right) Maui participant Natalie Kama (left) presented a scroll several feet long depicting her mo’okuauhau of kupuna on whose behalf she voted against the ‘Aha constitution.

Editor’s note: As one of the 154 kānaka maoli who agreed to participate in the state-sponsored, Naʻi Aupuni-initiated Native Hawaiian ʻAha, Kaʻiulani Milham had a front row seat at the month-long proceedings. What follows is the fourth installment of a multi-part, first-hand account that highlights various and consistent affronts to democratic processes that ruled during the ʻAha proceedings. Read part I, part II and part III

While the federal recognition-friendly constitution was being finalized, independence advocates in the international committee (IC) were also hard at work.

The day before the ʻAha was to conclude, IC members were sequestered in a downstairs meeting room of the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club finalizing their strategy for the adoption of their “report”—a collection of governing documents prepared over the previous week.

Ultimately, the decision was made to bring forward two constitutions based on the ʻAha Hawaiʻi ʻOʻiwi (AHO) Independent Constitution of 1999, a document that had been crafted over 18 months by the elected delegates to the AHO constitutional convention.

Despite the efforts of those elected delegates, that constitution had never been brought to a vote for ratification. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), after learning the convention had determined to pursue independence, declined to fund the process any further.

Several of the AHO delegates, however, had run for election as delegates to the ʻAha and were now among its participants. Three of them—Jimmy Wong (a former Hawaiʻi state legislator) and both Keoni Agard and Poka Laenui (attorneys and long-time sovereignty activists)—now sought to resurrect the AHO constitution.

Seeking continuity with the Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution of 1887, the document they believe to be the last legitimate constitution of Hawaiʻi, Agard and Wong’s revised AHO constitution drew on provisions from the 19th century document to add authority and to bridge the century-wide gap between then and now.

While taking a slightly different approach, Laenui, the AHO chair, had also adapted the AHO constitution. After nearly two decades on the shelf, it was due for an update and Laenui was hopeful to finally have it brought before the lāhui for consideration and possible ratification.

With these two versions of the AHO constitution, the IC sought to submit both for consideration as alternatives to the constitution federal recognition advocates at the ʻAha had tailored to meet the Department of the Interior’s specifications for federal recognition.

In addition to these two constitution alternatives, the IC report included two declarations, titled “Maunawili I and Maunawili II,”  both written by Dr. Williamson Chang, the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Richardson Law School’s senior law professor: long- and short-form essays detailing the illegitimacy of the annexation of Hawaiʻi in 1898.

Although electronic copies had been submitted to the “magical” drafting committee,ʻAha vice chair Karen Awana, an advocate of independence, was uneasy. According to Lunakanawai Hauanio, the chair of the IC, the drafting committee had been giving mixed messages about what submission process they wanted other committees to follow.

To ensure the documents weren’t misplaced, or otherwise tampered with, Awana asked me to hand deliver the packet to the drafting committee for printing. Containing all four documents, the stack of paper was hefty, about 75 pages in all.

When I arrived, the room formerly occupied by the drafting committee was nearly empty. Makana Paris, the other ʻAha vice chair, sat alone at a table. Approaching him, I asked who I should give our report to get copies printed for distribution. Paris, barely looking up from the table, said the documents needed to first be submitted to the drafting committee. Puzzled, I returned to the IC. Awana, the feeling in her naʻau confirmed by Paris’ response, urged me to try again.

Spotting Zuri Aki, the drafting committee’s “chief drafter,” I approached with the documents in hand, explaining what Paris had said. Apparently preoccupied with the ʻAha constitution, Aki said there was no provision for printing on site and suggested we do as the drafting committee had done and take the job to an offsite printer.

With the clock ticking, my thought went to the hired facilitators. Surely, with the stated purpose of the ʻAha being to draft governing documents, they had procured printers? But after seeking out facilitators Peter Adler and Linda Colburn, I was told “no,” they did not have printers available. I went back upstairs to the entry where the staff from the paid PR firm Commpac, were stationed.

Among nebulous other duties, the PR firm had been paid to issue and collect our name tags every day. But did they have a printer? Again, the answer was “no.”

When I got downstairs again, IC members were in the process of taking up a collection to cover the more than $450 it would cost for the copies. Led by Maui participant Carol Lee Kamekona, they set out in four teams to get the documents printed and distributed to the ʻAha members as quickly as possible.

The Paper Chase

During the plenary session that morning, copies of the “final” draft of the ʻAha constitution sat in a box onstage as ʻAha chair Brendon Lee took the podium. Glowing on the screen at his side, the agenda allowed for an hour and a half for the various committees to review the changes that had been made since the previous draft of the day before.

Among those changes, Lee sheepishly explained that, “We forgot to put in an article to call for a special election for the population to ratify our constitution.”

Nevertheless, as he encouraged the participants to come forward and pick up a copy, Lee was jubilant. “Here is our constitution,” he said. An hour and a half later, the plenary resumed. Chair Lee took a moment to bask in the rosy glow of success.

“They all out there said that we would fail, that all we Hawaiians do is fight, that there would be protests … that we’d all never last a month together…. But here we are.”

It was a short-lived moment. Before Lee could begin the process of receiving the reports, Laʻakea Kamauoha, a participant from Orlando who—like the majority of the participants—had rarely stepped to the mic, rose to voice a familiar refrain about the lack of due process and transparency in the Drafting Committee:

“The first of last week we were tasked to go to these different committees,” he began. “We sat there for two and a half days putting something together and tried to present it. On the fourth day, on Thursday afternoon, folks would come over and tell us that it wouldn’t work. And so they tried to change it around. We fought to keep it, as is. And then, when it went to the first draft, it was changed. Second draft, it was changed. And then we hear tell, that this final draft, no changes, no discussions, no nothing; we either accept it or not. And I don’t really understand why you had us go through all of that if you already had an agenda, already out there, that you guys were gonna go with. And that’s the part that baffles me.

Lee wasn’t having it. “Who’s ʻyou guys?’” he demanded. “Your chair had no agenda,” he objected.

“The stuff that we put in there is not there. So, who were they, in this drafting committee, who decides to take out, alter, change and everything like that?” asked Kamauoha, one of 26 participants that flew in from outside Hawaiʻi to be a part of the process.

“The changes were made based on what was submitted from the liaison from the committee,” explained Lee.

“But they didn’t get there,” interjected Kamauoha, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

At this point Lee, clearly annoyed, asked Kamauoha, with more than a touch of sarcasm, “Are you the liaison for the committee?” as Annelle Amaral (the former police woman) ushered him from the mic.

But instead of proceeding to the agenda, Lee was once again interrupted. Rising to the mic, Lunakanawai Hauanio, chair of the IC, also had issues with the process of the drafting committee.

“I was instructed, yesterday, that we were to submit whatever information from the international committee that we wanted the drafting committee to take into consideration,” he said.

He went on to say that he’d been given conflicting information about the drafting committee’s submission process and that his understanding had been that he was to submit the IC documents to the drafting committee, they would review them and then return them for a final approval before printing.

“Today it was different. So I am concerned that, in the middle of the stream, that there appears to have been some changes.”

Having made his point, Hauanio told Lee copies of the international committee report were being printed in Kailua. Given the confusion about the process, Hauanio wanted to confirm the process going forward. Could they be distributed?

“That’s your prerogative,” Lee responded. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to equate the international committee’s governing documents with the box full of copies of the ʻAha constitution on the stage at his feet.

“I don’t believe any other committee has a written report,” he added.

Hauanio remained at the mic. But Lee was adamant, “I’m not going to call you up. I am not going to call you right now.” Hauanio, persisted, explaining that the copies being distributed did not include the documents his committee had submitted the previous day. “That’s what I’m concerned about,” he said.

Lee interrupted, said he was confused and that “the document that the drafting committee was tasked to draft is before this body. Are you saying that—”

“Documents that, obviously, didn’t come out in the print out this morning,” Hauanio offered.

Lee professed ignorance, saying, “So you had different documents that you wanted the drafting committee to draft?”

At length, Hauanio explained that the committee’s documents had been submitted but were nonetheless omitted from the documents the drafting committee printed out for distribution to the ʻAha participants.

Again, Lee played dumb, as if—despite chairing the ʻAha—he was nonetheless unaware the international committee had drafted documents. “So you had different documents that you wanted the drafting committee to draft?” Lee asked again.

“To look at and then send back to us,” Hauanio clarified. “And then it’s not part of the handout that was [distributed] this morning.”

“I’m sorry, the chair is still not following,” Lee repeated. “The task that the drafting committee was tasked with of drafting this governing document, they completed that task …and that’s what was circulated. So if you submitted … what? Did you submit things?

“Documents …” Hauanio offered.

“So you sent already drafted documents? That’s not the purview of the drafting committee. The drafting committee is to draft, to write. If you already wrote something, then I don’t know why you submitted it to the drafting committee.”

“My understanding is it goes to the drafting committee and then it’s printed out,” Hauanio said.

“Then that is not correct,” concluded Lee, adding that he would like to take the matter up with Hauanio during the recess for lunch since this was “not a matter for the body [to discuss].”

“It is a matter for the body …” insisted Hauanio.

“Then you can still bring that up when you give your report,” said Lee, dismissing Hauanio.

In contrast to Hauanio, standing at the other mic waiting to present the drafting committee’s report on the final draft of the constitution, Aki was elated.

“I love you all,” said Aki. “It’s an amazing thing. It’s the power of our people all in one, right here.”

But the warm-and-fuzzy that had been cast upon the participants was short lived. A half hour later Hauanio was back at the mic, asking Aki for clarification.

“Does the draft include the items that was sent to the drafting committee—that we sent on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—from the independence [international] committee?”

Aki put the responsibility back on the committee:

“Every day for this week, and so long as this committee has been around, I have gone to that committee and asked them if they could submit anything to the drafting committee and provide me with two liaisons to represent that committee and report to me … That committee has never submitted anything to me, other than hard copy documents to me today, this morning, and they have never provided two liaisons.”

Underscoring his point, Hauanio said, “So then the process that was explained to us last Wednesday, so it’s changed this week.”

Lee intervened to say the process was the same as it had been since the drafting committee was formed.

Was all of this simply a misunderstanding? Or was it a deliberate attempt to prevent the international committee’s governing documents from being considered for adoption by the ʻAha?

Out to Lunch

Hauanio’s next attempt to bring forward the international committee documents came just before lunch, when the printed copies of his committee’s report—the two constitutions and the two declarations— were finally in hand. Standing at the mic, awaiting recognition from the chair, he was ready to give his report.

But instead of recognizing Haunio, Lee acknowledged Oʻahu participant John Aeto, who stood at the opposite mic to make a motion for the “order of the day”—an expression in Robert’s Rules-speak meaning “proceed without delay to the next item on the agenda”

When Hauanio persisted at the mic intent on being allowed to speak, Lee talked over him, saying it would be “out of order at this time” and insisting, “We have to take this up. We have to take this up. I’m sorry you’re out of order.”

Holding his ground, Huanio objected again, “I think you’re very unfair because you knew I was going to…”

“You’re out of order … I didn’t make the motion,” interrupted Lee. “All those in favor of moving to the order of the day raise your hands.”

“You’re unfair,” Hauanio muttered, shaking his head in disgust as Kahiolani Papalimu, an outspoken federal recognition advocate, called out for back up: “Sergeant at Arms!”

As the session adjourned, two sets of governing documents, the constitution written by the drafting committee and the packet of documents from the international committee were now printed and available for discussion. But would they both be considered for adoption? The answer was yet to come.

Native Americans Warn Native Hawaiians of the Dangers of Federal Recognition

Sunday, 13 December 2015 00:00By Imani Altemus-Williams, IC Magazine | Report

Hawaii map

Many people are unaware of the unique history of the United States’ occupation of Hawai’i. (Image: Hawaii map via Shutterstock)In 2001, the late Russell Means of the Oglala Sioux nation visited Hawaiʻi where he shared his grandfather’s words regarding the impact federal recognition has had on indigenous peoples.

“Grandson, all of this land someday will not be yours. That’s the reality of federal recognition. Someday, none of this will be yours. Welcome to America.”

His prophetic words particularly ring true today.

In the summer of 2014, the U.S. Department of the Interior or DOI held a series of 15 public hearings throughout the Hawaiian islands to discuss the reestablishment of a “formal government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian community.” By and large, the U.S. government is persuading the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) to accept a process by which they will be federally recognized as Indigenous Peoples in the U.S.

Throughout the hearings, thousands of Native Hawaiian’s lamented the same cry; that they oppose the U.S. government being involved in Native Hawaiian nationhood.

“No, the DOI should not involve itself whatsoever in a reorganization of any sort of Hawaiian people’s government”, declared Mana Movement organizer ʻIlima Long in her testimony to the DOI.

Each hearing saw a larger crowd than the previous, nearly all-sending a unified message that Hawaiʻi remains an independent nation under international law and federal recognition would undermine their sovereignty.

“The law of nations tells me that we are the Kanakas, the only people that have a legal right to conduct our affairs. No other entity, whether state or federal government has that authority”, explained Isaac Kaiu when addressing the department.

Mothers, fathers, grandparents and grandchildren expressed the pain that their families and ancestors have experienced since the U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom 122 years ago. This moment reignited a collective conversation around nationhood and independence.

“Uncle Joe” Tassil told Intercontinental Cry that the islands would still resemble paradise if Hawaiians were in control.

“If our ancestors made this rock look like paradise for people that wanted to come from all over the planet, why does it look and smell like hell today? Because we are not in charge. Had we been in charge this would still be paradise.”

One year after the DOI visit to the islands, roughly 95,000 Native Hawaiians that had allegedly enrolled in the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission received an election notice from Na’i Aupuni, a non-profit corporation run by six individuals. These individuals were selected to serve as directors by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs or OHA; a semi-autonomous department of the state that maintains a controversial reputation in the Hawaiian community. Na’i Aupuni is independent of, but funded by OHA. Its purpose was to facilitate the process for nation re-building by electing 40 delegates to participate in the ‘Aha or convention, where they would determine the best approach to self- governance. After a month long election, on Dec 1, 2015, voters were expected to have elected 40 Native Hawaiian delegates who would convene and form a governance document to be ratified by participating Native Hawaiians.

On Nov. 27, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy blocked the counting of votes after six people challenged the election, including Keli’i Akina, the president of the Grassroots Institute of Hawaiʻi. The high court approved the injunction that forbids Na’i Aupuni to count the votes until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivers its ruling. As a result of the temporary halt, Na’i Aupuni has extended its voting deadline to Dec. 21, 2015.

An online poll conducted by the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper asked whether the DOI should “keep open the process for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians,” 67 percent of participants said “no”. Many Hawaiians did not vote in the election because they question the lack of wide community involvement in the process, and believe it to be rigged. Longtime Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte has called it “a fake pathway to nationhood and its disillusioned vision of sovereignty”.

The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission enrolled 95,000 Indigenous Hawaiian names. However, as noted in a recent Indian Country Today article by Dr. Randall Akee and Dr. Noelani Arista, the certified list contains duplicate names and names of deceased individuals, as well as signatures that were transferred from previous state-controlled lists of Native Hawaiians onto the roll without the consent of those individuals. Only 18 percent of all Native Hawaiians are registered to the Roll Commission. Should federal recognition pass, the remaining 80 percent who have not enrolled will have relinquished, many unknowingly, their rights and the rights of their children and descendants as legally recognized Native Hawaiians. They are exempt from voting, and excluded from receiving monetary benefits and land rights.

There are also members of the community who believe federal recognition is the most viable approach to ensure the health and prosperity of the future generations of indigenous Hawaiians.

When vice-chair of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, Na’alehu Anthony addressed the DOI, he explained his motivation in seeking federal recognition.

“I was thinking about this very room about 25 years ago, I was like 12 or 13 years old, packed with Hawaiians, packed, same conversation going on today. My tutu (grandmother), my mom, now me. The reason I’m here today is because I no like just leave this for my son. I like move forward.”

If the courts declare to proceed with the Na’i Aupuni process, it could significantly impact the future of Hawaiʻi. To ensure that history not repeat itself, the Native Hawaiian community and U.S. government must critically examine the vestiges of their past, so they can uncover the pono or righteous pathway towards self-determination.


Many people are unaware of the unique history of the United States’ occupation of Hawaiʻi. Similar to Indigenous Peoples of the continental United States, Native Hawaiians also carry a horrifying past and present. However, what differentiates Hawaiʻi is that there was a time when many international bodies such as France, Great Britain, Belgium, Austria- Hungary, Japan, Russia, and the United States, among other states, recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom through treaties.

In 1893, an attempted coup d’etat backed by the U.S. marines overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom government, establishing an illegal and self-ascribed “Republic of Hawaii”. Despite mass opposition and local resistance, the islands were seized by the United States five years later for strategic military use during the Spanish-American War. In 1897, 90 percent of Hawaiian nationals during that time signed what became known as the Kū’e Petitions opposing and effectively stopping legal annexation through a treaty between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the U.S. Even then-President Grover Cleveland called the overthrow a “substantial wrong” and “an act of war” and vowed to restore the Hawaiian Kingdom, but was thwarted by an imperialist U.S. Congress. Hawaiʻi remained a U.S. “territory” for another 60 years. On Aug. 21, 1959 Hawaiʻi was pronounced the 50th state of the United States of America.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton issued an apology to the Native Hawaiian people in the form of a joint resolution passed in Congress called the Apology Resolution, and advocated for reconciliation efforts between Native Hawaiians and the U.S. government. He admitted to the fact that Hawaiians did not relinquish their inherent sovereignty or national lands, but stopped shy of admitting guilt in the violation of international law and circumvention of the rights of citizens of another country – the Hawaiian Kingdom.

“One of the primary principles of reconciliation should be that the terms of reconciliation must be made by those who have been injured, not by the party who facilitated harm”, stated ʻIlima Long.

But can there ever be true reconciliation without the full restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom?

For the last 17 years, Dr. Keanu Sai, a retired Army captain and PhD of Political Science has publicly testified on the unlawful occupation of Hawaiʻi at international courts across the globe. According to Dr. Sai, there was never a treaty of annexation between Hawaiʻi and the U.S. If the United States cannot demonstrate proof of an existing treaty, Hawaiʻi remains a sovereign state.

“Hawaiʻi’s status as an independent state has never been legally extinguished and thus continues to exist, as affirmed in the Permanent Court of Arbitration and many lawyers and scholars of international law”, states UCLA President’s Postdoctoral Fellow Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar.

Dr. Sai refers to this rule of international law as the “presumption of continuity”. After reviewing Dr. Sai’s overwhelming evidence, the United Nations General Assembly has also accepted his complaint.

With the understanding that Native Hawaiians and Native Americans endured a vastly different history of U.S. colonization and occupation, Hawaiʻi’s future could look strikingly similar to the life of many Native American tribes today.

The U.S. Federal Register writes its own rendition of U.S. relations with federally recognized tribes.

“The Federal government’s relationship with these tribes is guided by a trust responsibility – a long-standing, paramount commitment to protect their unique rights and ensure their well-being, while respecting their tribal sovereignty.”

Shannon Rivers, an Akimel O’otham delegate for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues explains his version, as he highlights the trials many federally recognized native tribes currently face.

“Some people might argue that under the federal system, this U.S. government system works better for us. But what we’ve seen over the last several decades is that extreme poverty still exists in many of our communities; alcoholism, drug addiction, violence to our women and children, high levels of imprisonment of our native people. So the question is does this system really work and has it worked? My answer would be no.”

There are 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States and more than 200 tribes that are not federally recognized. Countless of these tribes have not escaped dismal treatment by the U.S. government. One-in-four Native Americans and Alaskan Natives live in poverty. Native nations continue to suffer from limited resources, poor education and healthcare, mass incarceration, and violations of their land, cultural and religious rights. One of the most devastating realities for Native Americans is that they suffer some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation. Among Native Americans, forty percent of suicide deaths are between the ages of 15-24.

Corporate Takeover 

Is federal recognition enough to prevent multinational corporations from exploiting the land and natural resources of indigenous peoples?

Diné or more commonly known as Navajo nation is the second largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. The tribe has a 42 percent unemployment rate, 86 percent of the nation lack a natural gas service, and close to half of the population over twenty-five live below the federal poverty line. Even the USDA declared a major lack of accessibility to fresh produce and fruit on the 27,000 mile reservation that spans three states; Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Among these disheartening statistics, the Diné people have been forcefully relocated off of their traditional homelands for the extraction of coal; revered by the tribe as the liver of Mother Earth. While the Diné nation subsidizes electricity for much of the Southwest, and gains revenue for large energy companies such as Peabody Energy, 38 percent of its people live without running water or electricity. Along with coal mining, the tribe also withstood the excavation of uranium. The removal of coal and uranium has depleted the Diné aquifer, as well as created radioactive waste that has had adverse health effects on the people and their livestock.

Corporate robbery of indigenous resources in exchange for poisoned water, lands and communities is not an issue exclusive to federally recognized tribes. The same story currently exists in Hawai’i.

The corporate profiteering on the Diné reservation is reminiscent of Hawai’i’s ongoing battle with large biotech chemical corporations who are treating the world’s most isolated island chain as a guinea pig for biotech chemical engineering. Like the Diné experienced with resource mining, Native Hawaiians are facing the negative impact biotech chemical testing is having on the people and biodiversity of their land. Most Native Hawaiians on both sides of the Na’i Aupuni debate are against the heavy presence of biotech companies on the islands, and support an organic local food system instead. But despite the Diné nation being federally recognized, they remain unable to evict the energy companies from their lands.

Rivers understands how the struggles of federally recognized communities and the indigenous people of Hawai’i overlap.

“If you look collectively across indigenous nations the loss of land, the loss of resources are major factors of colonization and forced assimilation into a society that we did not understand. It was based on capitalist and colonial systems.”

The prolonged legacy of these systems has undermined indigenous ways of life and sovereignty. Across borders, federally recognized or not, capitalism and racism continues to erode indigenous survival. One colonial system that has proven effective in disarming indigenous peoples is the U.S. food scheme. Both Native Hawaiians and the Tohono O’odham nation rely on the U.S. government for their sustenance.

US Food Dependency 

Hawai’i imports approximately 92 percent of its food. In the event of a natural disaster, the state could only support its residents for a little over a week. Despite an abundance of prime agricultural land, Hawai’i has become almost exclusively reliant on the United States for its food.

The Tohono O’odham are a federally recognized tribe in the Sonoran desert, with territories crossing two colonial countries, the U.S. and Mexico. Like Hawai’i, this once self- sufficient nation is now almost entirely food dependent upon the United States. For centuries, the Tohono O’odham people traditionally cultivated a myriad of nutritious indigenous foods, such as 
, mesquite
, acorns and cholla
 buds on their own land. As a result of colonization by the Spanish and European, the Tohono O’odham have been stripped of the indigenous agri-cultural knowledge necessary to farm and harvest in the desert. Instead, the tribe was coerced into adopting a western colonial diet, which has had a devastating impact on the health of the community. Nearly half of Tohono O’odham adults live with type 2 diabetes – dismally close to the rate of Pacific Islanders affected by the disease.

Ironically, native foods of both cultures can prevent and reduce diabetes. A growing number of indigenous people in Hawai’i and the Tohono O’odham nation are beginning to restore the health of their people through adopting the indigenous diets of their ancestors. They are regaining the traditional skills and knowledge necessary to once again be self-sustaining.

But still, federal recognition has not protected the Tohono O’odham nation from relying upon the United States government for most of their food.

“How do you decolonize a people who are so reliant on these colonial systems? Who were once rich in resources, in culture and traditions, in ceremonies, who are now struggling just to simply survive? The colonial dependency is heavy. These are systems that have put us in a place where many places in the United States have become wards of the government,” states Rivers.

Desecration of Sacred Sites 

As Hawaiians regularly defend their sacred sites from the U.S. military and other foreign bodies, many wonder if federal recognition helps protect Native peoples cherished lands.

Native Hawaiians have been in a battle to protect the Big Island mountain known as Mauna Kea, from the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope or TMT. Considered sacred to many Kanaka Maoli, the mountain is viewed as already overdeveloped with 13 giant telescopes. Several state legislative audits and the TMT environmental impact statement have found “the past actions on Maunakea have resulted in substantial, significant, and adverse impacts” to the mountain’s cultural, biological, and geological resources. This telescope would violate both cultural and environmental laws, and could pollute the island of Hawaiʻi’s main freshwater aquifer. On Dec. 2, 2015, a Hawaiʻi Supreme Court rule invalidated the construction permit. The permit was revoked because the state Board of Land and Natural Resources issued it prior to holding a contested case hearing that included opponents of the project. The case will be sent back to the board for a new hearing. For the project to proceed, the board will have to approve another permit.

Many other federally recognized tribes are also familiar with the ongoing desecration of their sacred lands. The San Carlos Apache tribe is fighting to protect the sacred site known as Oak Flat, where they hold religious and coming-of-age ceremonies.

“When we look at the federal model, it is a model that is based on divide and conquer”, explains Rivers.

“We grew up in a system that was based on clans, elder knowledge, on belief systems that cultivated millennia. When the federal system and military come in, they say you can’t pray this way or you can’t dance that way. Why? Because they need those resources.”

Oak Flat lies above one of the largest copper deposits in the world. The San Carlos Apache are facing a land exchange of areas of the Oak Flat to Resolution Copper, a giant international copper mining company. Not only would this copper mine be a violation of their land and religious rights, it could also contaminate the reservation’s aquifer. Parts of environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, frequently exempt the mining industry from adhering to their court rulings.

For the last 158 years, longer than the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Lakota Sioux nation has been in an ongoing struggle with the United States government to protect the continent’s oldest set of mountains, the sacred Black Hills. In response to these treaty violations, Lakota Sioux activists referred to as the Lakota Freedom Delegation have been organizing since the 1970’s to form the Republic of Lakotah, a nation fully independent from the United States. They made their official proposal for independence in 2007 and have met with the Bolivian, Venezuelan, Chilean and South African embassies in their pursuit of recognition to form their independent nation. The Republic of Lakotah has drawn a “declaration of continuing independence”, and like some Native Hawaiians, are also using constitutional and international law to reassert their sovereignty.

After more than a century of federal recognition, the Lakota Freedom Delegation believes that the only way to fully restore the health, language, culture and livelihood of their people is to become fully independent of the United States.

Some Hawaiians fear that by accepting a path to federal recognition, they would grant the U.S. government greater power to re-define who is legally considered Native Hawaiian, thereby delimiting the number of those with a legal voice and able to register dissent.

Although not an indigenous Hawaiian concept, the blood quantum doctrine was introduced to the islands several decades following the overthrow. In the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the U.S. Congress allocated about 200,000 acres of land to eligible Native Hawaiians for residential and agricultural purposes. In order to qualify, one needs to be at least fifty-percent Native Hawaiian.

Most Native American tribes require a certain percentage of blood for enrollment, which is limited to one tribe. In the 1700’s, European Americans enacted the Blood Quantum Law to classify who would legally be considered Native American. Most tribes did not adhere to Blood Quantum Law until the government administered the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.

“This concept of blood quantum, that’s a western way of determining Indian blood,” says Dakota and Ho-Chunk community worker George Funmaker. He continues to explain the alarming truth of blood quantum law for Indigenous Peoples.

“My sons, if they don’t marry one of their tribes my grandchildren won’t be considered Native legally. If we consider going by blood quantum and federal recognition, there will be no more Natives on paper. It’s statistical genocide. It’s a way of wiping us out.”

These indicators clearly demonstrate that this system has not worked for native peoples. With the understanding that we are living in a different era, it is still important to recognize that Hawai’i was thriving before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

“We have to get beyond this concept of federally recognized tribes. Do we want a foreign settler-society government telling us how to manage or maintain our own legal and traditional structures? Or should we go back to the system that was created by our people and our ancestors, that tell us that we can do better?” declares Rivers.

Special thanks to Jeff Corntassel and Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar for their invaluable contributions to this article.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


Imani Altemus-Williams is a recent graduate of the New School. She has been active in Occupy Wall Street and works with undocumented and indigenous activism, anti-mass-incarceration organizing and popular radical education projects in New York City.

Three major problems with the ʻAha constitution

in Hawaiian Sovereignty March 15, 2016 10:26 AM

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Amid speculation about what will become of the Native Hawaiian Convention’s constitution, there are certain things that should be addressed. First, that the convention, composed by individuals who were not elected by anyone and whose placement came from a volunteer organization consisting of fewer than a half dozen officers and no membership, cannot claim to represent anyone but these unelected candidates themselves. Second, by limiting the membership of this ʻAha and the citizenry they identify in the constitution to “Native Hawaiians,” this document cannot accommodate either loyal Hawaiian Kingdom subjects nor Kanaka Maoli who are seeking decolonization and a UN approved exercise of our right to self-determination.

But the biggest problem with this constitution is its silence on the issue of “Ceded Lands.” Instead it refers to something called “National Lands” which, lacking clarification must be assumed to be whatever lands are conveyed to it, presumably by the U.S. government or the State of Hawaiʻi. Unlike Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi, which in 1987 laid claim to the “Ceded Lands” as our national lands, this document does nothing nearly so bold. This constitution says that, in terms of land, the Hawaiian government will take, not what it deserves and not what it is still entitled to; rather, it will take what it can get.

This is not the kind of call to nationhood that inspires pride and commitment. Indeed, it is careful to reserve its citizen’s right to continue to consider themselves Americans and makes it unlawful to legislate anything that would diminish the benefits they enjoy as Americans.

Even Kanaka Maoli who might not support independence should not enlist in a government that shrinks from offering what even the poorest governments in the world offer their people—a defined land base and a distinct identity for its citizens.

Protecting Hawaiian Kingdom Legacy Is Today’s Kuleana

The following dynamics are in play today, at a time that the historical facts and events of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the United States have been fully uncovered and disclosed.

As a consequence, the legal implications and options that have arisen, particularly in international venues of justice, have taken root in communities throughout the islands, to the concern of many in Washington, D.C., the state Capitol and on Merchant Street.

Fundamentally, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is opposed to the restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Though it is a given that the United States did illegally conspire to overthrow the kingdom, OHA has asserted strongly that the rights, advantages and opportunities available to our people as Native Americans through the United States and its Department of Interior provide the best possible option for our people and the future of the Islands.

Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte at the state capitol.

In keeping with the efforts initiated by Queen Liliuokalani, the Acting Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom determined that the United States is an illegal occupier of the islands, subject to war crimes pursuant to international law, judicial precedent and breach of treaties entered into with the Hawaiian Kingdom. In their pursuit of international justice at the Hague, the AGHK has been deliberate, methodical and low-key, lending to an increasing awareness and support throughout the islands.

With President Barack Obama’s tenure ending in January 2017, and the increasing pressure of the AGHK, which is now before the International Court of Justice as well as the International Criminal Court, OHA is intent on fulfilling the procedural requirements of Hawaiian nationhood, pursuant to the U.S. Department of Interior. Such a move would be welcomed by the new president, irrespective of party affiliations, given the significant national security interests of the United States in the Hawaiian Islands.

Notwithstanding the increasing pressure by the AGHK internationally, the United States, the State of Hawaii and OHA will define the territorial and jurisdictional purview of the Hawaiian nation. It will enhance the political and financial structures of the islands, while effectively limiting the interests of our people to that of the proposed Hawaiian nation.

As such, the real property and revenues of OHA and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands will likely be transitioned and vested in the Hawaiian nation as part of DOI’s requirements.

It should come as no surprise that the underlying objective of the Hawaiian nation under the United States in the 21st century is to mute the voices of Native Hawaiians who are demanding that the United States abide by and be held accountable for violations and disregard of the rule of law in the islands.

It is critical that our people protect our alii trusts by exposing the power grab, deceit, lies and theft of the Queen Emma Trust and the true character of those who are ultimately the successors of Sanford Dole and those who overthrew our kingdom.

The United States has partnered with various interests in the islands since the overthrow of the kingdom to solidify a political and financial structure that advance both national and local agendas. In this pursuit, the principals who have effectively led OHA down the path of the Hawaiian nation will be ideally positioned to target our remaining alii trusts.

In keeping with the desire of many who seek to force the sale of all leasehold lands in the islands, the most valuable of which are retained by trusts established for the sole benefit of Native Hawaiians, the Bishop Estate and Queen Liliuokalani Trust will become major targets, not unlike the Queen Emma Trust that was discretely dissolved by the Democratic Party in 1967.

Given the likelihood of a second President Clinton in 2017, former Gov. John Waihee and his cousin, OHA Chairman Bob Lindsay, who have been close political allies of Bill Clinton over the years, are ideally situated to assume control of all the assets of the remaining alii trusts, not unlike former Gov. John Burns, Bob Oshiro and Kenny Brown.

In light of these circumstances and the likely outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, and assuming that the power and influence of the United States succeeds in draining the commitment and limited resources of the AGHK, it is critical that our people protect our alii trusts by exposing the power grab, deceit, lies and theft of the Queen Emma Trust and the true character of those political powers who are ultimately the successors of Sanford Dole and those who overthrew our kingdom.

The alii trusts represent a commitment whose origins arose from our ancient civilization, culture and system of governance, all of which have been committed to ensuring the health and welfare of our families in perpetuity. With or without the restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Queen Emma Trust must be restored.

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About the Author


After hearing the Kahea at all of the Halawai Aloha ‘Aina events we helped organize and the echoing refrain on the Protest Na’i Aupuni site, we are responding with an ‘Aha Aloha ‘Aina in 2016.

1) Reaffirm our Independence

2) Resist and oppose Na`i Aupuni’s claims to be the representative voice of our people

3) Reject the current DOI endeavor to Federally Recognize na Kanaka Maoli as a Native Hawaiian Tribe

4) Unite our people and reveal the many different ways that our people have been building and rebuilding our Nation over the past several hundred years up to the present.