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Native Hawaiians to Federal Government: Give Us Back Our Kingdom

The government's historic public hearings across Hawaii on re-establishing nation-to-nation status ended in anger and frustration. What's next?
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The federal government posed a series of questions to Native Hawaiians, with whom it's seeking to reestablish nation-to-nation status. The answer it received, to all, was a resounding "no."

This week, the Department of the Interior wrapped up two weeks of public meetings in Hawaii soliciting input from the Native Hawaiian community on setting up a similar structure to the one it has with Native American tribes.

Kale Gumapac was one of the 130 people who signed up to speak in Hilo on the island of Hawaii.

“[On] the questions that you raised for everyone to answer. It’s a trap," said Gumapac. "But I’m going to answer it anyway. ‘A‘ole [No]. No to everything that you guys are wanting and everything you are wanting to do. Because we can do it ourselves. We have our own government. We have the Queen, Liliuokalani, and the constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii continues to exist. You need to learn that constitution so that you can know when to ask permission to come into the Kingdom of Hawaii.”

Native Hawaiian hearings
Mililani Trask testifies before a team from the U.S. Department of the Interior at the Native Hawaiian hearing on the island of Hawaii on July 2, 2014.Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Gumapac and hundreds more showed up to testify at the fifteen public hearings held on the islands of Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, Hawaii, and Maui.

Residents delivered passionate accounts of Hawaiian history, U.S. militarism, cultural and environmental degradation, land disputes, and a steady stream of "no's" to the five questions asked by the Department of Interior.

“The Kingdom of Hawaii was never a tribe,” Francis Moku Malani, Jr. testified at the Hilo hearing last week, “We are a sovereign nation.”

Native Hawaiian hearings
Hawaiians crowded into school gyms and meeting rooms to attend a series of public hearings held by a federal government panel considering how to re-establish nation-to-nation relations.Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

The 1993 Apology Resolution publicly acknowledged and apologized for the United States’ involvement in the illegal overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, admitting that the United States violated Native Hawaiians’ right to self-determination and international law.

In 2000, the Departments of the Interior and Justice jointly issued a recommendation for self-determination for Native Hawaiians. From 2000 to 2010, Senator Daniel Akaka tried unsuccessfully to push what has become known as “The Akaka Bill” for federal recognition through Congress.

"No to everything that you guys are wanting and everything you are wanting to do. Because we can do it ourselves."

These public meetings come now as the Secretary of the Interior considers a federal administrative rule to reestablish a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community. More than 560 tribes currently hold similar status, with federal considerations on issues ranging from land management to social services.

Mililani Trask, attorney and United Nations expert on indigenous people, said what most Hawaiians want is not the Department of the Interior's definition of "federal recognition," but self-determination, and the way the government was proceeding was unacceptable.

“I think every Hawaiian would like to see a nation-to-nation relationship, but it can only happen when both nations are given a seat at the table," Trask said at the Hilo meeting.

"What you propose here is that the nation that overthrew our peoples and apologized for it without making reparations, that that nation would sit at the table and somehow fashion a procedure, hoping that in the future another true nation would somehow emerge. That will never happen.”

Five more public meetings will be held on the mainland U.S. through the beginning of August, and public comment from the Native Hawaiian community and federally recognized Native American tribes will be accepted until August 19.

Image: Daniel K Akaka
Former Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, is seen in his office in Honolulu, Hawaii. Now retired, Akaka tried unsuccessfully for ten years to push through Congress a bill that would grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians.Marco Garcia / AP