Natives, newcomers converge on governance

Of all the evidence for “converging canoes” (7 Jun, GI), perhaps the most compelling is the focus by both Hawaiian culture and haole ecology activists on new forms of governance.

The differences between what we call government today and the governance of the future are profound, and merit closer examination.

The differences between the current political push of kanaka maoli and the political agenda of ecologists (at least since the WTO protest in Seattle) are not major, and deserve more thoughtful consideration.

Let us play out one scenario for redesigning government where both movements win.

First, in order to see our way forward, let us go back in time. If Keanu Sai and the Hawaiian Kingdom scholars are correct, the 1864 Constitution is still in effect, and upon restitution of the Hawaiian nation, a first step would be to amend this Constitution. Now, notice that the 1864 procedure for constitutional amendments calls for the political leadership to disband, return to their home districts, and take two years to discuss proposed changes with the people. Any such changes would be considered after this two-year review.

Either way, there is strong support today for such a bottom-up process among Hawaiians households, as highlighted in the OHA poll last August.

The vast majority of Hawaiians report that none of the existing leaders, groups or institutions represents them.

This is an especially important sticking point now, as an elite Task Force formed by Senator Daniel Akaka meets to seek near term resolution of Hawaiian recognition issues. Many Hawaiians are saying, “It’s not for you to say. You gotta ask us!” Indeed, a careful review of Hawaiian strategic options under international law suggests that kanaka maoli have little to say to the U.S. until they reconstitute their own government.

They are certainly in no rush, even if Uncle Sam is dangling big bucks and a “lame duck” President is making warm and fuzzy noises.

Moreover, it is inconceivable that Hawaiians can credibly take this step without first taking the issue of self governance to the people. Not in another all-islands confab, but in a slow, deliberative process with maka`ainana down in the ahupua`a.

Chances are, if Hawaiians started now we might see some creative proposals for a more inclusive, democratic governance process emerge over the next two years.

Now, look over in the other canoe and notice the path prescribed by a majority of green Kauaians for next steps in the General Plan Update process, which calls for preparing detailed plans for each community around the island. Conceivably, this could also take at least two years, and it will focus on more local control of decisions regarding our islands, future.

Alternatively, see the push for formation of watershed or ahupua`a councils, now mandated by federal and state environmental policy. Here, too, we can imagine a process of building new governance procedures from the bottom up that could easily take a couple of years.

Does this look like convergence to you? Both haole and Hawaiian activists seek major changes in how local decisions are made. Both support the continuing devolution of power from elites to ordinary folks. Both see new opportunities to engage citizens now sidelined by an undemocratic government. Both see urgent cultural and ecological challenges on the ground in each ahupua`a that demand attention now, regardless of who the ostensible political leaders may be.

Still yet, neither movement can do this alone. Most kanaka maoli do not wish to exclude others, which is also evidenced in the OHA poll. Nor do thoughtful ecologists wish to make presumptuous plans for Hawaiian lands.

What if, at least on Kaua`i, we simply say that both canoes are converging, and then decide to do it together? Hawaiian and haole seeking a single future.

Sure, we could have a Hawaiian caucus where native rights and responsibilities are the focus. And, yes, these issues may, on occasion, effectively “trump” any decisions by others that threaten such rights. In fact, although some haole may not be aware of it, many aspects of Hawaiian law already effectively provide for such a cultural veto.

Nevertheless, it seems a good guess that if we put a member of each household at the table in each ahupua`a and focused on our common goals for true community governance, we would discover that our historic paths are indeed converging.

Of course, some will argue that it is too “messy” to ask the people, be they Hawaiian or haole. To which both movements can justifiably retort: “But what about the mess we get now?” If both movements would shift more of their energy away from skirmishes with existing top-down governments and toward redesigning bottom-up governance, chances are Kauaians could fix both kinds of “messy” in two years or less.

This is the second in a series of essays on the theme of “converging Kauaian canoes.” Stokes ( hosts an e-list on Kauaian community initiatives for civil discourse with “fellow paddlers.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.