LIHU’E — Statehood has been good for Hawai’i, providing military protection against a takeover by foreign powers and bringing to the state millions in federal funds to support education, protect the environment and help cope with natural disasters.
Yet, statehood has accelerated the decline of the Hawaiian culture.
Those were points Kauaians raised when asked Wednesday for their feelings on the 41st anniversary of Hawai’i statehood. A holiday tomorrow— a day off for many Hawaiians, including government, bank and post office workers and public school students—is in observance of Admissions Day next Monday.
Some Native Hawaiians who have sought political self-determination have downplayed the significance of the occasion.
They have said overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in1893 was illegal, the Hawaiian kingdom remains intact and the Hawai’i state government exists illegally.
Statehood has brought about the collapse of the Hawaiian culture, said a Vietnam War veteran who wouldn’t give his name but was among Kaua’i residents polled randomly.
“Leave the Hawaiians alone. Most of their lands have been taken away,” said the veteran, who retired after 17 years with the Army because of wartime disabilities. “Some of them go overboard, but can you blame them, considering what they went through?” Eduardo Valenciana, a Kaua’i businessman, said statehood is a double-edged sword.
“Hawai’i has gained from the economic strength and growth of the United States. But then again, the loss of culture, the pressure to become Americanized and the loss of identity of the Hawaiian culture has been negative,” Valenciana said.
Chad Deal, a Kilauea farmer, said he “love to see an independent nation” for Hawaiians, but wonders whether it can work.
“If Hawaiians want it, then it would be a good thing,” he said. “But what I read about the Indian nations (reservations in the U.S. Mainland), it doesn’t seem like they have a good life.” The establishment of a nation within a nation, proposed in pending federal legislation introduced by some members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, could work, but only if the federal government is sincere about working with the Hawaiians to create it, said Dr. David Saldana of Kilauea.
Peggy Ellenburg, who has taught Hawaiian studies classes at Island School in Puhi, said statehood has been good for residents. But she said Hawaiians, because of the 1893 overthrow, have had their destiny denied. She said steps should be taken to correct issues that are important to Hawaiians.
“I would support whatever the Hawaiians agreed to do,” she said.
A Hawaiian sovereign nation, without a strong military, would leave Hawaii vulnerable to attack by a foreign power, said Byron Rego, 27, of Lihu’e.
“I sympathize with Hawaiians, but if an attack happens, would there be a military” to defend them? Rego wondered. “We are better off being a state.” Robyn Gerell, 40, of Kapa’a, agreed. She said it was inconceivable Hawai’i would not be a state, although the idea of a nation within a nation could work.
“But to go backward (the return of the monarchy and the departure of the United States from Hawai’i) would be ridiculous,” she said.
If Hawai’i had not been a state after Hurricane ‘Iniki leveled Kaua’i in 1992, chaos would have reigned and the recovery might have taken decades, said a 15-year Kilauea resident.
Over the past seven years, millions of federal dollars have poured into the island for its recovery, Kaua’i County officials have said.
Statehood ensures that Hawai’i remains free, said another Kilauea resident.
“I think the United States is probably the best country to take over Hawai’i,” she said.
“We are more free than we would have been any other way.” Statehood means being able to raise his family in a safe place, said Deal, who moved to Hawai’i 13 years ago.
Statehood also means the availability of federal funds to improve the state’s education system, said a Kapa’a resident who cradled his 2-year-old daughter and watched his two young sons in front of Border’s Bookstore in Lihu’e.
For Jeni Shibata, 17, of Lihu’e, statehood means a full array of services benefitting residents, “especially the elderly.” In the 1950s, political leaders debated the merits of statehood.
Proponents raised these points in favor of statehood: ?
Hawaii paid more taxes to the U.S. government than nine existing states, yet it had no say in how the money was spent.
Hawaii had a population of about half a million, more than four existing states.
Nearly every major power group in Hawai’i favored statehood.
In a vote on the issue on whether Hawai’i should become a state, voters favored it by a margin of three to one, according to historians.
Statehood didn’t get the nod from everyone. In the 1950s, some Native Hawaiians argued the overthrow of the monarch was illegal and said they didn’t want any connection to the U.S.
More than 40 yeas after statehood, U.S. senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye and House Rep. Neil Abercrombie have introduced legislation to better define the relationship between the U.S.
and their state’s Native Hawaiians. The measure proposes an office of Native Hawaiian Affairs with the U.S. Department of Interior and would designate U.S.
Department of Justice representatives to help protect the rights of Native Hawaiians.
The legislation also would allow Native Hawaiians to create a native governing body that would be recognized as sovereign by the U.S.
The legislation could open the doorway for the creation of a nation within a nation in which Native Hawaiians or kanaka maoli, the indigenous people of Hawaii, would control government affairs.
The measure affirms the United States’ special trust relationship with Native Hawaiians and the constitutional authority of Congress to address their conditions.
The bill also responds to their claim of right to self-determination and self-governance, according to Akaka and Inouye said.
Abercrombie introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and email@example.com