WAILUA – A federal bill for a relationship between Native Hawaiians and the U.S. government will “exterminate” the kanaka maoli and rob Hawaii’s aboriginal people of the chance to revive the Hawaiian monarchy, a majority of speakers said at a meeting yesterday to discuss the bill.
The meeting at Lydgate Park came after a congressional hearing scheduled at Kaua’i Community College yesterday was canceled because Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai’i), sponsor of the proposed legislation, couldn’t attend meetings on the neighbor islands. Akaka is recovering from hip replacement surgery on Oahu.
Most of the more than 80 audience members at the meeting challenged the bill, saying the measure would pose a major obstacle in the future of the kanaka maoli. Puanani Rogers of Kapa’a said she and many other kanaka maoli won’t recognize the bill if it becomes law.
She said she will reject a proposal calling for a nation within a nation in Hawai’i, much as what Native American Indians have in the way of reservations in the U.S. mainland. Rogers said she won’t recognize legislation that “does not mention the fact that Hawai’i is an internationally recognized nation.” Michael Grace said approval of the bill will take away his birthright, “our kanaka culture, rights, language, religion, fishing, hunting lands, water and air.” Grace fretted he would be classified as an indigenous person if the bill is approved.
The classification, he said, would give the United States more control of his life. “Who gave them the right to classify us?” Grace asked. “When the white man first came, he said I was savage. Then he said I was an Hawaiian with a flower in my air. Then he said I was an American. And now he is trying to make me an Indian. He doesn’t know who we are, but we know who we are.” Grace’s wife, Sondra Grace, said the bill was wrong from the start because it “did not come from the Hawaiian community, but rather from the top down.” The bill is an ongoing “propaganda to suppress, oppress, confuse, manipulate and separate” the kanaka maoli, said Kanoelani Medeiros of Kalaheo.
Through a statement, Butch Kekahu, a stalwart advocate of independence, said the bill is flawed because it proposes to create a federal office of special trustee for Native Hawaiian affairs. “We have suffered enough under the equivalent of that for many years on the state level,” he said. “OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) has been woefully inadequate in performing their trust responsibilities to the kanaka maoli.” Kekahu said he doesn’t need the law to protect him from the impact of the Rice vs. Cayetano Supreme Court case, which allows for non-Hawaiians to elect OHA trustees for the first time. “I, for one, do not want any government not of my choosing to help me protect what is inherently mine in the first place,” Kekaha said in the text read by his mother, Auntie Rebecca Kekaha.
Butch Kekahu was unable to attend the meeting because he was undergoing dialysis treatment. Instead of considering the current legislation, the federal government should consider one that recognizes the monarchy of Queen Lili’uokalani, the laws and treaties of her nation and the existence of the Hawaiian nation, many speakers said. Henry Smith Jr., a kanaka maoli, wanted to attend the meeting, but couldn’t. He collapsed Sunday night after suffering an aneurism attack and was at Wilcox Memorial Hospital Monday. Reading a statement for him, Elima Kinney said her father embraces the rights of the kanaka maoli and has lived for the day when the kingdom will be resurrected.
Sharon Pomroy of Anahola said the United States is the best country in the world, but it is not right for Hawai’i. It is time for the islands to be returned to their rightful owners, she declared. “We deserve a chance to rebuild a nation that is ours, not America’s,” said Puanani Rogers. Hawai’i was lost even though 38,500 Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians opposed annexation to the United States in July 1898, Grace said. Acknowledging his stand probably would not sit well with the majority of the speakers and audience, Native Hawaiian and Korean War veteran David Helala voiced support for the bill. Federal recognition of Hawaiians through the bill is an “essential first step in the process of making right the egregious wrong of the overthrow of the Hawaiian government,” Helala said. “I am confident that America will rise to the occasion and restore the dignity of our native Hawaiian people as it makes good on its promise of liberty and justice for all.” Passage of the bill, Helala also said, will be a way to protect programs that serve only Hawaiians. “Clearly, we need to secure federal recognition,” he said. John Barretto Jr., a former Kauai County Council member who is a candidate in this fall’s council election, didn’t take a direct stand on the bill.
But he said that if Japanese-Americans were compensated for being incarcerated during World War II, native Hawaiians or kanaka maoli who had their lands taken away by force “deserve more they are getting today.” Some audience members voiced their frustration that Akaka couldn’t make it to the Kaua’i meeting. “You blew it by not coming today,” Angeline Locey said. “You had a great opportunity to meet with all of us, to learn about our restored Hawaiian kingdom.” Also attending the meeting was Joe Prigge, who is Hawaiian and another council candidate, and Philip Montez, regional director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Montez said he came to Kaua’i on a “fact-finding mission,” to hear what residents had to say about the bill. He said he would probably fly to a similar meeting on Moloka’i this week, in addition to attending the hearings on O’ahu.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and [ HREF=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com]