LIHUE — One of the biggest elections for Native Hawaiian self-governance is set to take place in November, and certified Kauai County voters will have a chance to elect two representatives in a 40-member delegation.
Nearly 100,000 Hawaiians have been certified by the state-sanctioned Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to vote in a private election for delegates who will gather in Honolulu this winter at a constitutional convention. The governing document these delegates write will form the foundation of a new government by and for Native Hawaiians.
The nation building process is being organized by Na’i Aupuni, a private nonprofit.
Robin Danner, the Kauai commissioner on the governor-appointed commission established in 2011 to collect and verify names of eligible Native Hawaiian voters, said the opportunity to reorganize a native government is monumental for Hawaiians and Hawaii residents alike.
“Just as it would be chaos for the residents of Kauai to not have a government called the County of Kauai to be entirely focused on the issues and needs of Kauai, it has been a bit chaotic for us as native people to focus on the issues and needs of making sure our native community — our youth, our kupuna, and the host culture, our language, our traditions, and all that we know about Hawaii — survives,” Danner said.
Danner added that everyone else in Hawaii will also benefit. For the first time in over 100 years there will be a definitive voice on Native Hawaiian issues instead of county or state government attempting to have a subcommittee within their agencies or structures, which hasn’t worked well.
“Mauna Kea is a prime example of that,” she said.
Adding to the momentum is an announcement by the U.S. Department of Interior last month that it will for the first time propose an administrative process by which a Native Hawaiian government could seek a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States. All told, there are 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes that have a federally recognized form of self-governance.
Citizens of a federally recognized Native Hawaiian government would be eligible for a special kind of dual citizenship, according to Danner. They would be able to become citizens of whatever form of native governance the Hawaiian community decides to create while retaining all the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.
Not all Hawaiians, however, are supportive of federal recognition. Some want nothing to do with the U.S. government that overthrew Queen Liliuokalani in 1893.
Congress formally apologized for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1993 in a joint resolution that acknowledges that Native Hawaiians never relinquished their sovereignty when the U.S. government took over the islands. Today, there are several sovereignty groups across the state seeking to reinstate the Hawaiian kingdom and do away with the United States.
“U.S. law doesn’t belong here,” said Keo Kauihana, an Anahola resident who said he is fighting several citations for driving his vehicle with a license administered by the Kingdom of Hawaii. “If you have any heart for Hawaii, you support the kingdom and you teach your kids that.”
The planned election is also under fire by a lawsuit that argues it is unconstitutional to restrict voter eligibility by race, according to Associated Press reports. The plaintiffs include two non-Hawaiians who aren’t eligible for the roll, two Native Hawaiians, who say their names appear on the roll without their consent, and two Native Hawaiians who don’t agree with a declaration to “affirm the un-relinquished sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people, and my intent to participate in the process of self-determination.”
Thousands of people on the roll were listed without their consent when their names were transferred from other lists containing Native Hawaiians, the lawsuit said.
The issue is set to be heard in federal court Oct. 20, 10 days before voting is scheduled to start.
Meanwhile, the buildup to the election continues. Tuesday was the deadline for prospective delegates to nominate themselves for candidacy. Qualified candidates will be announced Sept. 30. Voting will be open for the entire month of November. Election results will be announced Dec. 1.
Mauna Kea Trask, who said he seriously considered but ultimately decided against throwing his hat in the ring to be in the running for one of the Garden Isle’s two delegate seats, said he thinks Hawaiians who align themselves with kingdom groups, such as Kauai’s Kingdom of Atooi, and those who support the Na’i Aupuni election, should be free to pursue separate means of achieving sovereignty without thwarting one another’s efforts.
“I don’t think this particular election denigrates the Kingdom of Atooi or goes against the Hawaiian Kingdom,” said Trask, who is the Kauai County attorney. “It’s just another opportunity for Native Hawaiians to move forward toward the promised land. I support this and I support all of (the sovereignty groups). I think all of them have a place.”
Since deciding not to seek a delegate seat, Trask said he will focus his energy on throwing his support behind those who do.
One of those potential candidates Trask said he will support is Kanani Kagawa Fu.
The 34-year-old Hanamaulu resident said she wants a seat at the constitutional convention because she wants to ensure that the younger generation has a voice in the nation building process.
“There are two seats for Kauai and I want one of them,” she said. “I don’t want just kupuna making decisions, I want to influence some of those decisions as well. At the end of the day, I don’t want to look back and say I missed an opportunity.”
Kagawa Fu grew up in Anahola, where she developed at an early age a passion for Native Hawaiian culture, she said. She attended and later worked for Kamehameha Schools before becoming a community resource coordinator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. In 2012, she made an unsuccessful bid for the Kauai seat on the OHA Board of Trustees in a crowded race against 10 other candidates. Today, she works for Kauai County as the assistant to the housing director.
Despite the lack of consensus on how Hawaiian self-governance should be achieved, Kagawa Fu said the upcoming election could help bring the native community closer together.
“Hawaiians are actually the most cohesive they’ve been in a really long time and an example is the Mauna Kea telescope protests,” she said. “Some people are saying this Na’i Aupuni election could tear them apart because some are for it and some are against it, but I disagree. I think this is another initiative in the community that will unify us. We have to get to that point where we are all in the room to discuss (self-governance). We have never had the opportunity to get this many people together in a room to discuss it.”
The deadline to register to vote in the Na’i Aupuni election is Oct. 15. Registrants must be Native Hawaiian and at least 18 years old to be eligible to vote. Registration forms can be completed online at kanaiolowalu.org.