POSTED: 25 APRIL 2008 - 10:00am HST

TGI #28: Hawaiian Nation - Part One

image above: Detail of "Ancient Punalu‘u, Hawai‘i Island" by Herb Kane 2007

[Normally these columns are scheduled to appear every other Sunday in the Kauai Garden Island News.The final published version may vary from this text as TGI retains the right to correct and edit the material. The copyright to the published version is held by TGI owner Kauai Publishing. Some material in TGI columns may have appeared on already.]

Part 1: Property & Sovereignty
by Juan Wilson on 27 April 2008 Revision 3.1 080425

This posting is the first of a two part article. In Part 1, I will review the major historic events regarding property and sovereignty from first British contact to today. Part 2 will draw some lessons from that history.

It should be understood that this is a brief survey based on my limited research and does not claim any authority. However, it is an honest attempt to understand the past. It is recommended the uninitiated reader delve, on their own, into this deeply studied subject for a better understanding.

To my knowledge, there were several phases of Hawaiian culture from the time the islands were first discovered and inhabited by Polynesians (sometime before 400 AD) to their first Contact with the British, in 1778. These phases were likely for several reasons.

Certainly increasing population due to natural births and additional immigration would be a factor but so would environmental modification from agriculture, the introduction of new animal species and effects of hunting and fishing.

Eventually this growing society required more than a casual structure to manage its resources and people. Hawaii, at the time of first Contact, was a dynamic set of independent sovereign island kingdoms. This diversity and resiliency was a disadvantage to the British and Americans who arrived and wanted more leverage with Hawaiians.

End of Ancient Times
Tracing the history of property and sovereignty in Hawaii Nei has been a complicated path. After first Contact in 1778, the early British explorers described Hawaii as comparable to the organization of Medieval Europe, distinct from other parts of the Pacific they had visited. It was tenured land management by customary chiefs on island kingdoms.

The independent island kingdoms only lasted a generation after Contact. By 1810, with the technical support of the British and Americans, ambitious Kamehameha I united the islands under one rule. Even Kauai, the isolated and unconquered Kingdom of Atooi, was eventually brought under his sway through diplomacy. And so the Kingdom of Hawaii was born.

By 1820 missionaries convinced Kamehemeha II to modernize by abolishing the Kapu system that had managed Hawaiian culture and land. This allowed much more influence by foreigners in Hawaiian affairs.

For fifty years after Contact, Hawaii had no constitution or treaties. By the 1830’s, King Kamehameha III saw a need to protect Hawaii from British and American self interests, so he began to reform the Kingdom. In a short period of time, he negotiated treaties with the Untied States and Britain, declared a bill of rights for Hawaiian people (1839) and enacted the first constitution (1840). This constitution observed the rule of customary chiefs and kapu, but did not recognize land ownership.

The Great Mahele
King Kamehameha III was persuaded that “owning” the land would benefit his people. The king met with all 245 Alii (moku chiefs) and Konohiki (ahupuaa chiefs) to obtain an agreement assigning all the land in Hawaii. This dividing of the land was called The Great Mahele. Converting Hawaiian land (aina) into “owned property” began with the formation of the Land Commission. Its job was to survey, account for and determine land titles.

The Great Survey of the islands began in 1846. This was a large undertaking, but in just a few years all the land were surveyed and thousands of title applications decided. This process was far from perfect, but, remarkably, it did accomplish a comprehensive distribution of the land. The resulting titles were called the Royal Patents.

The land remaining with the chiefs was called the Konohiki Land and represented roughly one-third of what they had previously ruled. Two-thirds of that land went to the throne and state. The land that the Kamehemeha III kept for himself as regent was called the Crown Land. The portion of land reserved for the state to sell or utilize was known as Government Land.

One of the notable provisions of the Great Mahele was the Kuleana Act of 1850. Under that provision, commoners (Kanaka Maoli) were allowed to petition the Land Commission for title to land that they had historically cultivated and lived on (from prior to 1839). The Kuleana property became known as Maka'ainana Land.

Those Hawaiians who failed to go through the unfamiliar process of the written title application were at a great disadvantage from that point on. In any case, regardless of its fairness, the original Royal Patent Awards are the foundation of all property ownership in modern Hawaii.

Constitutional Changes

In the revised constitution of 1852, Kamehemeha III recognized more rights for the Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiians) and more restrictions on the monarch and chiefs. It was part of his effort to defend national interests with Hawaiian property ownership and civil rights. Some argue this was the height of Hawaiian constitutional reform.

King Kamehameha V refused to be sworn into office with that constitution, and instituted a modified constitution that reinstated lost authority of the monarch and chiefs in 1864.

In 1887, the so-called Hawaiian League (all of Anglo heritage) used the threat of force to enact the “Bayonet Constitution” on King David Kalakaua. This constitution again stripped much of the authority of the monarch. It demanded a strict threshold for voter eligibility that disenfranchised all Asians and non-property owners while empowering rich foreigners and the native Hawaiian “elite.” About three-quarter of ethnic Hawaiians were disqualified from voting.

Hawaiian Overthrow
In 1893 there was an overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by American business interests lead by Stanford Dole, with the military muscle of the U.S. Marines. This resulted in establishing a “Provisional Governing Authority” that replaced the legitimate rule of Queen Liliuokalani. Stanford Dole became president.

At the time, the illegality of this takeover was obvious to the U.S. President and Secretary of State. Queen Liliuokalani wrote an eloquent plea to President Grover Cleveland to reject the overthrow and not recognize any new treaty with the Provisional Governing Authority.

Cleveland wrote in response;

“I conceive it to be my duty therefore to withdraw the treaty from the Senate for examination, and meanwhile to cause an accurate, full, and impartial investigation to be made of the facts attending the subversion of the constitutional Government of Hawaii and the installment in its place of the provisional government.”

Cleveland's message to Congress stated;

"I suppose that right and justice should determine the path to be followed in treating this subject. If national honesty is to be disregarded and a desire for territorial expansion or dissatisfaction with a form of government not our own ought to regulate our conduct, I have entirely misapprehended the mission and character of our government and the behavior which the conscience of the people demands of their public servants."

Dole and his friends had to wait out Cleveland’s term before attempting annexation. There was a brief period of “independence” as a provisional government, and then as a republic. But, once William McKinley was elected president, the conspirators obtained a treaty with the U.S. that lead to Hawaii’s annexation to America in 1898.

The annexation coincided with the end of the Spanish American War, and beginning of the use of Pearl Harbor as the U.S. Hawaii Naval Station. The American flag was then raised over the Iolani Palace and the official territorial occupation had begun. As far as Americans was concerned, the nation of Hawaii no longer existed.

Administrative Occupation
After World War Two, Hawaii was a strategic center of the U.S. projection of power in the Pacific. In 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked and WWII began for America. The U.S. declared martial law in Hawaii.

After WWII, the United Nations determined that Hawaii was a “Non-Self-Governing Territory”, under the administering authority of the United States. This determination required the U.S. to respect Hawaiian culture and provide for the development of self governance for Hawaii.

Instead, in 1959, the U.S. voided that responsibility by passing the Hawaii Admission Act that resulted in a referendum on U.S. Statehood for Hawaii. It was overwhelmingly passed but it was badly flawed. This plebiscite did not include independence as an option, as required by international law.

In 1978 the State of Hawaii held a constitutional convention that gave birth to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). It purpose was to care for the Ceded Land. This was the Crown and Government land that had been turned over to the State from the Territory of Hawaii. The mission of OHA is to malama (protect) Hawaiian interests, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally.

Questions Arise
Since then the legitimacy of the U.S. in Hawaii has continually arisen. This is exemplified by the U.S. Apology Bill, (US Public law 103-150) signed in 1993, 100 years after the overthrow of Hawaiian Kingdom.

It acknowledges the illegality of the 1893 overthrow and therefore, all that flows from it. Shortly after the signing of the Apology Bill several Hawaiian sovereignty activists formulated serious efforts at independence, particularly the members of the Kingdom of Hawaii and Reinstated Nation of Hawaii.

Most recently, in 2007 the United Nations passed The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This has great significance for Hawaii today.
The Declaration states;

“indigenous peoples... have the right to belong to an indigenous... nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the... nation concerned”.

One-hundred-and-thirty-two nations made the declaration. It is interesting that the only nations voting against this UN resolution were the British related colonial nations; Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States.

In light of Hawaiian history and these recent admissions and declarations, it is difficult to see the current Hawaii State government as anything other than a continuing American administrative occupation begun illegally over one hundred years ago. In short, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is not in conflict with the intent of the international law as well as U.S. and Hawaiian State law.

Part 2 of this series will identify several distinct historic periods of Hawaiian self rule and investigate elements of each that may contribute to the achievement of justice for Hawaii in the future.

The Garden Island News Column Menu Listing of all "Island Breath" articles submitted to TGI
29 April 2008 - 2:00pm HST

TGI Article #29: Hawaii Nation - Part 2 What justice is obtainable from the studying of Hawaiian hsitory?
10 April 2008 - 7:00am HST

TGI Article #27: Earth Mover & Earth Tender  An illustrated revision of a fairy tale for children and adults