OHA Advertisement

(Also covered in The Hawaii Reporter, 2/27/2007)

In the Valentine’s day edition of The Honolulu Advertiser this year, OHA took it upon itself to inform us with a slick advertisement on page A4 that we must define ourselves by race. Not content to use traditional ethnic terms like “oiwi” or “kanaka maoli”, they’ve decided that the only proper use of the word “Hawaiian” is to refer to a pre-1778 immigrants to the Hawaiian island chain.

Such a bald statement of abject racism cannot go unchallenged – Hawaii is a place, not a race, and all the immigrants to Hawaii, whether before 1778, during the Kingdom period, or as a part of the United States of America, have just claim to the distinction of being Hawaiian.

Their question was stated as “Who is Hawaiian?” Here are their answers, with corrections:

1) Hawaiians are the lineal descendants of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who lived in Hawai’i and practiced their culture and sovereignty in their homeland prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778.

First of all, before Kamehameha the Great conquered the entire island chain, with the help of his haole partner John Young, people on Maui weren’t Hawaiians. Neither were people on Oahu. Or on Kauai. Taken literally to mean those people who can trace lineage to the Big Island pre-1778, this may be strictly speaking, true. But OHA instead applies the term to only one racial group that was a part of the original, multi-ethnic, fully sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii, asking us to separate ourselves from each other on the basis of blood alone. In 1839, over 100 years before our own civil rights movement in the United States, Kamehameha III offered up a Declaration of Rights, claiming “God hath made of one blood all nations of men”. OHA seems to be woefully ignorant of Hawaiian history in their statement.

2) Native Hawaiians are part of the family of Polynesians who settled throughout the Pacific centuries ago. Similar to the American Indians and Alaska Natives, they are indigenous people of the United States and are integral to the spiritual and cultural fabric of Hawai’i.

Although the first sentence is undeniable, the parallel to American Indians and Alaska Natives is pure fiction. Native Hawaiians were explorers and colonists, much like the first European travellers abroad. The 400 years of relative isolation in the Hawaiian islands before European contact isn’t nearly as long as the 12,000+ years experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Furthermore, they give a grave insult to all the other Hawaiians in Hawaii who do not share their blood – surely all of the various ethnicites and cultures who have been a part of Hawaii for over 200 years are integral to the spiritual and cultural fabric of Hawaii. Get rid of the Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese or any other immigrant group to our islands, and you eliminate something that is integral in both the spirit and culture of Hawaii.

3) Unlike other states whose residents are often called by the state’s name; ie, Californians, Texans, Georgians, etc. “Hawaiian” in Hawai’i refers to its aboriginal, indigenous, native people.

And finally, OHA’s racist decree – Hawaii to them is a race, not a place. No matter if your ancestors have lived here for over 200 years, you have no claim to the distinction of being “Hawaiian”. No matter how integral to the spiritual or cultural fabric your ancestors may have been for generations, without the proper blood, you are not worthy.

Hawaiian, in Hawai’i, refers to all the people of Hawaii, regardless of race. He Hawaii kaua – We are Hawaiian.

4) The United States has a special political and legal relationship to promote the welfare of the native people of the United States, including Native Hawaiians.

Of course, the whole point of OHA’s ad is to promote the Akaka Bill. As a predicate to getting special racial treatment, they must first establish firmly that they are just like American Indians and Native Alaskans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Had the Navajo nation been an internationally recognized, multi-ethnic Republic before becoming a part of the United States, would we impose racial segregation upon them, that they had never had before? Had any tribal group included a majority of non-natives when they entered into a political relationship with the United States, would it be fair to dictate a disenfranchisement of the majority of their tribe?

This is what the Akaka bill and OHA are asking for. They ask you to be ignorant of the multi-ethnic history of the Kingdom of Hawaii. They ask you to take an internationally recognized nation, which established equal rights over 100 years before our own civil rights movement, and to undo their progressive political acts.

They ask you to give them the term “Hawaiian” as their own racial label, and to denigrate the integral nature of the spiritual and cultural contributions made by immigrants to the Hawaiian islands after 1778.

They ask you for permission to divide our island by race with the Akaka Bill.

Hawai’i loa kulike kakou! E ku’e kakou i ka palapala a Akaka!

(All Hawaii, stand together! Let’s all resist the Akaka Bill! )

(Jere Krischel is a Senior Fellow with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, born and raised in Hawaii and currently living in California with his wife and two young children.)