America's Tibet

By David Ingham, Amy Marsh & Kukauakahi Ching 

In 1959, as the Chinese massacred civilians in its violent annexation of Tibet, another powerful country was putting the finishing touches on its takeover of a peaceful former ally. That ally was a constitutional monarchy which had declared its neutrality as early as 1850, a country accepted and recognized by over fifty other nations. That ally was the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

On January 17, 1893, Queen Lili`uokalani was forced from her throne by American businessmen and business-minded missionary sons, with the help of John L. Stevens, the American Minister to the Hawaiian Kingdom, and the American navy. The overthrow was violent, unjustified, insulting, and in complete violation of international law. U.S. President Benjamin Harrison apparently gave unofficial encouragement to the conspirators in 1892 and after the overthrow he presented their annexation petition to the U.S. Senate. But incoming President Grover Cleveland was appalled. He withdrew the petition before the Senate could act, called for an investigation, and issued a powerful statement to reinstate the queen and the rightful government. But the treasonous provisional government refused to comply. President Cleveland was also opposed by powerful interests within the United States who were loathe to part with their juicy prize. 

In 1898, approximately 29,000 Hawaiians--more than half the adult Hawaiian population--signed and presented a petition protesting annexation to the United States. Congress ignored them. Despite the petition evidence to the contrary, it was far more lucrative for Congress to accept the assurances of missionary lobbyists who claimed the Hawaiians were eager for annexation. 

Our motives for acquiring Hawaii were similar to China's motives for acquiring Tibet. We could, therefore we did. Like China, we justified our aggression by the pretense of modernizing a backwards people. To this end, the U.S. relied on policies of deceit and decades of legal and social repression. Hawaiian children were taught that they were lazy and no good. The beautiful Hawaiian language, hula, and other sacred cultural practices were made illegal. Like Tibetans, Hawaiians are second class citizens in their own home. Native Hawaiians suffer from denial of human and national rights that have resulted in the poorest health, employment, education, incarceration, youth suicide, and economic statistics of any group in Hawaii. 

Due to the recent renaissance of Native Hawaiian culture and a new emphasis on historical accuracy, Native Hawaiians (na kanaka maoli)now know that the substantial theft of their nation and most of its land and assets was unjus tified, illegal, and in violation of treaties promising perpetual friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii. On the mainland we might say all in the past but this matter is hardly a done deal for Native Hawaiians and descendants of Hawaiian nationals. They want their country back. Native Hawaiians are, and have always been, emotionally and spiritually connected with their aina (the land). Now they reclaim their rightful political connection. As far as theyre concerned, the Kingdom still exists, though illegally occupied. They are its subjects. 

Experts who are familiar with legal aspects of the case for Hawaiian independence agree with their assessment. For example, three years ago a citizen of the occupied kingdom presented a Hawaii case to the international Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. After consideration of the case, the court recognized the continuity of the Kingdom of Hawaii and flew the Kingdom's flag among those of other nations. 

Experts say the overthrow and annexation are both in clear violation of international law. Even the 1959 Statehood vote violated United Nations rules under which the vote was supposedly conducted. First, American citizens and the military occupation forces should not have been allowed to cast ballots. Second, eligible voters should have been given at least three choices, such as: independence (including free association as an independent member of a commonwealth); remaining an occupied territory; or incorporation into the United States. But on the ballot, statehood was the only option. 

Few American citizens are aware of the true status of our vacation paradise. We are oblivious to the consequences of our colonization and economic and cultural rape of Hawaii. We are ignorant of the devastating price Hawaiians continue to pay as inhabitants under occupation. 

After the overthrow, the United States quickly transformed its once self sufficient, prosperous, and independent ally into a floundering, unsuccessful commercial and military venture. Whereas the Hawaiians had ingeniously managed and sustained their limited island resources, fisheries, and agriculture for nearly two thousand years, the Western usurpers quickly replaced these proven agricultural and social systems with those better suited to American interests. Such practices accelerated the depletion and degradation of Hawaii. Residents became dependent on American imports, a burgeoning tourist industry, and a growing dependence on the military economy. This in turn increased commercial, military and residential development, which caused still further degradation and depletion. This vicious cycle continues unabated. 

The United States finally admitted some of its culpability a century after the overthrow. In 1993, Congress formally apologized to Hawaiians (spurred by uncertainty over title to nearly half the land in Hawaii). The Apology Resolution PL 103-150 included a commitment by Congress to reconcile with Hawaiians. Congress also admitted the illegal nature of the damagedone to the Kingdom of Hawaii. And, of paramount importance, the Apology Resolution acknowledged that Hawaiians have never given up their rights to sovereignty or relinquished title to their land. 

The Apology Resolution was a top story in Hawai‚?Ti, but only a blip in the mainland press. Nevertheless, some policy makers began to take note of the resolutions implications. Perhaps to undermine growing international awareness of Hawaii's true status or perhaps as a last ditcheffort to retain control of Hawaii's assets, Congress and the Departments of the Interior and Justice began a process in 1999 to implement a superficial semblance of the reconciliation called for in the Apology Resolution. This process has produced six versions of what are known as the Akaka bills and most recently as the Akaka-Stevens bill. These bills propose a federally recognized "domestic dependent" Hawaiian government that would eventually negotiate Hawaiians's claims with the Federal government through the Department of the Interior. 

It's important to note that many Hawaiian organizations and State agencies are dependent on federal benefits and have thus undertaken an expensive lobbying and educational pro-Akaka-Stevens campaign to gain Congressional, Hawaiian, and Native American support for the bill. This well funded campaign, led by the Office of Hawaiian affairs and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement 
(among others), gained extra momentum by (so far unsuccessful) attacks on Hawaiian benefits in the courts. Unfortunately the ambitious lobbying and educational campaigns conducted by these federally dependent agencies is profoundly tainted by misinformation, half truths, and outright lies. 

Grass roots efforts by Hawaiian nationalists have exposed the deceit embedded in the promotion of the Akaka bills. They have also exposed unethical relationships between some of the officers of these agencies and Alaska Native organizations seeking to secure oil deals in congress. In addition to exposing this corruption, grass roots legal efforts have also exposed ongoing malfeasance and misfeasance within the Department of the Interior. 

The Department of the Interior has been deemed an unfit trustee by a federal judge. Secretaries of the Interior, under both Clinton and Bush administrations, have been cited for contempt of court and for perpetuating fraud on the court in the disappearance of as much as $137 billion dollars in Indian assets and 40 million acres of Indian land (in the ongoing Cobell vs. Norton case). 

If the Akaka-Stevens bill is passed, Hawaiians will be negotiating a claims settlement agreement in a process that has historically resulted in grossly unfair settlements. For example, the Alaska Native Claims settlement act resulted in Alaskans relinquishing 
9/10ths of their homeland for less than three dollars an acre. Should the Akaka bill turn the Hawaiian nation into a domestic dependent government, Hawaiians can expect any portion of their homeland they are allowed to use and occupy (as a result of negotiations) to be held in federal trust, with the Department of the Interior managing the account. This hardly seems desirable or rational, given the Department's record. 

Under Akaka-Stevens, the lands that will be given up by Hawaiians to the United States through the Department of Interior will be quiet titled by removing the present cloud (of Hawaiian claims) on them. Conversely, those lands "held in trust" will forever be susceptible to further seizure by the United States, at its whim, at any time, and without compensation. 

Hawaiians don't want to be cheated any more than they have been already. They are now aware of the history of unfair outcomes and permanence of claims settlements that have resulted from negotiations similar to that offered in the later versions of the Akaka bill. Given these facts, why should we expect Hawaiians to trade their present status as full citizens for a secondary citizenship (or wardship) that the bill would also accomplish? Hawaiians are wise to reject the federal offer in favor of full restoration of the national rights they have been denied. 

The tragic plight of the Tibetan people and the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama has inspired the creation of Free Tibet chapters in many universities and communities in the U.S. But the plight of Native Hawaiians is no less dire, and the cultural traditions and practical and spiritual wisdom of Hawaii are no less inspiring. Citizens of a sovereign Hawaiian nation will have much to offer the world, as they reconstruct their society based on their rich cultural heritage. For them, the spiritual legacy of Queen Lili`uokalani is a guiding light. 

Those of us who combine American citizenship with a commitment to humanitarian and progressive activism are strangely blind to the Tibet on our own doorstep. This must change. This is our opportunity to oppose passage of the Akaka-Stevens bill and support the Hawaiian Kingdom's just struggle for independence. Free Hawaii. Now. 

Kukauakahi is a kanaka maoli cultural practitioner who resides in Hawaii. David Ingham is a proponent of Hawaiian Independence and is active in research and writing on the subject. He is former resident of Hawaii. Amy Marsh is a writer and student of Hawaiian culture.

© 2004

Join our Daily News Headlines Email Digest

Fill out your emailaddress
to receive our newsletter!
Powered by

Information Clearing House

Daily News Headlines Digest