This blog is about Hawaii's status as an independent country under prolonged illegal occupation by the United States, and the history, culture, law & politics of the islands.

By Scott Crawford, Hana, Maui


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Controversy hangs over convention

From the Star-Advertiser:

Controversy hangs over convention for Hawaiian governance

The historic Na‘i Aupuni constitutional convention convenes Monday with 151 Native Hawaiians charged with setting up the building blocks of a nation.

But some folks are wondering if the time-shortened and crowded convention will be able to produce a governing document or any other meaningful pathway to self-governance.

“I’m not optimistic about what can get done,” said Rowena Akana, the longtime Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee who will join the four-week convention, or aha, at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club in Kailua.

With the first week dedicated to educational presentations on constitutional issues, indigenous rights, kingdom law and more, there’s a lot to accomplish in the last three weeks.

And with more than 150 voices potentially wanting to be heard, keeping order may be a challenge. Consider that if every convention participant were given three minutes to speak each eight-hour day, it would leave only enough time for an 18-minute break.

Akana said that judging by some of the discussion in an online forum of convention participants, she’s worried a few dissenters will end up hijacking the conversation and threaten to throw the meeting off its tracks.

“It’s not about culture right now. It’s about government documents,” she said. “It’s about moving forward. We all know about our history. What this is about is seeing what we can do going forward.”

The landmark convention, envisioned by a 2011 act of the state Legislature, was originally planned to take place over eight weeks with 40 delegates elected by nearly 90,000 Native Hawaiians registered by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.

But when litigation threatened to block the proceeding for months or even years, Na‘i Aupuni organizers canceled the election and offered all 196 candidates an opportunity to join the aha. The move allowed the group to duck allegations that the balloting violated constitutional restrictions on public elections.

The same argument used to fight an ongoing lawsuit against Na‘i Aupuni — that the effort is a private affair not subject to laws governing state-sanctioned activities — will also allow the convention to proceed with little public scrutiny and media coverage.

The public and the news media will be prohibited from the meeting hall, other than for televising the educational presentations by Olelo community access television in the first week.

Na‘i Aupuni spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said the closed meeting was a decision by the Na‘i Aupuni board and the convention’s hired moderators, veteran mediator Peter Adler and Linda Colburn, a former OHA administrator, in a move to free the participants from the pressure of being under the public spotlight — although the convention could decide to open on its own later.

For now, the convention will convene behind closed doors from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays throughout February.

Participants from Oahu will receive a total of $1,000 in per diem payments, while neighbor island participants will receive $4,000, and those coming from outside the state will get $5,000.

When the convention participants show up Monday morning, they likely will be greeted by sign-carrying protesters.

Protest Na‘i Aupuni, a group of Native Hawaiians formed to oppose the convention, is urging people to picket the meeting. The group accuses the event of being a state-sponsored scheme to establish a puppet government, undercut the independence movement and seize undisputed control of all ceded, or Hawaiian crown, lands.

Sweets Matthews, a longtime Hawaiian activist and supporter of Protest Na‘i Aupuni, said the outcome of the aha has been prearranged to set the stage for formal recognition by the U.S. government.

“This is not true self-determination as defined by the United Nations,” Matthews said in a press release. “Under international law, self-determination is a legal and human right, something the Hawaiian people have been consistently denied by the United States. We, as a people, are supposed to determine who our leaders are and what form of government we want.”

The convention apparently will first answer the question of whether to pursue the establishment of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and, if so, what type of government to establish.

Many of the attendees are expected to fall under the banner of a couple of different factions — those who want federal recognition and those who favor independence.

Akana, the OHA trustee, said that with more than 150 participants, it might take “miraculous effort” to maintain order.

“I don’t want an end result where people are saying, ‘The Hawaiians, they can’t get it together.’ But that’s what it might look like. This is going to be interesting,” she said.

But Jade Danner, a Hawaiian homesteader and convention participant from Waimanalo, maintains a majority of attendees are interested in getting down to work and are committed to creating a governing document.

“I’m excited and encouraged, ready for a positive experience,” she said.

Maui participant Bronson Kaahui said he expects a heated showdown between “separatists” and those who are seeking federal recognition in the convention’s second week, with the last two weeks featuring the writing of a governing document to be put to the registered voters.

“I imagine they will attempt to create a constitution with a legislature, but I support a direct democracy,” Kaahui said.

So does Oahu attendee Zuri Aki, a University of Hawaii law student from Mililani, although he’s not exactly confident of a successful outcome in any case.

“With a vast array of differing views, I imagine it is very likely that the convention will be mired in some degree of discord,” he said.

But he said he’s still hoping the group will rally to reach some common ground and lay the foundation for future conventions. He said he would rather avoid hastily producing an ineffective document that does not satisfy most Native Hawaiians.

Aki said he would like to see pro-independence and pro-federal-recognition factions compromise and establish a temporary or transitional authority that will decide between independence, federal recognition or even something else at a time when more Native Hawaiians are participating.

“Right now, the vast majority of Native Hawaiians are not involved in this process,” he said. “I am of the opinion that no major political decision, like independence or federal recognition, should be made without a much greater participation from the Native Hawaiian community.”

Convention participant Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa, director of the UH-Manoa Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said that in 1987 Ka Lahui Hawaii wrote its first constitution in three days, so this group should be able to put together a fine governing document in one month.

Kame‘eleihiwa is both pro-independence and pro-federal recognition. She acknowledges the realities of life in the U.S. while holding out for the ideal of independence — a goal, she says, that won’t be foreclosed by federal recognition but, rather, helped by it.

“If I had a dollar for every time I told a non-Hawaiian that we still want the country back, and had them look at me as if I were crazy, I would be a rich woman today!” she wrote on a candidate questionnaire.

But independence won’t be achieved without an agreement with the American government, she said.

Kame‘eleihiwa said that as a historian, she has seen the political boundaries on maps change. It was once said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” and now it does, she said. Those countries in the empire were told they could never become independent, she said, but when the people of India wanted their country back, there was no stopping them.

“People’s desires and political opinions make for political change, and laws and constitutions are rewritten. That is how the world really works,” the UH professor said.

What’s most exciting about federal recognition, she added, is that when military bases decommission, under U.S. law, federally recognized tribes or native nations get first claims on that base.

“If we Native Hawaiians had had federal recognition status when Barbers Point was decommissioned, we would have been able to control that whole area,” Kame‘eleihiwa said.

Now that the U.S. government is cutting the military budget and there is discussion of closing military bases in Hawaii, Native Hawaiians must have federal recognition to regain those lands, she said, adding that military bases comprise 25 percent of Oahu and have housing, schools and medical clinics “perfect for the Hawaiian nation.”

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