Hawaii plans quiet, sobering 50th anniversary

AP has an article syndicated far and wide today on the "statehood" anniversary this week:
Hawaii turns 50 years old as the 50th state Friday, but there will be no grand parades, no dazzling fireworks, no lavish displays of native culture.

Organizers of the observation are not even willing to call it a party. It is simply a "commemoration," one that is sensitive to a painful history of the Hawaiian monarchy's overthrow and unresolved claims of Native Hawaiians.

The main event is a low-key daylong conference reflecting on Hawaii's place in the world. Behind the tourist-friendly tropical images of beaches and sunshine, many remain uncomfortable with the U.S. takeover of the islands and the idea that businesses have exploited Hawaiians' culture.

"Instead of state government having huge parties and fireworks, we're having a convention," said Manu Boyd, cultural director for the Royal Hawaiian Center, a shopping and entertainment area in Waikiki. "That shows the strength and spiritual power of the Hawaiian people, whose shattered world has not yet been addressed."

When statehood came calling in 1959, it ushered in an era of economic prosperity through tourism and the side effects that came with it: resort high rises, more than 500,000 monthly tourists and an emphasis on hokey luaus rather than the authentic host culture.

Sovereignty groups advocating independence from the United States make up a minority, but many residents recognize the long-standing issues associated with the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy, the islands' annexation and past harms to the Native Hawaiian people.
Alaska, by contrast, which joined the union in January, 1959, embraced the 50th anniversary of statehood with concerts, fireworks displays, a prize-winning float in California's Rose Parade and observances throughout the state during the past 12 months. Among the festivities celebrated in a downtown Anchorage festival was the re-enactment of placing the 49th star on the American flag.

Here, even the low-key conference is drawing complaints. Hawaiian sovereignty groups are planning protests outside the convention center Friday, and some say the conference's topics are too focused on tourism, economic development and business opportunities.

One panelist, University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies professor Jonathan Osorio, said the conference should focus more on Hawaiian culture and history.

"It's a political cop-out because the state doesn't really want to address the legal or political nature of its claim to authority in Hawaii," Osorio said. "It's one of the reasons they have really muted its commemoration."
"This newfangled idea of celebrating statehood shows that people don't understand Hawaii's history, or if they do understand, then they're celebrating a lie, a theft, that essentially stole a people's right of self-determination," said Poka Laenui, a Hawaiian and attorney who has worked for independence for more than 30 years.

Posted: Sun - August 16, 2009 at 04:19 PM    
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Published On: Aug 16, 2009 04:19 PM
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