BY KENNETH R. CONKLIN, PH.D. — On May 3, 2011, the Hawaii legislature passed SB1520 to begin the process of creating a state-recignized ethnic Hawaiian tribe. None of the 51 Representatives voted against it. Sam Slom was the only one among 25 Senators who had the guts to vote “No.” Governor Abercrombie will undoubtedly sign it while making a bombastic speech.
This bill is irrational, contrary to historical fact, damaging to Hawaii’s unity and the Aloha Spirit, and probably unconstitutional. It’s a prime example of how Hawaii’s people, and especially politicians, often irrationally support racial separatism and ethnic nationalism because they treat ethnic Hawaiians as a romanticized state mascot or pet. Ethnic Hawaiians are “Da punahele race.”
By itself the bill seems harmless. It does only two things: (1) It arbitrarily declares that ethnic Hawaiians are Hawaii’s only indigenous people; (2) It empowers the Governor to appoint a 5-member commission to create a membership roll for a new private members-only group which I shall call “Klub Kanaka.” To join KK someone must prove he/she is ethnic Hawaiian, at least 18 years old, and has “maintained a significant cultural, social, or civic connection to the Native Hawaiian community and wishes to participate in the organization of the Native Hawaiian governing entity.” But harmless as that may sound, SB1520 sets in motion a process whose expressed purpose and eventual result is to break apart Hawaii along racial lines.
Further analysis of SB1520, including the question whether ethnic Hawaiians are an indigenous people, is at https://tinyurl.com/3rzjdrf
But the legislature is not concerned with fact; it is concerned with politics. No court of law would overturn SB1520 on account of historical or anthropological facts regarding whether ethnic Hawaiians are “indigenous.” The courts would call this a “political question” meaning that the doctrine of separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution requires courts to give way to the legislative and executive branches unless something they do is a clear violation of Constitutional rights.
Here are some likely results of SB1520:
The independence activists will use SB1520 to demand secession on account of the U.N. Declaration’s Article 3, quoted in bold print in the bill, that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
There is nothing in SB1520 that restricts membership in Klub Kanaka to citizens or residents of Hawaii (or even of the United States). Approximately half of all ethnic Hawaiians are not residents of Hawaii. If land or services are being given to members of KK at the expense of the State of Hawaii, tens of thousands of ethnic Hawaiians are likely to “come home” to a welfare magnet Hawaii they have never seen, in order to cash in. And if KK decides to send annual checks to all members (as many Indian tribes do with casino profits), they can continue living elsewhere while spending Hawaii’s money there.
Once Klub Kanaka has established its membership roll and elected its leaders, it will begin to make demands for the transfer from the State of Hawaii to KK of lands, buildings, money, and jurisdictional authority. Over the years there have been repeated assertions that all the “ceded lands” (95% of all the public lands of Hawaii) rightfully belong to ethnic Hawaiians. Hawaii will eventually be reduced to a shrunken, impoverished shell while Klub Kanaka thrives. In an interview published in “Indian Country Today” on March 22, 2005, now-Governor Abercrombie proclaimed that all the ceded lands should belong to Klub Kanaka. He said “We’re talking about 2.2 million acres of land. And the capital now residing with the OHA is between $350 and $500 million, depending on the stock market, with an income stream from leases on ceded land and so on of tens of millions of dollars.”
Ethnic Hawaiians who hold leadership positions in the state and county governments have a clear conflict of interest when they make decisions about handing over land, money, and jurisdictional authority to the state-recognized Klub Kanaka or to a future federally recognized Akaka tribe. Since everyone over age 18 who has a drop of Hawaiian native blood (and belongs to any “Hawaiian” groups) is eligible to join Klub Kanaka and the Akaka tribe, all ethnic Hawaiian state and county decision-makers will be in a position of handing over government resources to themselves and their families. A detailed analysis of this racial conflict of interest is at https://tinyurl.com/24ohwpw
That conflict was blatantly and unashamedly displayed in the state Senate during final passage of SB1520. Political reporter Derrick DePledge described the racialist attitude and “cutting edge” of comments on the Senate floor by state Sen. Gilbert Kahele, state Sen. Malama Solomon, state Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, state Sen. Pohai Ryan, state Sen. J. Kalani English, and state Sen. Clayton Hee, who “… spoke movingly about what the bill could mean for Hawaiians who have fought to preserve their language and culture in their home land. … Solomon said she did not want her daughter to be brought up in a Hawaii with the weight of the overthrow still hanging over her head. Ryan said the remedy for injustice was long overdue. … Hee said that during conference committee, state House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro warned that somebody might file a lawsuit against the bill … Of course somebody going to sue. … [Hee added] And no wordsmith of the new law of this importance could prevent (conservatives like) Bill Burgess, Kenneth Conklin, (Thurston) Twigg-Smith, from filing a lawsuit. Bring it on. Bring it on. Because the facts of history will not change, the feelings of the indigenous will not change, and this issue will not go away.”
Clayton Hee is right — “… the feelings of the indigenous will not change, and this issue will not go away.” That’s exactly why Hawaiian racialists like those named by DePledge, who put their race ahead of the people of Hawaii they’re supposed to represent, should be removed from their government positions as soon as possible. The members of Klub Kanaka and the Akaka tribe will happily give them leadership jobs.
The best outcome for Hawaii would be for the process set in motion by SB1520 to fizzle and die. That’s what actually happened with a similar process that started more than a decade ago and was funded by Hawaii taxpayers. As the bill itself recounts: Hawaii “has supported the Sovereignty Advisory Council, the Hawaiian Sovereignty Advisory Commission, the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council, and Native Hawaiian Vote, and the convening of the Aha Hawai‘i ‘Oiwi (the Native Hawaiian Convention).” That convention produced two proposed Constitutions (one for an independent nation and one for an Akaka tribe). But in the end the whole process simply died without much of a whimper; although Hayden Burgess (alias Poka Laenui), who became the final chairman of the convention, continues to bemoan the demise of the convention on his radio program and calls for it to be reconvened. In his mind both the Hawaiian Kingdom and the Native Hawaiian Convention still are alive, just like some nostalgia buffs say about Elvis Presley and now also Osama Bin Laden.