Will The U.S. Congress Succeed in Institutionalizing Racism Where A Monarchy Failed?

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BY JAMES W. COX – For a second time in history, the government in power over Hawaii is trying to divide the people living on these small islands by race.

The last time was in January 1893 when Queen Liliuokalani permanently adjourned the legislature and tried to implement a new constitution reserving suffrage solely to persons with Hawaiian blood.  The result of that attempt was civil action by citizens born in Hawaii who would have been disenfranchised by the revised constitution.  Those citizens overthrew the ruling Monarchy and established a Republic.   Because they believed in democratic principles and in the form of government established by the United States of America, these same citizens succeeded in having the Islands annexed to the U.S.


This past week, Senators Inouye & Akaka reached agreement with Governor Lingle on modifications to a bill for creating a sovereign Hawaiian government (commonly referred to as the “Akaka Bill”).   They have reportedly decided to focus on a strong push to slip it thru Congress during the next month.

With the Akaka Bill, special interests are trying to accomplish what the ruling Monarchy could not 117 years ago.  Their actions are misguided and on the wrong side of history.  Senator Inouye published a revealing editorial encouraging quick passage of the Akaka Bill in the July 4th Honolulu Star Advertiser equating mistreatment of Slaves, Native Americans, Japanese Americans and Filipinos with some unspecified injustice done by the United States of America to “Native Hawaiians.”    The assertion is not factually correct.

From tribal times, Hawaii openly accepted Non-Polynesians.   American and other western participants provided technology, know-how and weapons that were used by Chief Kamehameha to unify the Islands in bloody and ruthless wars after the U.S. War of Independence.  His winning tribe adopted a monarchy as its form of government (i.e., trying to cement its power by copying the British system) during the 1800’s.  The royal families, for their own benefit, married with Non-Polynesians who instituted different concepts of land ownership and economic development.  That resulted in a plantation system in Hawaii, which concentrated economic power in a handful of families.   The plantations imported thousands of Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos.  When the Monarchy started to lose control to the new majority, it attempted to change the rules to stay in power.

The Monarchy lost, and democracy won.   For those who believe in American principles, that was a good outcome, not a bad one.  Any wrong to the “Native Hawaiians” was committed by the Monarchy during their brief 83 years of ruling the Islands (73 over Kauai), not by the United States of America.  Royal families lost some of their great privileges, but no citizen alive today has lost rights due to that long-ago change of government.

For recent generations, the plantation system is only history and we now live together in a more just and integrated society that should serve as a model for the World.  Thanks to the foresight, the struggles and the sacrifices of Americans who came before us (on the Mainland and in Hawaii), we all share equal rights and opportunities under law.  Persons who identify themselves as Native Hawaiian have experienced a rich cultural rebirth in the past few decades while fully participating in civil society without discrimination or restriction.  All manner of persons living in Hawaii join in cultural activities from the many ancestries weaving the Hawaiian Quilt.

Americans are now being asked by apologists to ignore our principles and reverse our accomplishments to divide one State in the Union by race.  Why do the Akaka Bill’s promoters oppose having current Hawaii residents vote on this issue?  It would clearly fail.  [In contrast, Governor Lingle just vetoed the State’s Civil Unions (same sex marriage) bill, asserting that Citizens should vote directly on any such momentous change.]  Rather, they would force upon U.S. Citizens in Hawaii (and the rest of our Country) the granting of special rights to one group based on race.

We should not divide the State on the basis of blood or ancestry, as a matter of principle.  As a matter of practicality, it will not work.  [e.g., How do you define “Native Hawaiian”?  How do we live on one island with two sets of governments?  There are almost no “pure blood Hawaiians”; do the ones with a little Polynesian blood get to choose when to be governed under which set of laws?   How can any decisions be made for the islands; by treaty?  Can our society handle more radical and reckless actions with the resulting economic uncertainty right now?  Where do we set the time machine: Pre-Captain Cook, Pre-Unification, Pre-Royalty, or Pre-Democracy?

Should the new Hawaiian government be a tribal system, a monarchy (which royal family), or something “new age”?  Should our society be made to suffer these artificial divisions and the resulting decades of litigation?].

It is important to remember that the Akaka Bill was originally submitted to “fix” a legal case lost in the U.S. Supreme Court by the Bill’s proponents.   The Hawaii State government had established The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to promote benefits solely for persons with Hawaiian blood.   OHA used State of Hawaii funds but was administered by persons with Hawaiian blood, elected by persons with Hawaiian blood.   Rightly, the law was struck down, but OHA still exists with slight modifications and is using State of Hawaii money to press for “Hawaiian Sovereignty.”

These special interest groups also pushed through the so-called Apology Resolution, which they tried to use as a basis to take real property away from the Hawaii State Government.   That attempt was also struck down by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, the same persons who lost those cases are trying to again use the Apology Resolution to rewrite history (claiming an “illegal” overthrow of the Hawaiian government – it was clearly a political act).  They proffer a carefully romanticized revision of the Islands’ history in an attempt to justify control over valuable public and private land, moneys and programs solely on the basis of their selected designation as “Native Hawaiian”.  The Akaka Bill is for private benefit and will not only formalize the power desired by a small group of people; it will diminish the United States of America and reduce the rights of all U.S. Citizens.

My adult son was born here well over half a century after his Grandparents came to the Islands to work on the plantations.  Those who support the Akaka Bill would allocate some of his rights and benefits of citizenship to other persons, simply because his ancestors are from Asia, North America and Europe, but not from Polynesia.

The Monarchy is gone…the plantations are gone.   Hawaii has been an integral part of the United States for a long time.   We should not be mislead by those who would go back 117 years to assert claims against the United States in order to obtain special privileges for some undefined group based solely upon race.

James W. Cox is a resident of Kailua, Hawaii. This was first published in the Wall Street Journal