Native Hawaiians are the last Indigenous population in the U.S. without their own government. But what they want is independence, not legal recognition.
In early November, a month-long voting period began for a group of Hawaiians to elect delegates to a constitutional convention. Al Jazeera cast the process, called Na’i Aupuni as, “a historic election [that] seeks to return sovereignty to Native Hawaiians, a people still stinging from the bitter ruin of colonization.” Colorlines picked up the story saying, “Native Hawaiians are Voting to Create Independent Government.” For those interested in self-determination for indigenous people, particularly Hawaiians who are the last remaining native population in the U.S. without its own governance structures, the story sounds like good news.
However, to Anne Keala Kelly, an award winning, Native Hawaiian filmmaker and journalist, “this isn’t so much a vote, as a stick-up.”
Kelly is intimately involved in the movement against the building of a new 30-meter telescope on the sacred Mauna Kea summit. She is making a documentary about it called “Why the Mountain.”
“It’s as if the state and federal government got together and decided to hold a gun to our head and say, you’re going to vote on one of these two things: ‘Do you like me, or do you love me?'” Kelly told me in an interview on Uprising.
“They’ve been trying to cover up the overthrow [of the Hawaiian kingdom] for 200 years.”
Two hundred native Hawaiians are running for the chance to be one of 40 delegates to a convention early next year to determine the relationship between the U.S. government and native Hawaiians. But many Hawaiians, like Kelly, are expressing grave doubts about the process. Walter Ritte, one of the candidates and a long-time Hawaiian activist, recently withdrew his name from the election.
“If you’re going to plant a seed that is not pono, then you’re going to harvest something that is not pono,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for “righteous,” or “fair.” Ritte also called the election “a fake pathway to nationhood and its disillusioned vision of sovereignty.”
At the heart of the matter is the U.S.’s annexation of Hawaii, which may not be legal. In one of the more nuanced news reports covering the election, the BBC laid out how the annexation of the islands was done by Congressional fiat after the U.S. began its occupation, and therefore is possibly invalid under international law. Furthermore, in 1993 President Bill Clinton actually signed an “apology resolution” expressing regret for the U.S.’s overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.