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View Point

By Leihinahina Sullivan
and Healani Sonoda

Friday, October 6, 2000

Trask sisters founded the
sovereignty movement

IN a Sept. 16 column, Star-Bulletin Managing Editor Dave Shapiro unleashed a tirade against sisters Mililani and Haunani-Kay Trask One of his claims is so outrageously defamatory, it requires a reply. Shapiro wrote, "The Trasks have long been on the edge of the Hawaiian movement, trying to elbow their way into wherever they think the power -- and money -- are going to be." Where has Shapiro been?

Both Mililani and Haunani-Kay have been core leaders of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement for more than 20 years. They are nothing less than the founders of today's sovereignty struggle. All of this came at great financial cost, not benefit, to them.

Beginning in 1977 until the present, Mililani has filed amicus briefs and provided legal testimony in dozens of Hawaiian rights courtroom battles. These have included landmark cases focusing on water rights, ceded lands, Hawaiian Home Lands, civil rights and more.


She also served as legal counsel for E Ola Mau, the nonprofit organization of Hawaiian health professionals. Never has she received financial compensation for any of this work.

Since 1983, when she was named to the Federal-State Task Force on the Hawaiian Homes Commission, Mililani has been appointed to a succession of prestigious national and international panels. These range from the Hawaii Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to various United Nations Global Consultations on indigenous affairs in Cairo, Beijing, Copenhagen and Vienna.

Among international human rights offices, Mililani was elected second vice chairwoman of the General Assembly of Nations of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations (UNPO). UNPO was founded in1991 by the Dalai Lama.

Mililani was chosen by an international UNPO committee to replace Ken Sarowiwa, the famed Nigerian human rights activist murdered by the Nigerian government. For seven years, Mililani worked closely with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, traveling with her to India and Rome on peace and human rights missions. All of this was financially uncompensated.

BACK home in the 1980s, after years of organizing in Hawaiian communities, Mililani founded Ka Lahui, the Native Hawaiian Nation. In 1987, when she was elected kia'aina (governor) of Ka Lahui, it had 250 members. When her term of office expired, it had nearly 20,000 members and formal links with indigenous and tribal governments worldwide.

Ka Lahui's Master Plan for the achievement of Hawaiian sovereignty was Mililani's brainchild. It remains a key document in the sovereignty movement today. In fact, she was the first sovereignty leader to lay out a detailed plan for Hawaiian inclusion in the federal policy on recognized native nations, a plan now being pursued in Washington, D.C.

While she was elected leader of Ka Lahui, Mililani was also executive director of a small nonprofit foundation focused on helping Hawaiians attain home ownership. Her salary was roughly that of a public school teacher.

AS for Haunani-Kay, Mililani's sister, the story is much the same, although the field of endeavor is different.

In 1978, while writing her doctoral dissertation in political science, Haunani-Kay became Oahu chairperson of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana. Her efforts eventually led to the first legal access to the island.

For the next two decades, she organized against evictions at Sand Island, hotel and high-density residential development at Queen's Beach, and urbanization in Waimanalo. She co-founded, with Mililani, a community group called Civil Rights for Hawaiians, whose sole purpose was to achieve the right to sue for Hawaiian beneficiaries. And now she is engaged in preventing environmentally damaging development in the Heeia wetlands.

It is through her writing, however, that Haunani-Kay is most widely known. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, while Mililani was engaged in the grassroots organizing that led to the founding of Ka Lahui Hawaii, Haunani-Kay continued to hammer out in print the historical and political principles on which the case for sovereignty must be made.

Her best-selling book, "From a Native Daughter," and the film, "Act of War," which she helped write and produce, contain the best arguments for Hawaiian self-determination.

These efforts and others brought Haunani-Kay international attention. She was interviewed by Larry King and appeared on "Night Line." Articles about her appeared in newspapers and magazines in Toronto, New York, London, San Francisco, Hong Kong and a dozen other cities around the world.

Through all of this, like Mililani, Haunani-Kay has not been financially compensated. Except for standard royalties from her writings, Haunani-Kay has received no other monies.

What Haunani-Kay is paid for is her work as a professor at the University of Hawaii. There, in 1989, she took over as director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies.

AT the time, the center had one part-time professor, 10 undergraduate majors, and was housed in a single office in the Social Science Building. When Haunani-Kay stepped down as director a decade later, the program boasted four full-time professors, 150 undergraduate majors, and the most beautiful building on the Manoa campus.

Of course, many hands and minds worked to create this stunning achievement, but no one close to the center, the UH administration or Legislature in those years would deny that Haunani-Kay was the central strategist, organizer and inspiration for what is now the campus gathering place for Hawaiians and the university's home for the study of Hawaiian culture and politics.

It is precisely these and other incredibly unselfish achievements of Mililani and Haunani-Kay Trask that account for their high standing among Hawaiians.


Leihinahina Sullivan is a UH law student.
Her sister, Healani Sonoda, is a UH graduate student
in Pacific Islands studies.

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