Gathering Place

Adam T. Kahualaulani Mick

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Hawaiians should pursue
their ‘indigenous’ rights

It'S ironic that as the Pacific Buddhist Academy last week began its new peace-based curriculum and welcomed students of any culture, religion, or ethnicity, Kamehameha Schools alumni readied an outraged protest at the court-ordered admission of a non-Hawaiian child. While the Buddhists hope to teach students how to nurture peace, unity and the value of diversity in themselves and the community, Kamehameha supporters warned that the non- Hawaiian student might be beaten up on the first day of school. What a contrast!

Kamehameha maintains that it isn't racially discriminatory because all ethnicities are accepted at the school (most students are part-Hawaiian and therefore no child is rejected for being of a particular ethnicity). The school is unique, they say, because within this ethnic diversity, every student is Hawaiian. Unfortunately, this is also the reason people are challenging the constitutionality of the admissions policy -- you can be rejected because you don't have a particular ethnicity.

As a local columnist pointed out recently, a Philadelphia school established by an 1831 will to serve "poor, white, male orphans" admitted students on "the basis of a preference for Caucasians" until forced to diversify in 1968. Indeed, if someone started a school in Hawaii today open to children of all ethnicities as long as they had some Caucasian blood, the outcry would be unending. Hawaiian-Japanese-Caucasian children could attend, but Hawaiian-Japanese could not? Why? We are all human beings! How is this different from what Kamehameha does?

The difference is singular: The Hawaiian people are the indigenous people -- the original inhabitants -- of this land. Therefore, they deserve special treatment, not because of their ethnicity, but because of their indigenous status. Indigenous is not a racial designation; it is an international, socio-political designation of a people in their homeland. Indigenous refers to a direct ancestral connection to a place -- in this case, Hawaii. Indigenous people belong to the land, not the other way around.

Sadly, history shows that many of the world's indigenous people have been brutally oppressed by what can only be called invaders -- people whose own ancestral land was someplace else entirely. Through both subtle and explicit means, these invaders stole the lands of indigenous peoples and sought to oppress -- and even extinguish -- indigenous culture, replacing it with their own language and culture. Therefore, the Kamehameha Schools issue is not simply about civil rights; it is actually about human rights.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination as: "Any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference, based on race." Clearly this describes Kamehameha Schools' admissions policy. Yet the convention recognizes that due to the oppression of indigenous peoples, "the preservation of their culture and their historical identity has been and still is jeopardized." For this reason, indigenous peoples "may need special protection or assistance to have a fair chance." This isn't reverse discrimination "as long as (it is) ended once equality has been achieved," the convention says.

>>To Hawaiians: The more you argue for preference based on ethnicity alone, the more others will challenge your rights as unconstitutional. Start arguing for your "indigenous rights" (a human rights perspective), rather than for "Hawaiian rights" (a racial perspective), and it is possible that more people will support your positions.

>> To those against Hawaiian entitlements: Recognize the special status of Hawaiians as the indigenous people of this land. Stop challenging their special rights and programs and allow them to continue their recovery from years of cultural oppression. Relax -- you're in Hawaii!

>> To everyone: Let's broaden our vision. The path to peace, and pono, need not be a constant struggle, but rather a joyous journey. Let us move beyond race and truly celebrate the diversity of our one human family. Each ethnicity and culture has its own unique features and characteristics, but none is superior (or inferior) in any way. Let us embrace them all! Oppression and discrimination can disappear from our world once we realize, as the Buddhist school has, that we really are all one.

Adam T. Kahualaulani Mick of Kailua is a musician. Mick was a student of the late kupuna Emma DeFries, who named Kahualaulani, "fruitful branch of heaven." He is not ethnically Hawaiian.


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