Akaka Bill would reverse
tradition of equal rights
The recent commentary by Tex Hall (Star-Bulletin, Sept. 13
) rationalizes the Akaka Bill by referencing the federal government's recognition of American Indian tribes.
Hawaii presents a totally different experience than that of the American Indians. Hall's rationalization is in error.
Throughout the reigns of the Hawaiian royalty, newcomers were subject to the rule of the monarchs. Citizenship for newcomers was easily obtained, and persons born in Hawaii were citizens by birth. There was extensive intermarriage among all races. Furthermore, a great many non-Hawaiians worked for the monarchy and served it at the highest levels. While attempting to draw parallel to American Indians, Hall focuses on prehistoric Hawaii and ignores what was an evolving Hawaiian nation, molded by a succession of monarchs.
Kamehameha the Great employed foreign advisers and, in fact, appointed one as governor of Oahu. During the reign of Kamehameha III, it was made clear by the Declaration of Rights of 1839 and the Constitution of 1840 that the kingdom treated both Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian on equal terms. The Declaration of Rights of 1839 says that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men" and refers to rights "given alike to every man." Equal rights to all, without reference to ethnicity, is the proud tradition of Kamehameha III. This tradition persisted through the reigns of all the Hawaiian monarchs. Hawaiian traditions and customs thrived in a Hawaiian western-style government.
The overthrow of 1893 was the overthrow of the person of the monarch and institution of monarchy, not the displacement of any customs or traditional rights of native Hawaiians. Also, Hawaiians lost no land because of the overthrow. Lands not privately owned were crown lands and, according to the Constitution of 1840, "belonged to the chiefs and people in common." "People in common" meant all Hawaiian citizens, not just those of Hawaiian ethnicity. Similarly, the overthrow did not deprive Hawaiians of any right to participate in self-government. Rather, from annexation through statehood, Hawaiians have become leaders of our single multiracial community.
We have had Hawaiians or part-Hawaiians as delegates to Congress prior to statehood; governor of the state of Hawaii; delegates to Hawaii's constitutional convention; lieutenant governors; judges and members of the Hawaii Supreme Court; U.S. senator; mayors; U.S. marshals; members of the Legislature and county councils; and department heads and employees of the state and county governments.
Through this participation, Hawaiians have exercised self-determination and have aided in promoting Hawaiian customs through sensitivity, without a separate sovereignty.
The proponents of the Akaka Bill ignore, or worse yet, now seek to reverse the proud tradition of Kamehameha III. They chose as their reference prehistoric Hawaii. What is more relevant, prehistoric Hawaii or the Hawaii nation fashioned by its kings and queen? If they succeed in obscuring history, what then will be the bill's real impact? Whether it's about land or a collection of amorphous ills, ultimately, it will be about money and special privilege.
What are the ills that sovereignty is suppose to alleviate? Some of the bill's proponents assert that Hawaiians are overrepresented in negative socioeconomic statistics such as health, poverty, homelessness, child abuse and neglect and criminal activity. If that is so, then Hawaiians should get a greater share of resources, but only consistent with their proportional greater need. However, the ultimate effect of the Akaka Bill will be to allocate public resources to address these negatives for Hawaiians only, and to exclude the poor and disadvantaged of other races. This would be racially divisive, contrary to the principals of both our state and federal constitutions, and contrary to our proud tradition of equal rights. Ironically, in its spirit, it is also un-Hawaiian.
Joseph Gedan is a former counsel to various
legislative committees and a retired U.S. magistrate
judge. He lives in Honolulu.