Outrageous and inaccurate
Historical fact and good taste elude columnist in his challenge to Hawaiian sovereignty
Washington Post columnist George F. Will's distasteful column on the Akaka Bill, published in the Star-Bulletin Friday, demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of Hawaiian history and insensitivity to the rights of native people in Hawaii and across the nation. It is disappointing and outrageous to compare the systematic atrocities of the Nazis against Jews to the efforts of our host culture to exercise control over their culture and their destiny.
Hawaiians, like our nation's other indigenous people, share a history as political entities, exercising governance on lands which later became the United States.
As indigenous people they also share a similar experience with foreign settlers in which a clash of cultures occurred. Hawaiians suffered enormously from introduced diseases, the imposition of Western laws and culture that forever altered their way of life, and loss of their lands. As a result of this exchange Hawaiians fell to the lowest levels of the socioeconomic ladder in their own homeland.
The U.S. government played a key role in this sad saga in 1893, when U.S. Minister to the Kingdom John Stevens formally supported Westerners seeking to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani by ordering armed U.S. troops to land in Honolulu and take up military positions at key government buildings to intimidate the queen. To avoid bloodshed, she agreed to step down temporarily, believing that the United States would restore her to the throne when it learned what had happened. And, in fact, after incoming President Grover Cleveland received a full accounting of the facts, he characterized the action of Minister Stevens and the U.S. troops as an "act of war" and called for restoration of the kingdom.
The queen did everything possible to re-establish the kingdom, and a vast majority of Hawaiians signed petitions opposing annexation. After William McKinley became president in 1897, the U.S. Senate refused to approve the renewed annexation treaty by the required two-thirds vote, so a joint resolution was passed by a simple majority of both houses, a procedure that remains controversial. A total of 1.8 million acres of the kingdom's Crown and Government Lands were thereby "ceded" to the United States, without the consent of or compensation to Hawaiians.
Once Hawaii became a territory, it was illegal to use the Hawaiian language in public schools, and teachers even went to Hawaiian homes to scold parents for speaking Hawaiian to their children at home.
All aspects of the Hawaiian culture were suppressed, and Hawaiians were taught that their culture was inferior and irrelevant.
Nonetheless, the spirit, vision and talent of the Hawaiian people has never disappeared, and we have seen a true Hawaiian renaissance in the past generation. The Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act of 2007 (frequently called the Akaka Bill) would provide a framework within which the Hawaiian people can design a governing entity and negotiate for a return of cultural resources. It would enable the Hawaiians to be autonomous in ways similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives, with control over their local affairs, while still operating within the American political community.
This type of relationship is firmly established in the U.S. Constitution, and there is certainly nothing un-American or unpatriotic about it. Our country has recognized and the courts have upheld the special political and legal relationship the United States has with its indigenous people. It is the status that the Constitution recognizes in Indian tribes that was later extended to Alaska Natives, as indigenous people, and it is on this same basis native Hawaiians seek parity.
More than 500 native groups now have this type of relationship within the United States, but to date Hawaiians have not been federally recognized. The time is long overdue to rectify that situation.
The Akaka Bill would lead to negotiations addressing issues related to land and resources in Hawaii. No privately owned land could be taken or would be at risk during this process. As the people of Hawaii know, the federal and state governments continue to control most of the acres that were "ceded" at the time of annexation. While negotiations between the native Hawaiian governing entity, state of Hawaii and United States may address transfer of land or governmental authority, any agreements reached will require implementing legislation. Thus any land transfers would require approval by the state Legislature and federal government, so all interests will be represented.
Virtually every elected official in our state supports the Akaka Bill. Our state Legislature has repeatedly passed resolutions supporting Hawaiian self-determination. We are taken aback that a nationally syndicated columnist did not make a greater attempt to understand the true history of Hawaii. We, the people of Hawaii, can speak to our history and our values on our own.
Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Neil Abercrombie are, respectively, the Senate and House sponsors of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.
George F. Will's column appeared on A13 of Friday's Star-Bulletin. It can be viewed online at washingtonpost.com, the site requires registration.