Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, March 24, 1998


Exploring Hawaiian
sovereignty options

AT the moment the number of Hawaiians wanting independence from the U.S. is small. That hasn't kept a couple of political science scholars from exploring how independence from the U.S. might be achieved short of another Civil War -- this one with a reverse outcome.

It's pretty tricky, but Norman Meller, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Hawaii, and Ann Feder Lee, author of a 1993 book on "The Hawaii State Constitution," have some thoughts. They were published last year in Publius -- the Journal of Federalism.

First they point out that the U.S. already has three spheres of government -- federal, state and tribal. The tribal category embraces a large number of sovereign American Indian tribes that have signed treaties with the U.S.

Congress could grant that status to Hawaiians by recognizing them as an indigenous people entitled to the same self-government powers that American Indians have. Today only by special laws do Hawaiians share in any Indian benefits.

Things would get more complex if demands for total separation from the U.S. should win majority support. The U.S. Constitution, Meller and Lee point out, permits one state to become a part of another state but is silent on state secession.

They see two possible legal routes for Congress to go:

° Declare that Hawaii has never legally been part of the U.S. The apology resolution for the American role in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy might be a foundation for this.

° Acknowledge precedence over the U.S. Constitution of international commitments made by the U.S. recognizing self-determination rights for indigenous peoples.

Best hopes for near-term Hawaiian sovereignty clearly lie on the tribal path. Such a Hawaiian nation within a nation will need to present to Congress in advance of recognition a plan for a government, a land base and a defined citizenry.

State Rep. Ed Case, Hawaiian Affairs chairman for the lower house, got his ears and feet scorched in January when he offered a bill, which he said from the start was for discussion only. Hawaiians from all over the state marched on the state Capitol in protest to say it was none of Case's business.

A key element in the Case proposal was to place the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands under an umbrella government chosen by an electorate of Hawaiian-blooded residents. DHHL has a land base of 200,000 acres. OHA has more than $270 million in assets from ceded lands rentals that will keep coming in.

TWO years ago I quoted former Gov. John Waihee as favoring a similar plan. Waihee has been the best political friend Hawaiians have had since the days of Prince Kuhio as delegate to Congress early in this century. Waihee helped add more and better lands to the homelands program that Kuhio fathered. Waihee also worked out the ceded lands rental deal.

Any state-within-a-state plan will first need to be accepted by our 20 percent of citizens with Hawaiian blood, then by the total electorate including the 80 percent of residents without Hawaiian blood. Only after that is it likely to be seriously considered by Congress. It is hard to imagine a successful plan without some version of an OHA-Hawaiian Homes amalgamation.



A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.




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