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Subdued tribute reflects dissent


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POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Alaska celebrated its 50th anniversary as a state with parades and parties, but Hawaii's commemoration is more restrained, reflecting mixed feelings here about the islands' path to statehood.

“;It's quite interesting and telling that state agencies have decided to low-key this,”; said Jonathan Osorio, a professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii who favors restoring an independent Hawaiian nation. “;You can't have a bunch of staged events where people can celebrate wholeheartedly. You know there's going to be protests, objections.”;

The 50th Anniversary of Statehood Commission has focused on education and reflections on the significance of statehood. The “;50 Voices of Statehood”; vignettes on radio and television feature the views of people who lived through the 1959 milestone. Students have created artwork and written essays. A public conference Friday will look toward Hawaii's next 50 years.

“;It will be a time to share our diverse points of views and ideas about moving Hawaii forward, in an environment of respect,”; said Kippen de Alba Chu, commission chairman.

Although they disagree on whether Hawaii should even be a state, many prominent Hawaiians agree it's time for another step toward self-determination for the descendants of the original Hawaiian nation.

“;Statehood was a very important step forward versus being a territory,”; said John Waihee III, who was elected the state's first governor of Hawaiian ancestry in 1986. “;We could develop our own constitution and elect all our top officials.”;

“;But I think we're ending the cycle in terms of the benefits for native Hawaiians that statehood brought,”; Waihee said. “;The next step would be some kind of self-governing entity, which I hope will come with passage of the Akaka Bill. It would be, to me, a great achievement to do that in this 50th year of statehood.”;

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, introduced in Congress by Sen. Daniel Akaka, provides a process for native Hawaiians to create a self-governing entity that could deal directly with the federal government, as do American Indian tribes.

Oswald Stender, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, was gung ho for statehood as a young Marine Corps veteran in 1958 and still says “;as far as being part of the United States, I wouldn't have it any other way.”; He supports the Akaka Bill as the logical next step, saying it would “;bring many benefits to the Hawaiians, who are frustrated that they are at the bottom of the ladder.”;

“;We're the most incarcerated, the most homeless, the most unemployed, the most on welfare,”; he said. “;You name it, we're at the top of the wrong lists. We need to change that. I think the U.S. government and Congress can be very helpful in addressing those issues.”;

But other Hawaiians think that turning to the U.S. government is a step in the wrong direction. They contend that the U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1898 and the statehood referendum were based on deceit and should be reversed.

“;Statehood rests basically on two events, both of which we consider to be unlawful attempts by the United States to create an official presence here,”; Osorio said.

He noted that tens of thousands of Hawaiians signed petitions opposing annexation. And while an overwhelming majority of those who voted in 1959 chose statehood, the ballot omitted the option of an independent Hawaiian nation. The only choices were immediate statehood or remaining a territory.

“;One could argue that of the two choices, you probably were better off politically if you voted for statehood,”; Osorio said. “;You got greater home rule and a greater sense of sovereignty. The problem is that the sovereignty of a state of the United States can't really be compared with the sovereignty of a nation, which is what we had.”;

In 1959 Hawaii was on the United Nations' list of “;Non-Self-Governing Territories,”; or colonies, with the right to self determination including the chance to vote for independence, said Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell. But that fact wasn't publicized at the time.

Blaisdell, a young veteran and hematologist in 1959, said he was “;elated”; at the pro-statehood vote then because “;I didn't know any better.”; Now he sees it as a sham, and serves as coordinator of Ka Pakaukau, a group of organizations seeking Hawaiian independence.

“;It isn't a matter of going backward,”; Blaisdell said. “;It's a matter of going forward with the truth and undoing the crime.”;

In the last few decades, native Hawaiians have led a renaissance in the Hawaiian language and culture that has flourished along with the push for political sovereignty. After being suppressed and nearly vanishing, the Hawaiian language took off starting in the early 1980s with Aha Punana Leo, Hawaiian immersion preschools.

“;The motivation really was the fear of language and cultural death,”; said Kauanoe Kamana, president of the board of Aha Punana Leo Inc. “;Language is a code of our culture and our way of thinking. That's why it's important.”;

There were just 40 children who could speak Hawaiian fluently in 1983. Today about 2,000 are enrolled in Hawaiian-language schools, from preschool through grade 12, according to professor William H. Wilson of the College of Hawaiian Language at University of Hawaii-Hilo. Another 6,000 high school and 1,500 college students take Hawaiian-language courses.

“;I feel that what we are trying to establish for the good of Hawaiian people politically is directly related to how we behave personally on a day-to-day basis in our family and with others, whether we are pure Hawaiian or not,”; Kamana said.

In 1993 Congress, in a resolution signed by then-President Bill Clinton, officially apologized to native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the monarchy a century earlier and “;the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination.”;

Last month, board members of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, representing more than 50 clubs, urged Hawaiians to unite in their efforts for self-determination.

“;We have not picked a particular model, but we remain committed to preserving the nation of Hawaii—one nation,”; said Leimomi Khan, association president.