Monday, January 18, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Auntie Genoa Keawe reads the profiles of delegates in the
Ha Hawaii elections before casting her vote at
Papakolea Park yesterday.

Ha Hawaii’s
election doesn’t
draw a crowd

Several hundred Hawaiians
gather at Iolani Palace and
voice their opposition

By Lori Tighe


Legendary Hawaiian singer Auntie Genoa Keawe strolled through the door at Papakolea Park center to vote for her people to pull together as one.

Auntie Genoa, like other Hawaiians who voted yesterday for delegates to represent them in their sovereignty quest, found the polling site nearly empty.

"This is a day when things should be straightened out. Sunday is a day of peace and I had hoped they could make things happen. You have to think of everybody, all the Hawaiian people," said the 80-year-old falsetto singer, casting her sky-blue eyes to the distance. "Now everyone is looking out for themselves."

Whether the opposition's boycott or the National Football League playoffs kept eligible Hawaiian voters away, the turnout seemed "light," said Dona Hanaike, board member of Ha Hawaii. The votes will be tabulated Jan. 26.

The nonprofit group Ha Hawaii organized yesterday's worldwide vote for 85 Hawaiian delegates who will represent the Hawaiian people at a convention to forge an entity of self-determination, or a nation within a nation.

"We're just trying to make it possible for people to get together and talk," Hanaike said. "You can't attack the process."

But several hundred did attack the vote at Iolani Palace.

"Our government was illegally overthrown. This is my house," said Donna Hanohano, pointing to the palace. "The U.S. government stole my house. They confess to stealing my house. I want it back. They are willing to give me one bedroom. I want the whole house."

Hanohano believes Ha Hawaii remains unaware of the vote's consequences and was "tricked" by the state and federal government into organizing it. The vote may relinquish Hawaiians' claim to native lands, she said.

"I told them they shouldn't hold a process of this magnitude without knowing the ramifications. They are giving up our rights forever."

Opponents fear Ha Hawaii will "steal the native initiative of sovereignty and self-determination," said Keali'i'olu'olu Gora of Ka Lahui Hawaii.

"Land for our people is the ultimate issue. This process has no mention of land," Gora said.

Teen-ager Olivia Sifford, attending the palace rally, said she was "all up for it."

"I know we should have a Hawaiian kingdom because this is Hawaiian land, and we should have our Hawaiian land back," said Sifford, 15. "All Hawaiians want is their land back."

But volunteer Aina Haina precinct captain, Casina Water, said the vote won't remove self-determination -- but rather it will start it.

"To me, it will let the state and legislators know there are Hawaiians ready to make a determination. We do not want the state to determine for us. We are capable of determining for ourselves," Water said.

The delegates will do the leg work and disseminate information back to Hawaiians, "so we can make a choice," she said.

There were 100,000 eligible voters. Although turnout at Aina Haina seemed low, voters showed enthusiasm, Water said.

"They are just coming in to have their voice heard," she said. "One thing we all agree: We do want to form a sovereign nation. What form that will be remains in question."

Controversy thrives in any process for change, said delegate candidate Peggy Ha'o Ross, leaving yesterday's service at downtown's Kawaiahao Church.

"People have a right to oppose it. That's OK, it's totally healthy," said Ross, running for the central Honolulu district. "I think the candidates want to pursue it. This is the right time. We spent 30 years educating ourselves. The vote is another step toward our progress."

Delegate candidate Winston Tyau stood on the roadside under the beating sun in Papakolea waving a shaka with one hand, and with the other a sign urging Hawaiians to vote.

"The vote brings on a new era. It's surprising a lot of people feel the vote is problematic. Ha Hawaii wants to bring together all voices. We think it's a human rights issue," Tyau said.

The candidate would like to see Hawaiians get back Kahoolawe first, he said.

"Clean it up, and it would be a great place for learning, culture and environment. It would be our homestead."

Tyau also wants the Hawaiian language taught in schools. "That's our cultural identity. We have our aloha, our spirit of love to share, and our language."

Polling captain Bella Kaulia at Papakolea Community Center said the opposition's boycott of the vote kept people away and saddened her.

"They're all at the palace. It's a shame for Hawaiians to turn away. It's for their own good. You can't stay away for another 100 years. It's time to come together and put our differences aside," Kaulia said. "I expected a better turnout."

Her co-captain, Ellen Kahalehoe reasoned: "This is the beginning, so it will take time. This is just to get delegates together to bring information out to the people."

The first person showed up an hour after the polling site opened.

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