Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Funding low, spirits
high for Hawaiian
convention delegates

By Pat Omandam


What's been happening with the Native Hawaiian Convention since it convened three months ago?

A lot, according to elected delegates, who say the lack of funding has not dampened efforts to educate Hawaiians on the often divergent issue of sovereignty.

"I think people recognize that this is a long process, a hard process," said delegate Ikaika Hussey, chairman of the convention's media and public relations committee.

"We're all committed to the long haul," he said yesterday.

On July 31 more than 80 delegates gathered at the state Capitol for the opening ceremonies of the statewide convention. The goal is to develop a constitution on Hawaiian self-determination that can be ratified by the more than 200,000 Hawaiians here and on the mainland.

The delegates recently approved an operational plan for their outreach. Up next is a general assembly Nov. 5-7 at Paukukalo, Maui. Meanwhile, smaller committee-level work continues throughout the islands.

Delegate Tony Lenchanko, who heads the convention's vision committee, said his panel is focusing on independence issues such as the economy, the environment and security. It is also looking at the various forms of self-determination, such as independence, free association and integration.

Lenchanko believes the convention -- which has vocal critics in the Hawaiian community -- is on track.

"I'm satisfied with how we're progressing," he said.

The main problem for delegates is the lack of funding to pay for logistics for educational outreach, such as mailers, advertising and TV commercials. Despite a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, most people pay for travel costs out of their own pocket, said delegate Elizabeth Hooipo Pa Martin.

Moreover, the convention's support organization, Ha Hawaii, is down to the minimum staff of two. The nonprofit group is continuing the work started by the now-disbanded Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council. To cope, some delegates have been selling benefit chili and plate lunches to raise money, Pa Martin said.

Delegate Charles Maxwell said being cash-strapped hasn't stopped many delegates.

"It's amazing what the people are doing, and preparing to bring forth a choice for the rest of the Hawaiian people down the line," Maxwell said.

Maxwell, a Hawaiian activist for the past 30 years, believes what should be of major concern for all Hawaiians is the U.S. Supreme Court's pending ruling on the Rice vs. Cayetano appeal.

If the justices next spring decide to overturn the lower court decision against Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice, it would mean the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections could be deemed illegal. And if that is the case, then delegates elected to the Native Hawaiian Convention would be the only ones duly elected by the Hawaiian people, he surmised.

Meanwhile, ratification of a form of native Hawaiian government is difficult at best, given the poor support of the convention within the Hawaiian community.

Fewer than 9 percent of Hawaiians cast mail-in ballots this past January to elect delegates to convene a convention. Opponents say this self-determination movement is not independent because the state created and partially funded HSEC, and therefore is manipulating this sovereignty process.

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