Monday, March 20, 2000

File photo by George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
When the Harold Rice case was being argued at the U.S. Supreme
Court last October, activists took their messages
to Ala Moana Boulevard.

‘No legal, moral
or historical basis’

One opposer of sovereignty says,
'This isn't about righting some wrong;
it's about getting power and
money and land'

By Christine Donnelly


OPPONENTS of Hawaiian sovereignty say the movement is based on revisionist history, a false sense of entitlement and could turn the majority of state residents -- who are not native Hawaiian -- into second-class citizens.

But proponents counter that view as being based on fear and misunderstanding.

Ken Conklin, a retired teacher from Boston who has spent the past eight years living in Kaneohe and researching native Hawaiian culture, spirituality, politics and the sovereignty movement, says many opponents are reluctant to speak out for fear of immediately being tagged racists by militant Hawaiian nationalists.

And some non-Hawaiians, he maintains, support the movement without really knowing much about the history of Hawaii or the future consequences.

"We should be able to have a reasonable discussion based on the facts, and the facts show there is no legal, moral or historical basis to support Hawaiian supremacy," he said.

But Hawaiian rights activists insist that they are seeking not supremacy, but justice, based on the U.S. government's historical mistreatment. They point to the federal government's own findings that Hawaiians are an indigenous people who have a special "trust relationship" with the U.S. government that entitles them to special benefits.

Although native Hawaiians benefit under federal bills providing special funding and rights for native peoples, they have not gained the overall congressional recognition giving them independent status, as have hundreds of native tribes on the U.S. mainland and Alaska.

"All Hawaiians are doing is asking for it one more time. This is not something that is new. It's totally legal. It's absolutely rational, and it's the right thing to do," said Keali'i Gora, spokesman for the political action group Ka Lahui Hawai'i, which advocates "nation within a nation" status.

But Conklin disputed that Hawaiians are comparable to Indian tribes, as do some Hawaiian activists in other groups who want total independence from the United States, not what they consider "wardship" under the federal government.

Conklin, who has a doctorate in philosophy, said that like many people, he started out feeling native Hawaiians deserved reparations because their monarchy was overthrown. But upon further research he decided "this isn't about righting some wrong. It's about getting power and money and land."

"The kanaka maoli who are pushing this are trying to get superior voting rights and superior land rights solely based on their race," Conklin said. "They forget the other 80 percent of us in Hawaii have rights, too."

Conklin said he does not oppose all government programs that serve Hawaiians, but believes they should be based on need, not race.

"It's not right to favor Hawaiians of any income with educational, healthcare and housing grants while poverty-stricken people of other races who desperately need the help are not even eligible."

Conklin, who maintains a Web site -- sovereignty -- fears executive or congressional action giving native Hawaiians broad special rights will be rushed through soon without much public debate.

"Look at the apology bill. They rushed that through with no hearings. It was supposed to be a simple apology, nothing more, and now it's being used" as a building block to federal recognition.

Three current U.S. Senate bills, providing money for native Hawaiian housing, education and healthcare initiatives, contain language in the findings section that, if enacted by Congress, would recognize Hawaiians as an indigenous group like Native Americans. "It's doing an end run around the Supreme Court," Conklin said.

But John Berry, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, disputed that, saying the language was similar to that contained in more than 100 existing federal statutes establishing that native Hawaiians have a unique relationship with the U.S. government.

If native Hawaiians ever do gain sovereign status, "it's going to have to be within the process of aloha with all (Hawaii residents) because it's too important and too critical to the future of the whole state," Berry said.

And if President Clinton, who has shown strong support of Hawaiian issues in the past, did issue an executive order granting native Hawaiians sovereignty, it could be overturned by any future president and is therefore not the preferred method for recognition.

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