Assault on the Hawaiian Nation
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D.

On March 31, 2009, the US Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. The ruling highlights the ongoing struggle over Hawaii's genealogy as an independent nation, the role of the US military in taking Hawai`i as its own and the question of indigenous rights.

This history of contested sovereignty is masked by Hawaii's position as the 50th state, but as this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hawaii's "admission" to the union, the legacy of US Empire continues to surface and marks an enduring battle over Hawaiian lands.
Protesters gather in front of Kamehameha Statue on the grounds of the Judiciary Building in Honolulu to signal to passersby their displeasure with the US government and the state of Hawaii’s attempts to classify Hawaiians as Native Americans by imposing a domestic dependent form of native governance. The message: “NO TO AKAKA BILL.” Photo: David Ma

In Hawai`i right now, it is the conditions of occupation and settler colonialism that have us now subjected to military expansion that feeds indigenous homelessness, racism, disproportionately high incarceration rates, the desecration of sacred sites, and many more of the atrocities that make up a war on Kanaka Maoli (indigenous) Hawaiians including this serious recent legal attack.

The US Supreme Court ruled that the State of Hawai`i has the authority to sell, exchange, or transfer 1.2 million acres of land formerly held by the Hawaiian monarchy as Crown and Government Lands. The case came to Washington after the Hawaii Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state must keep the land trust intact until Kanaka Maoli claims to these lands are settled. The state ruling was based on a 1993 Congressional Apology to the Hawaiian people.

In its 1993 resolution, Congress acknowledged and apologized for the United States' complicity in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in violation of bilateral treaties and international law. The Apology also affirmed, "the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum."

This contested land constitutes 29% of the total land area of what is now known as the State of Hawaii and almost all of the State's "public lands." These lands were claimed by the US following the illegal overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian monarchy under Queen Lili`uokalani in 1893. In a Joint Congressional Resolution in 1898, the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by an agreement with the "Republic of Hawai`i," which had been created by those who overthrew the traditional government. Last month's Supreme Court ruling that the Apology Resolution has no legal effect, and therefore the state has "absolute title" to these lands is a legal fiction to cover up the fact that the US government accepted stolen lands. The Republic of Hawaii (formed by those who overthrew the monarchy) had no right to cede these lands to the US because they were taken without Hawaiian people's consent and without compensation. The ruling serves as a preemptive move to foreclose the possibility of restoring the Hawaiian nation under international law, especially since Hawai`i was not annexed by treaty. What looms in the background is the question of a political settlement with Native Hawaiians. There is a bill before Congress that would reconstitute a "Native Hawaiian Government" under US policy on Native Americans-The Hawaiian Reorganization Act of 2009, commonly referred to as the "Akaka bill" after its author US Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). It is telling that Robin Puanani Danner, CEO & President of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement & Native Hawaiian Economic Alliance-a major driving force for passage of the Akaka bill-issued a statement right after the ruling, exclaiming how the case relates to their proposal for a land claims settlement. Settlement is a sell-out, and the Akaka bill provides the legislative framework for that resolution.

Adopting this law would be yet another blow against the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Nation, which is why over a dozen diverse grassroots Hawaiian organizations oppose it including Hui Pu, and those that constitute the Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance.

The continuing crimes against the Hawaiian nation since 1893, the implications of which continue to this day, deserve careful scrutiny by an international court, not the court of the conqueror. Indeed, many Kanaka Maoli and other Kingdom heirs insist that the US government should submit its legal position to the International Permanent Court of Arbitration for a fair and just resolution. Without an appropriate process, there can be no reconciliation. Without reconciliation, there can be no justice.

For more information on the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement, see:

The Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance

The Hawaiian Kingdom

Hawai`i - Independent and Sovereign

For more information on the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement, see: The Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance The Hawaiian Kingdom Hawai`i - Independent and Sovereign

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D. is a Kanaka Maoli woman born and raised in California with ties to family on Kaua`i and throughout the archipelago. She is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University, is the author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty and produces and hosts the radio program, "Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond"