The Hawaiian people have long felt forgotten. The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was a peaceful revolution, with Queen Liliuokalani locked up in her palace, but nevertheless the folks who originally populated the islands are put out that they have remained at the bottom of the economic scale for too many years. They want recognition from the United States, and even from the United Nations as a separate state within a state, independent and able to make its own decisions. They also seek lands that were ceded many years ago and compensation for some that were taken by force. The complications politically and economically are serious to the welfare of the state and have had to be dealt with carefully.
Governor Linda Lingle, present Governor of the State, has a Duke Aiona as a sidekick and was popularly elected by many Hawaiians when she ran for office the second time around, but against an unpopular Democrat who was seen as part of the old-time political machine. She declared she would get rid of the old-boy network of putting buddies in office, then has been accused since of doing the same thing herself. Nevertheless, she advocated rights for Hawaiians, which made them sympathetic to her candidacy.
I was there when her election happened, campaigned and carried on. I also began to worry as the campaign went on, because even though Linda Lingle is Jewish, before her campaign events evangelicals were out in force along with representatives of sovereignty groups. Lingle was able to garner votes across the political spectrum because she put together a coalition of mainland settlers, local Hawaiians and evangelicals with a Republican party that early on had become dominated by the evangelical right. This was her position in 2003.
"This is a historical issue, based on a relationship between an independent government and the United States of America, and what has happened since and the steps that we need to take to make things right."
- Republican Governor Linda Lingle, January 2003
The sovereignty movement has therefore had impetus from an initially sympathetic governor as well as Senator Akaka, of Hawaiian descent, who brought to the United States government the long-held grievances of Hawaiians. Everything was moving diplomatically for a simple recognition to enable Hawaiians to get certain benefits, but then all hell broke loose.
In the past two years there have been big demonstrations, a takeover of Iolani Place and sit-in there, and a high profile arrest of folks active in these events. Things haven’t moved peacefully along, although there haven’t been riots. But there are strong feelings among the local rank and file of Hawaiians. They are now planning protests nationwide
. This is timed with the fact that the Supreme Court is to hear their arguments soon.
Drive along the Leeward Coast of Oahu on a weekend and see the signs there or on the far reaches of the Windward side. The farther out on the ends of Oahu, the browner the residents become, that’s because in some places the population is at least 50% Hawaiian. The anger has spilled over into relationships in some areas. For example, within the past week there were fights at Waianae High School
on the Leeward Coast, among disparate individuals and ethnic groups, anger brought from poverty and frustration where Hawaiians predominate and where many youth feel forgotten.
The sovereignty movement is real in Hawaii, but confined to one ethnic group. It is controversial as well, not supported by all Hawaiians but popular with the youth. This quotation from the sovereignty movement website has an excerpt from Liliuokalani that provides the emotional strength to the Hawaiians who long for separate, special recognition and are putting together now the elements of their constitutional convention.
"Oh, honest Americans, as Christians hear me for my downtrodden people! Their form of government is as dear to them as yours is as precious to you. Quite warmly as you love your country, so they love theirs. With all your goodly possessions, covering a territory so immense that there yet remain parts unexplored, possessing islands that, although new at hand, had to be neutral ground in time of war, do not covet the little vineyard of Naboth's, so far from your shores, lest the punishment of Ahab fall upon you, if not in your day, in that of your children, for"be not deceived, God is not mocked." The people to whom your fathers told of the living God, and taught to call "Father," and now whom the sons now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to Him in their time of trouble; and He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes."
- Lili`uokalani, Last Queen of Hawai`i
The words of the last Queen remain at the front of the sovereignty movement as Hawaiians continue to create their future, which some want as a nation within a nation. How Obama will handle that one might wonder, but he is likely to be sympathetic to the poverty, although the political and economic specifics may be difficult.
The author lived 28 years in Hawaii, leaving to retire from administering a counseling agency and working with newspapers in 2005. She returns to visit friends and has watched the sovereignty movement growing since 1977.