Learn More: Program Essays

"Contemporary issues of Native Hawaiian identity"

by Randall Quinones Akee -Doctoral Candidate, Economy and Government, Harvard University

Contemporary issues of Native Hawaiian identity, sovereignty and cultural heritage are integrally linked with the struggles of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Pacific. As Polynesians, Native Hawaiians share many of the same religious, cultural, linguistic and colonial experiences of the Maori, Tahitian, Rarotongans, Samoans and Rapa Nuian (Easter Islanders). As citizens of the United States of America, Native Hawaiians are subject to the same federal system of government and laws as Alaska Natives and American Indians. Native Hawaiians, however, are not federally recognized. Essentially, Native Hawaiians do not have a government to government relationship with the United States; there is no formal acknowledgment of the indigenous political status of Native Hawaiians. On the other hand, since the 1920's some federal programs have treated Native Hawaiians in a manner similar to other indigenous peoples of the United States. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by conservative organizations both in Hawaii and on the continental United States to challenge Native Hawaiians' indigenous status and eligibility for these programs.

Since 2000, there has been a push by some Native Hawaiians and Hawaii's Congressional delegation to remedy this situation. Senate Bill 344, also known as the "Akaka Bill" after the Native Hawaiian senator who is sponsoring the bill, seeks to establish a government to government relationship between Native Hawaiians and the federal government. Native Hawaiian supporters of the bill believe it will provide a sound mechanism for establishment of a Native Hawaiian government, land base and securing Native Hawaiian-specific programs and services. Supporters assert that the federal acknowledgment of Native Hawaiians political status will protect Native Hawaiian-specific programs from future legal challenges. Native Hawaiian opponents of the bill, for the most part, object to the lack of transparency and input in the current process. Other opponents see federal recognition as only a secondary, lesser goal to full independence.

Consensus on these critical issues has been difficult to come by for Native Hawaiians. There are over 200,000 Native Hawaiians in the state of Hawaii and approximately 200,000 more in the continental United States, making Native Hawaiians one of the most populous indigenous peoples in the United States. Issues of blood quantum, eligibility for Native Hawaiian programs, forms of government (independence or federal recognition), land claims are difficult and complex questions that have not been adequately addressed in contemporary Native Hawaiian society. Native Hawaiians occupy the entire socio-economic spectrum in Hawaii; the majority of Native Hawaiians, however, remain firmly at the bottom below every other group in Hawaii. In our homeland, we are the poorest, sickest, most incarcerated, and the least educated group around.

Robie, David. Blood on their banner: nationalist struggles in the south pacific. Zed Books Ltd. London, UK, 1989. This book provides a somewhat dated look at nationalist struggles on other Pacific islands. It is a great overview of the legacy of displacement, oppression and militarization in the Pacific in the 20th century.

Wood, Houston. Displacing Natives. The rhetorical production of Hawaii. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. New York, NY, 1999. An interesting book that delves into the commodification and sale of all Native Hawaiians, their culture and history. It provides a look at how images of Hawaii and Native Hawaiians have been shaped by advertising agencies, the tourist industry as well as Hollywood.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter. Common Courage Press. Monroe, Maine. 1993. This is the starting point from which any political analysis and discussion about Native Hawaiian colonization must begin. Dr. Trask's book is one of the first to provide critical political analysis of the State of Hawaii's dealings with Native Hawaiians. It is fact filled and provides an insight into the political structure of Hawaii that is unknown to most people. It is a fresh look at Hawaii and quite revolutionary in thought.

Oiwi. He oia mau no kakou. A Native Hawaiian Journal. Mahealani Dudoit, ed. Kuleana Oiwi Press, Honolulu Hi, 1998. These two journals are written by and produced for a Native Hawaiian audience. The articles cover a wide range of topics -- from political activism in the late 19th century, identity issues, contemporary poetry to the current Native Hawaiian struggle for self-determination.

Oiwi. Kunihi ka mauna. A Native Hawaiian Journal. Mahealani Dudoit, ed. Kuleana Oiwi Press, Honolulu Hi, 2002.

Kameeleihiwa, Lilikala. Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea La E Pono Ai? Bishop Museum Press. Honolulu, Hi. 1992. Dr. Kameeleihiwa's book provides an analysis of the overhaul of the land tenure system in the mid-19th century from a traditional, indigenous communal system to one of private property and fee simple land holdings. The book provides an insight into the massive land transfers that occurred in this time period. It provides a basis for understanding the start of the dispossession of Native Hawaiians from their lands, which would culminate in the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Kauanui, J. Kehaulani. The Politics of Blood and Sovereignty in Rice v. Cayetano. PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Vol. 25 No.1, 2002. Dr. Kauanui's article provides an excellent look at current issues of identity that were raised in the recent Supreme Court case Rice v. Cayetano. It is an important article outlining the contradiction of the federal classification of blood quantum status for Native Hawaiians for certain programs which has been challenged as racial discrimination in other contexts.

www.stopakaka.com - This website provides the arguments and the running dialogue of the opponents of federal recognition efforts in the U.S. Congress. Information is provided on the various components of the Akaka Bill (S. 344, Native Hawaiian Recognition Act of 2003) that opponents feel severly limits Native Hawaiian sovereignty.

www.nativehawaiians.com - This website is linked to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency that has been at the forefront of supporting passage of the Akaka Bill. It answers some questions about the Akaka Bill, provides downloadable copies of the bill, and generally has status updates about the Akaka Bill.

www.hawaiiankingdom.org - This website is dedicated to providing information about the Kingdom of Hawaii. The website contains a detailed history of the overthrow and occupation of Hawaii, political documents and provides information on the efforts to re-establish the Kingdom.

www.ilio.org -- The organization Ilio'ulaokalani runs this website. The organization was created in the mid-1990's for Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to give voice to their concerns in Hawaii state politics. The website provides information on their upcoming events and conferences as well as their past activities.

Close Window