Magazine & Journal Articles

Trask, Haunani-KayTourist, stay home: native Hawaiians want their land back.

Progressive v57, n7 (July, 1993):32 (3 pages).



COPYRIGHT Progressive Inc. 1993


  Most Americans have come to believe that Hawai'i is as American as hotdogs and CNN.  Worse, they assume that they, too, may make the trip, following the path of the empire into the sweet and sunny land of palm trees and hula-hula girls.


  Increasing numbers of us not only oppose this predatory view of my native land and culture, we angrily and resolutely defy it.  On January 17, 1993, thousands of Hawai'ians demonstrated against continued American control of our homeland. Marking the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of our native government by U.S. Marines and missionary-descended sugar barons, Hawaiian nationalists demanded recognition of our status as native people with claims to a land base and political self-determination.


  For us, native self-government has always been preferable to American foreign government.  No matter what Americans believe, most of us in the colonies do not feel grateful that our country was stolen along with our citizenship, our lands, and our independent place among the family of nations.


 We are not happy natives.


  For us, American colonialism has been a violent process--the violence of mass death, he violence of American missionizing, the violence of cultural destruction, the violence of the American military. Through the overthrow and annexation, American control and American citizenship replaced Hawaiian control and Hawaiian citizenship.  Our mother--our heritage and our inheritance--was taken from us.  We were orphaned in our own land.  Such brutal changes in a people's identity, its legal status, its government, its sense of belonging to a nation, are considered among the most serious human-rights violations by the international community today.


  As we approach the Twenty-first Century, the effects of colonization are obvious: mutmigration of the poor amounting to a diaspora, institutionalization in the military and prisons, continued land dispossession by the state and Federal governments and multinational corporations, and grotesque commodification of our culture through corporate tourism.


  This latest affliction has meant a particularly insidious form of cultural prostitution. Just five hours by plane from California, Hawai'i is a thousand light years away in fantasy.  Mostly a state of mind, Hawai'i is the image of escape from the rawness and violence of daily American life. Hawai'i—the word, the image, the sound in the mind--is the fragrance and feel of soft kindness.  Above all, Hawai'i is "she," the Western image of the native "female" in her magical allure.  And if luck prevails, some of "her" will rub

off on you, the visitor.


  The predatory reality of tourism is visible everywhere:  in garish "Polynesian" revues; commercial ads using Hawaiian dance and language to sell vacations and condominiums:  the trampling of sacred heiau (temples) and burial grounds as tourist recreation sites.  Thus, our world-renowned native dance, the hula, has been made ornamental, a form of hotel exotica for the gaping tourist.  And Hawaiian women are marketed on posters from Paris to Tokyo promising an unfettered "primitive" sexuality.  Far from encouraging a cultural revival, as tourist industry apologists contend, tourism has appropriated and prostituted the accomplishments of a resurgent interest in things Hawaiian (the use of replicas of Hawaiian artifacts such as fishing and food implements, capes, helmets, and other symbols of ancient power, to decorate hotels).


  As the pimp for the cultural prostitution business, the state of Hawai'i pours millions into the tourist industry, even to the extent of funding a private booster club--the Hawai'i Visitors' Bureau--to the tune of $30 million a year.  Radio and television propaganda tells locals "the more you give" to tourism, "the more you get."


  What Hawaiians get is population densities as high as Hong Kong in some areas, a housing shortage owing to staggering numbers of migrants from Asia and the continental United States, a soaring crime rate as impoverished locals prey on ostentatiously rich tourists, and environmental crises, including water depletion, that threaten the entire archipelago.  Rather than stop the flood, the state is projecting a tidal wave of twelve million tourists by the year 2010.  Today, we Hawaiians exist in an occupied country.  We are a hostage people, forced to witness and participate in our own collective

humiliation as tourist artifacts for the First World.


  Meanwhile, shiploads and planeloads of American military forces continue to pass through Hawai'i on their way to imperialist wars in Asia and elsewhere.  Every major Hawaiian island has lost thousands of acres to military bases, private beaches, and housing areas.  On the most populous island of O'ahu, for example, fully 30 per cent of the land is in military hands.


  Unlike other native peoples in the United States, we have no separate legal status to control our land base.  We are, by every measure, a colonized people.  As a native nation, Hawaiians are no longer self-governing. 


  Because of these deplorable conditions, and despite the fact that we are less than 20 per cent of the million-and-a-quarter residents of Hawai'i, native Hawaiians have begun to assert out status as a people.  Like the Palestinians, the Northern Irish, and the Indians of the Americas, we have started on a path of decolonization.


  Beginning with the land struggles in the 1970s, and continuing with occupations, mass protests, and legislative and legal maneuvering in the 1980s and 1990s, Hawaiian resistance has matured into a full-blown nationalist struggle.


  The contours of this struggle are both simple and complex.  We want to control our own land base, government, and economy. We want to establish a nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. Government, and with other native nations.  We want control over water and other resources on our land base, and we want our human and civil rights acknowledged and protected.


  In 1921, Congress set aside 200,000 acres of homesteading lands specifically for Hawaiians.  We are fighting for control of these lands, as well as approximately 1.2 million acres of the Kingdom of Hawai'i illegally transferred by the white oligarchy to the United States in 1898.  Called the "trust" lands because the Federal and state governments allegedly hold them in "trust" for the Hawaiian people, this land base is currently used for all manner of illegal activities, including airports, military reservations,

public schools, parks, and county refuse sites, even private businesses and homes.  Because of this long record of abuse, and because nationhood means self-determination and not wardship, Hawaiians are organizing and lobbying for return of the "trust" lands to the Hawaiian people.


  To this end, we have re-created our own political entity, Ka Lahui Hawai'i, a native initiative for self-government.  At our first Constitutional Convention in 1987, we devised a democratic form of government, with a Kia'aina or governor, a legislature and judges, elders, and chief advisory councils.  We have made treaties with other native nations, and we have diplomatic representatives in many places.  We want recognition as a sovereign people.


  Sovereignty, as clearly defined by our citizens in 1987, is "the ability of a people who share a common culture, religion, language, value system, and land base to exercise control over their lands and lives, independent of other nations."  We lay claim to the trust lands as the basis of our nation.


  While we organized in Hawaiian communities, the state of Hawai'i created an Office of Hawaiian Affairs, or OHA, in 1980.  Ostensibly for representation of Hawaiian rights by Hawaiians (the only group allowed to vote for its all-native trustees), OHA was powerless as a mechanism for self-government.  It had no control over trust lands, and no statutory strength to prevent abuses of native culture. For the next ten years, OHA supported reparations for the overthrow and forcible annexation to the United States, rather than recognition and restoration of our nationhood.


  Because OHA is a state agency beholden to the reigning Democratic Party, it has made no claims for a land base against the state.  Arguing that they represented Hawaiians rather than the state, OHA trustees made an agreement with the governor--an unprincipled Hawaiian named John Waihe'e--to settle all ceded lands claims.  OHA was to receive over $100 million in 1991, then $8.5 million annually.  No lands were to be transferred.  They would instead be lost to Hawaiians forever.


  As a result of humiliating public criticism from the Hawaiian community for OHA's sell-out role in this deal, OHA proposed a kind of quasi-sovereign condition which it would oversee.  In direct opposition to the Ka Lahui model of a "nation-to-nation" relationship with the Federal Government, OHA argued that the governing structure of the Hawaiian nation, landless though it might be, should come under the state of Hawai'i.


  There were several problems with this position.  OHA was not representative of all Hawaiian communities and never had been, because voting procedures gave too much weight to the most populous island of O'ahu, resulting in a skewed underrepresentation of neighbor island people.  Any lands or monies transferred by the Federal Government to OHA would go to the state, not to the Hawaiian people, since OHA was a state agency; this would mean less, not more, control by Hawaiian people, since their future.  Giving OHA nation status would be akin to calling the Bureau of Indian Affairs an Indian nation.  And finally, state control of Hawaiians, even under an alleged "Office of Hawaiian Affairs," is still wardship, not self-determination.


  While the tide of native resistance swelled, a coordinated state strategy emerged.  First, Governor Waihe'e came out in favor of a landless model of a "nation-within-a-nation." Speaking as if he invented the concept and never once mentioning Ka Lahui's leadership, Waihe'e publicly advocated Federal recognition of Hawaiians as a native nation.  In his "state of the state" address immediately following the January 17 commemoration, Waihe'e called for Hawaiian sovereignty to be devised by an OHA-led constitutional convention and funded by the state legislature.  OHA supported the governor's efforts.


  After nearly two decades of organizing, forces for and against sovereignty were clearly drawn: the state of Hawai'i and its Bureau of Indian Affairs clone, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, supported continued wardship of our people under the tutelage of OHA; Ka Lahui Hawai'i, a native initiative for self-government, supported self-determination on a definable land base with Federal recognition of our nationhood.


  While OHA and the governor submitted legislation mandating the constitutional convention, Ka Lahui's membership soared to 16,000 enrolled citizens.  As the largest sovereignty organization, Ka Lahui now poses a substantial threat to the legitimacy of OHA.  Sensing this danger, and hoping to head off our own efforts in Washington, D.C., Waihe'e traveled to the American capital to float the notion of an OHA-type nation with President Clinton and his Secretary of the Interior.  As we pass the midpoint of this

centennial year, the state strategy appears to be Federal recognition, but no

real "nation-within-a-nation" on the order of the American Indian nations.  A

land base is out of the question.


  For Hawaiians, the stakes are high indeed: self-determination, or the yoke of perpetual wardship.  In the meantime, marginalization and exploitation of Hawaiians, our culture, and our lands, continues, while corporate tourism thrives on nearly seven million visitors a year (thirty tourists for every native).  In the face of Hawaiian resistance, it's still business as usual.


  If OHA is successful, the Hawaiian people will be burdened with yet another agency, non-Hawaiian in design and function, set in place to prevent rather than fulfill native autonomy.  Historically, the decline of Hawaiians and our culture is directly traceable to land dispossession. Therefore, any attempt to address Hawaiian sovereignty which does not return control of lands to Hawaiians is doomed to fail.


  Like agencies created by the Federal government to short-circuit Indian sovereignty, OHA will be a top-down institution whose architects envision an extension of the state of Hawai'i rather than a native initiative to promote self-government.


  Elsewhere in the Pacific, native peoples struggle with the same dilemma.


  The Maori, like the Hawaiians a minority in their own land, have been dispossessed through conquest and occupation by a foreign white people, and have suffered psychologically from cultural suppression. They, too, have been demanding a form of sovereignty, seeking identity and cultural integrity by returning to their lands.  And they have supported Hawaiian resistance, as fellow Polynesians and as fellow colonized people.


  In Tahiti, a strong independence movement has captured the mayorship of the second-largest city while uniting anti-nuclear, labor, and native nationalist forces to resist French colonialism.  With others in the Pacific, Tahitians have spearheaded the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movements.


  Aborigines, Kanaks, East Timorese, and Belauans focus world attention on genocide and military imperialism.  And for each of these indigenous peoples, there is the familiar, predictable struggle for self-determination.


  If Hawaiians are not alone in the Pacific Basin, our struggle for self-determination is certainly unknown across most of the North American continent, particularly to the hordes of tourists who inundate our beautiful but fragile islands.  In this United Nations "Year of Indigenous People," a willful ignorance about native nationhood prevails in the dominant society.  Given this, and given the collaborationist politics within colony Hawai'i, whatever successes my people do achieve will be won slowly and at great



  For those who might feel a twinge of solidarity with our cause, let me leave this final thought:  Don't come to Hawai'i.  We don't need any more tourists.  If you want to help, pass this message on to your friends.