New hopes arise for ancestral culture

By Alani Apio
Honolulu-based writer and artist

Honolulu Advertiser
Sunday, January 19, 2003

Hawaiian sovereignty is a given, a foregone conclusion.

I can feel it in my bones; I believe it in my na'au, my guts. Make no mistake: it will continue to be messy and difficult to shape. But it will come to pass and it will be the single most enriching event to happen to the residents of this pae 'aina, this archipelago, in the past 225 years.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about a dangerous mindset I saw in public discourse: that Kanaka (Hawaiian) claims to land, sovereignty and rights stemming from the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom were baseless; that pursuing these claims was racist and would result in the violent balkanization of our beloved 'aina.

I wrote that this mindset had spawned legal suits, supported both here and in the United States, intended to destroy Kanaka entitlements and rights. Gathering rights, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the ali'i trusts were all under attack.

They still are. Furthermore, legal experts on both sides say that given the mindset of the Bush administration and current Supreme Court, these attacks will succeed. Federal recognition of Native Hawaiians as a sovereign native people will render these attacks moot.

I wrote that if successful, these fearful attacks would destroy the most precious resource this pae 'aina has created: the ancestral culture of Na Kanaka. Finally, I promised to offer a picture of what this land could be when Na Kanaka are given the opportunity to flourish again. I've spent nearly two years and quite a few sheets of paper lost in the details of how we'll get there.

Until last week.

I attended two events that made me believe a tangible, deep paradigm shift has taken place in the Kanaka community and in the public discussion about Kanaka sovereignty as part of a sustainable vision for Hawai'i.

I saw these two conversations heading toward a tantalizing intersection: that the answer to what we'd like these Islands to be lies in restoring Kanaka values to the mainstream; and that restoring Kanaka sovereignty is the proper way - indeed the only way - to make that happen.

On Jan. 9, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) held a forum and round table on Kanaka issues for the governor, lieutenant governor and Cabinet. The outcome was amazing: The newly elected leader of the 50th state sat down and listened to leaders and representatives from all sectors of Kanaka society speak passionately about what Kanaka need, and how we must all work together to reach our common goals.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor pledged to pursue federal recognition of Kanaka as native people of this American colony (my term) and pledged to settle the ceded-lands claims, restore ceded-lands payments to OHA and clear the Hawaiian Home Lands waiting list.

Unprecedented. Daunting. Promised.

On Jan. 11, a public workshop on sustainability for O'ahu was hosted by Mayor Jeremy Harris, other city and county officials and the Office of Sustainability at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. More than 1,000 O'ahu residents crowded into an overflowing ballroom at 8 on a Saturday morning, willing to stand to participate.

The governor, the mayor, Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), city Managing Director Ben Lee and UH President Evan Dobelle spoke fervently about protecting, preserving and perpetuating the "host culture" as both a moral obligation and a necessity for providing a proven framework for building a sustainable island society. Lee then used the ahupua'a (traditional land division) system to explain the concept of sustainability.

Unprecedented. Daunting. Promised.

So now what? As Gov. Linda Lingle aptly pointed out that morning, we need to move beyond merely talk and start to act.

It is now time for us Kanaka to reclaim our heritage as the guardians of these Islands. It is time for all Kanaka to pick up the 'ahu'ula (feathered cloak) of our beloved ali'i and become once again the protectors and stewards for all who live on this pae 'aina. It is time for us to relearn the ways of our kupuna (elders, ancestors), adapt them to the 21st century and offer them to everyone.

Act sovereign, be sovereign and it is no longer a dream. It is reality.

Grand words you say, but what does that really mean? Kuleana -responsibility. It means reassuming our kuleana to malama - care for and protect - this whole archipelago and everyone who lives here. It means actions as simple as picking up our 'opala (rubbish), helping kupuna across the street.

It means lifestyle changes like losing weight and stopping smoking so we are healthy role models for all our keiki. It means smiling at our neighbors wherever we are - living the aloha that we cherish so deeply.

Still too simple? Consider this: Let us Kanaka realize that fighting for the ceded lands, or even a portion of them, fighting for sovereignty, gathering rights, or Hawaiian Home Lands is simply not enough to stave off - let alone reverse - the entrenched values of conspicuous consumption and waste that will sink these Islands even if we do carve out a homeland within them to supposedly "protect" ourselves.

We are all connected. What happens to Waipo, Waikiki and South Kona happens to us all at some level. Our heritage compels us to care for all. And in so doing, the rest of the residents of Hawai'i will see that they have nothing to fear from us and everything to gain. The key to surviving, thriving on these Islands lies in the soul of Kanaka stewardship: Kuleana.

Kuleana means I must understand - in my na'au - that everything I consume, whether it is water, food, gas, clothes or electricity, has a price, and that when I use more than what's absolutely necessary for my survival, someone or something, somewhere, is going to go without. I must know what my kuleana is, and live up to it.

What if those who oppose us brand us as racists? Never mind. Our ali'i and beloved kupuna gave us a legacy of aloha and kuleana that teaches us to care for all. So instead of fighting them, I'll malama their keiki and mo'opuna (children and grandchildren), their friends and 'ohana as if they were my own. For in truth, my 'ohana is their 'ohana. And when those lost souls reach their haumaka 'iole, their twilight years, we'll take care of them, too.

Let us realize that the "us" and "them" was taught to us by them out of fear and greed. Our kupuna taught us that it's a "kakou (we, inclusive) thing." There is no "them" in kakou. So let us drop this ridiculous notion of blood quantum: We are trying to save a culture whose value system holds the keys to survival on these Islands, maybe even the planet.

Let us stop fighting about who's "in" and who's "out," who will get what and who won't. When these Islands sink under the effluence of America's greed and obscene consumption - values that we as a society have decidedly embraced as well - Hawaiian Home Lands, ceded lands and the ali'i trust lands won't rise to the surface.

Fellow Kanaka, we need to step forward together and live our values, day by day, moment by moment, and show others how to live in a pono (righteous) way. Kanaka, we need to stop begging, fighting for a piece of the pie and realize that this whole pae'aina, from South Point to Kure Atoll, is ours - not to own, but to malama in the deepest sense of the word.

Who "owns" this 'aina? What a ridiculous notion: No one "owns" this land, not America, not Na Kanaka. Our ali'i never pretended to own this land. We didn't even have the concept of ownership until foreigners imported it. To live here is a privilege. And if you're not doing your part to malama Hawai'i, then you are not earning the privilege of living here.

All of us who understand, truly, what aloha is, have got to step up to the proverbial plate, live it day to day, moment to moment, and show others how to live like that. This is the leadership we need.

Let us all finally acknowledge publicly that what is good for Na Kanaka is good for all. And, all my 'Ohana Kanaka, let us finally shed our anger and fear and acknowledge that it is not in us to not malama all.

The details must not stop us from committing to a course of action: Assume Kanaka sovereignty is a given. Kanaka, let us gather as one, as our kupuna of old showed us when building a massive fishpond or heiau, and chart out a course that not only ensures our survival, but ensures the survival of our neighbors and friends as well.

People of Hawai'i, work with us as we chart the course to make these Islands self-sustaining, green, clean and nourishing for all. There is enough here for all, we just have to look at our resources through the eyes of our kupuna.

The spirit of aloha enticed those from distant lands and gave them a welcoming home. That we Kanaka were willing to share, that is not what makes our history sad. It is that we lost control and had to relinquish our kuleana. It is time we reclaim it.

If we Kanaka take this mindset, I believe we will create a plan that will not only be acceptable but will be embraced by this state's leadership and the people of this pae'aina.

Two years ago, public discussion reverberated with hatred and dissent. Today, I hear acceptance and encouragement. The present leadership of this state is showing signs of fearlessness, foresight and enlightenment.

Hawaiian sovereignty will come to pass, and it will be the single most enriching event to happen to the residents of this pae'aina in the past 225 years.

People of Hawai'i, shall we truly restore aloha to our breath and to this 'aina?

E ka Po'e Kanaka, let us assume the 'ahu'ula kuleana of our kupuna. Makaukau?

(Kanaka, let us assume the cloak of responsibility bequeathed us by our ancestors. Ready?)

© COPYRIGHT 2003 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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