In my first letter, "1,000 little cuts to genocide" (Advertiser, Feb.
25), I spoke from my na'au, my guts. In this second piece I offer my
opinion on how I got to a place of such sadness, anger and confusion.
When the queen's soldiers were disarmed after the overthrow of a viable nation (above, in 1893), America was enabled to recognize Hawaiians solely by race.
Understanding the roots of these problems won't be easy, but it will
help us figure out what to do now.
Advertiser library photo
Briefly: By aiding in the overthrow, then annexing and colonizing the
sovereign Hawaiian Nation, America oppressed a native people and
culture and created an enormous legacy of pain.
Then, using racism as a tool of power and control, America classified
Kanaka (Hawaiians) as a race of people instead of citizens of an
overthrown nation. This divided the Kanaka community within itself,
and Kanaka from the larger Hawai'i community.
Furthermore, America has a national and international history of
racism and sexism that has kept land and power primarily in the hands
of land-owning, white males.
Finally, the ideals of America - truth, justice, equality, etc., do
not match the reality of America. But they do provide the groundwork
for the denial of any and all inequalities and discrimination.
The intense emotions I have about being Kanaka - Hawaiian - and about
sovereignty tie my na'au in knots. These feelings come from watching
and experiencing the loss of my culture and people in many ways, from
understanding that huge portions of my culture were lost before I was
even born, and yet being told personally and publicly, by individuals
and government that "Nothing's wrong, your sense of loss is simply
the 'victims' mentality brought about by believing that revisionist
history crap about the 'alleged' overthrow."
This is the same ideology maintained by those who deny the reality of
the Holocaust and by Japanese nationalists regarding Japan's role in
World War II.
The most dangerous thing to do is tell oppressed people they're not
oppressed and that there is no pain. When the oppressor denies even
the existence of oppression, oppressed people eventually implode via
self-destruction, or explode in acts of violence.
Young Kanaka males have had the highest rate of suicide in Hawai'i
since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Likewise, Kanaka have had
the largest percentage of population imprisoned.
This implosion and explosion of rage is one of the sad legacies of
the Kanaka's forced assimilation into American society.
This legacy of pain, frustration, and anger has torn my own 'ohana
apart. On my Kanaka family's side, two of my cousins committed
suicide. Kanaka friends have committed suicide as well. 'Ohana and
Kanaka friends have been, and still are, imprisoned.
The constant, deafening barrage that this is just "coincidence," that
it has nothing to do with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, and
nothing to do with lost culture, or, worse yet, the daily, subtle and
infuriating implication that we as Kanaka are not capable of handling
life, is why I write.
If I didn't I'd erupt with rage, deep red and sorrowful over dead
cousins and wars waged internally over how to be Kanaka as it has
been defined for me, and how to live in a place that has become so
foreign to me.
The boys I fished with in the waters off 'Ewa Beach and Wai'anae
chose to hang themselves rather than live in a place that did not
value them, did not understand them, and did not offer them a
tomorrow - all the while calling itself "home."
Many people simply do not understand that there's been more than 100
years of violence here - only it's been almost completely
internalized: We Kanaka have killed, continue to kill ourselves,
either slowly (through alcohol and substance abuse, among many ways)
or quickly through suicide, as a direct result of colonization. This
is a world-wide problem faced by nearly all colonized indigenous
Hawai'i citizens neither want to acknowledge that universal reality,
nor recognize that everybody has a breaking point.
A win for Barrett may be our breaking point (the Barrett v. Cayetano
case seeks to find the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaiian Homes
Commission, and Native Hawaiian gathering rights unconstitutional). I
don't want that.
I'm writing so we can truly, honestly start dealing with Kanaka
anger, pain, and confusion, work toward justice, and in doing so,
help heal na Kanaka and Hawai'i citizens alike.
Extremely important to note, though, is that there are many people of
Kanaka descent who have assimilated (by force or choice) successfully
into American culture here - and who want to continue that. Likewise,
their children, because of the parents' assimilation, simply have not
had the option or opportunity to identify with Kanaka culture. In
either case, even if they are conscious of loss, they may not feel it
personally, or the price of loss is minimal compared to the benefits,
attained or perceived, of assimilation.
The issue of a stolen nation and oppressed culture has been turned
into an issue of race - not by Hawaiians, but by America. And in
doing so, it effectively uses its own laws, ideology and mythology to
confuse the issue and make it appear that even the half-hearted
attempts at reparations, like OHA and Hawaiian Homelands, are wrong
Racism is defined as "A doctrine that inherent differences among the
various human races determine cultural or individual achievement,
usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior."
It is a Western, and later wholly American, import. The first overt,
important, societal acts of racism in Hawai'i, in my opinion, came
from the plantation owners who segregated imported contract laborers
into ethnic "camps" for the express reason of pitting them against
each other and not forming unions.
The next major act of racism was the passage of the Hawaiian Homes
Act. By setting a blood quantum instead of a "nationality" quantum,
America employed "race" - defined by blood quantum - to pit us
against ourselves over land. Equally important, it gave all
non-Kanaka the grounds on which to call the program racist.
The truly ugly legacy of that act is not that most Kanaka do not have
access to the lands, or that monies and lands have been squandered or
stolen from Hawaiian Homes, or even that it discriminates against
non-Kanaka. The real atrocity is that it pits us Kanaka against
ourselves, creates and perpetuates deep and jagged feelings of
resentment, shame and confusion over self-identity (some are defined
as "Native Hawaiian" and some are just "Hawaiian"), and as a result
has allowed America to avoid blame for the overthrow.
It changed the issue from nation and culture to one of race.
This change in definition is key to understanding the whole issue:
with Native American tribes, America defined them as overthrown
nations made up of a homogenous race. With Kanaka, though, America
has defined us as a race seeking nation status - thus providing the
groundwork for calling the Hawaiian sovereignty movement racist.
America continues to recognize us solely by race because if it
recognizes our Hawaiian nationality then they have to admit that the
whole archipelago was stolen against its own and international laws
at the time, and thus subject to the international laws of
Contextually, affirmative-action programs in America try to bring
equality to oppressed minorities: immigrants and blacks who are
oppressed by the dominant power structure, but who do not represent
colonized nations. Thus America does not address issues of land - no
grounds for it.
Kanaka benefits and entitlements, like affirmative-action programs
across America, are simply America's prima facie attempts to address
its own deeply-ingrained racism. In the case of Kanaka, though, they
are more: they are attempts to compensate for colonialism; the
overthrow, subjugation and oppression of a sovereign nation.
Land and power. America is willing to give up small portions of
Hawai'i to "Native Hawaiians" (as with Hawaiian Home Lands). America
still retains ultimate sovereignty and most important, its military
bases. But to give up, or negotiate in an international arena, the
whole archipelago? That's "natives" asking for too much land and too
Another reason for resistance from the American government is its
critical need for a strategic military presence in the Pacific.
Hawai'i is far more militarily crucial for America than any of the
American Indian nations' lands. This is no small point. If the
Hawaiian sovereignty movement ever threatens America's military
presence here in a serious way, the ramifications for both sides will
Today there are numerous groups across America seeking to abolish any
and all race-based governmental programs. These groups view federal
Kanaka entitlements, programs, assets and Hawaiian sovereignty as a
linchpin: denying Kanaka sovereignty sets a precedent for taking down
not only all affirmative-action programs for African Americans,
Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but the
500-plus Indian nations as well.
If America denies sovereignty for the indigenous people of Hawai'i,
then it brings into question why any nation based on race can exist
within America at all. I am not implying that the effort to take down
the Indian nations will be successful.
Nevertheless, like last year's Rice decision, the Barrett case
represents a potentially huge precedent. This is essentially the same
strategy as the Hawaiian Homes Act: divide native peoples by making
them fight over scarce resources and set the groundwork for calling
all indigenous nations within America "racist."
Anti-sovereignty activists often say that because the Hawaiian
Kingdom wasn't race-based, therefore it's wrong under both nations'
laws for America to acknowledge only indigenous Kanaka.
Strictly speaking, they're right. But to stop there is to ignore the
history of America and the legacy of colonialism racism.
We should not view Hawaiian sovereignty in an isolated context.
History shows a pattern of global thievery by America. In 1898,
America "annexed" not only Hawai'i, but also Guam, Puerto Rico and
There are sovereignty movements in Puerto Rico and Guam as well.
America "granted" the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946,
because America could not, without tremendous expenditures of money
and lives, keep the Philippines. But the smaller, less powerful
island nations have been "kept."
The "ideal" of America is that all people are free and equal. The
reality is quite different.
Founders of America were white, land-owning males who defined black
people as "chattel" who could be legally enslaved; indigenous North
Americans as "savage Indians" who could be legally exterminated; and
women as unfit to vote. The indigenous nations were granted
quasi-sovereign status based on peace treaties. It took the Civil War
to outlaw slavery. It took the women's suffrage movement before women
gained the right to vote.
These momentous acts, however, still did not provide freedom and
equality in America. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the
women's rights movement of the 1970s were necessary because of
America's continuous, insidious racism and sexism.
Ideal versus reality: though governments can outlaw actions, they
cannot change people's value systems, simply by enacting laws. The
outcome of the Civil War made slavery illegal, but it did not make
racist whites stop hating and hurting blacks.
Likewise, though women were granted suffrage in 1920, it didn't mean
they were then treated equally in business, education or pay.
The ideal of a free and equal America espoused in the Declaration and
Constitution has never matched the reality. It simply provides
propaganda for the ongoing denial of any and all inequalities, racism
Why do I want the Hawaiian Nation restored? Because I have a deep
love for Kanaka culture and I see from history that a sovereign
nation is the most sure way of preserving and perpetuating that
culture. I am a nationalist - though I never lived in the nation I
dream of as my own, I have a fervent love for the independent, free
nation that Pai'ea - Kamehameha I - created and Lili'uokalani strove
I want the nation of our people restored because I love this 'aina,
the very sand between my toes: it is who I am.
This land was stolen. America, that grandiloquent champion of global
human rights is a hypocrite and has been a global thief.
Having said that, we, na Kanaka, are now complicit in the
perpetuation of the problems. We have remained mostly silent while
extreme voices from our community have advocated racism and racial
We have accepted the absurdity of "blood quantum," continue to fight
and divide ourselves and 'ohana over an arbitrary, baseless, racist
notion of koko - blood. We have even come so far in embracing the
racist ideology of blood quantum that we boast of how much koko we
have. If your mo'o ku'auhau, your genealogy, says you're kanaka, then
you're kanaka - pau, end of story.
A shared genealogy means shared ancestors and common cultural roots.
By framing the issue on racial grounds instead of overthrown nation
and culture, we have all allowed for an illogical and incorrect
context to foster the heated, angry, frustrated debates and diatribes
we have seen over the past several decades.
We, all of us, have been set up to fail in finding a solution by
allowing ourselves to fight and debate over issues that are only the
surface, not the problem itself: a nation was overthrown and its
culture nearly destroyed.
Many here would like to avoid and forget what has happened. Many
would like to believe this is all made up. My dead and imprisoned
'ohana remind me it's not.
Me, I say, "America, live up to your stated ideals. Do what is right:
restore our nation."
Next: On to dreaming of what we can become.
Alani Apio of Kailua is a woodworker, playwright and actor.