WAILUKU As the only American to be honored in an international exhibit on indigenous people that will be held in Australia, Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. couldn't help but notice the irony.
|Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. gives a press conference with the Hawaiian flag, along with the flags of aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
"The kanaka maoli are being recognized as indigenous people by Australia, yet our own United States government fails to recognize us," said Maxwell on Friday. "That's the only thing that makes me sad about this: It didn't even come from my own country."
Maxwell was among six native individuals from around the world selected to be a part of the exhibit that will open later this year at the new National Museum of Australia. Museum officials said Maxwell was chosen to represent the U.S. because of his dedication in trying to right the wrongs of the past for the Hawaiian people for more than 30 years.
Tina Baum, curator for the exhibit, said she met Maxwell while searching the Internet and was immediately struck by his passion and commitment. In an e-mail to The Maui News, Baum called him "a very strong, dignified and respectful man who is a fantastic representative of his people" in the exhibit.
"I can't wait to meet him in person," she said.
Baum, an Australian aboriginal woman, said she specifically wanted to include Native Hawaiians because most Australians think only of Native Americans when considering indigenous people of the U.S.
Others selected for the exhibit include a Maori man from New Zealand, a Nunavut woman and a Cree man from Canada, a Sami woman from the Netherlands and an Ainu woman from Japan.
In a presentation Friday at Kalana O Maui, the county building, Mayor James "Kimo" Apana congratulated Maxwell and urged the public to help raise $175,000 needed to send him and about 30 other islanders to Australia to explain and demonstrate the Hawaiian culture.
Maxwell and his wife, Nina, will attend the opening ceremonies of the museum in March. They will return to Australia in October with the group, for the exhibit opening and to participate in the Kultja Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Festival. [ See Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander page.] Dancers in Nina Maxwell's Pukalani Hula Hale will also attend.
Uncle Charlie with daughter Punalani Kamali'i and Sheldon Brown
of the Waiehu Sons, who will be going to Australia in October.
Jonathan Starr, who was sitting in the audience, immediately pledged $1,000 from the Starr Foundation. Other tax-deductible donations can be made to 'Hui Ai Pohaku Inc., 157 Alea Place, Pukalani 96768.
Over the years, Maxwell has been at the forefront of numerous sovereignty movements and protests for Native Hawaiian rights, including demonstrating for the return of Kahoolawe and other lands, stopping the killing of sharks and keeping commercial activities out of areas considered sacred, such as Iao Valley.
Maxwell not only hopes to showcase the Hawaiian culture in Australia, but to educate those Down Under about the realities of the indigenous people in the islands. He plans to speak at universities and conduct a live radio broadcast on Maui station KNUI, where he has a weekly show.
"The people of Australia will be totally surprised that we're suffering, that our religion was taken away, that our culture was smashed, that our whole lifestyle was changed," he said.
He's especially excited to meet with Australian aboriginal groups who are in the early stages of developing language immersion programs for their children.
Although Maxwell pulls no punches when pointing out injustices heaped upon Native Hawaiians since the arrival of Europeans in 1778, he is quick to praise the many non-Hawaiians who have supported Hawaiian causes in recent years.
"Even though we're an indigenous people, we live in the world with everyone else," said Maxwell. "We couldn't do this by ourselves. The people I call 'my Army,' many of them are not Hawaiians, but they believe these islands and this culture is worth saving."
Maxwell will be represented in the exhibit by a photograph and quotation.
He looks forward to the day when he'll feel as honored by the United States.
"Someday, I'll be a very proud American," he said, "but not until our lands are returned and we have self-determination."