Maxwell: Australia's native folk kindred to those of Hawaii

Both peoples were harmed, now trying to recover cultures

The Maui News
April 3, 2001

City Editor

PUKALANI – Back from being honored as a representative of the indigenous people of the United States, Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell could not help but note again the irony.

Maxwell, a kahu and Hawaiian cultural leader, was invited to last month's opening of the Australia National Museum in Canberra, as one of several representatives of indigenous peoples of the world.

"The honor was bittersweet because of the fact that the United States does not recognize the kanaka maoli of Hawaii as being the indigenous people of this land," he said. "The irony is that I am featured as an indigenous person of the Hawaiian Islands by Australia's National Museum in the Indigenous People of the World display."

Maxwell was chosen as a representative of indigenous people of the United States because of his strong, passionate defense of Hawaiian culture, sometimes taking unpopular positions.

He said it was also a learning experience for him, as he and his wife, kumu hula Nina Maxwell, met with Australian aborigines, the counterpart of the kanaka maoli of Hawaii.

There are similarities in their histories, but Maxwell said the aborigines have suffered even more loss of land, culture and life than have Hawaiians.

Where Hawaiians were indoctrinated to join in having Western cultural values, Maxwell said he learned that aborigines were literally driven off their land by immigrating Europeans.

As was the case with Hawaiians, the aborigines were tied to their land and the resources of the land, he said.

"The land, animals, fauna and flora gave them sustenance, and their cultural and spiritual gods took care of their well-being," he said. "Everything including the trees, rocks, rivers, clouds and mountains had life and a purpose for its existence.

"Their quality of life depended on proper cultural and spiritual values they imparted on these elements."

But when Australia was "discovered," the Western immigrants focused on promises of wealth in gold, diamonds and other materials valued by the West. Greed ignored the rights of the "true owners of the land," he said.

"The aborigines were driven off their land and at one point were considered vermin, and hunted for sport like deer.

"The survivors could not practice their culture. Their women were sterilized, and their children were taken away and put in government-controlled programs."

A modern image of the aborigine as a Stone Age native preferring the undeveloped interior of Australia doesn't show that they were forced to the regions that Europeans considered unlivable.

"There is a quote by a former Australian prime minister from 80 years ago that says, 'We should capture all these people and teach them our ways, so they can live among us,' " Maxwell said.

"The aborigines were successfully driven off their lands and survived in places that no one else could live. Using their primordial skills to coexist with nature, they survived into modern times," he said.

But as is happening with Hawaiians, the aborigines are learning the laws of the West to help protect their cultural integrity, he said.

"Their population has grown and they have sought education in Western law, and are now demanding reparations in land and money. They are also demanding to be recognized as an individual nation," he said.

Just like Hawaiians, who are seeking recognition of status as a sovereign nation, Maxwell said the aborigines of Australia are seeking self-determination and recognition of their sovereignty.

"It is amazing how we live on opposite sides of the ocean, yet we as natives of these lands have suffered similar fates in the hands of the colonizers," he said.

"In Hawaii, the missionaries came first, the businessmen came after, and that was the beginning of our downfall as natives of the land. It is apparent that the aborigine suffered more physical harm to their people. However, our pain is similar in losing our birthright," he said.

Maxwell, Nina Maxwell and her halau are planning to return for another event related to the exhibit at the new national museum. In October, they are invited to participate in the Katja Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Festival.

He will need to raise about $175,000 to cover the costs of the troupe and is accepting donations. Supporters may send donations to Hui Ai Pohaku, 157 Alea Place, Pukalani 96768.

He said he is looking forward to returning to Australia. His visit three weeks ago was "awesome," he said. The connections to the aborigine also still continue to intrigue him, he said.

He said an aborigine noted to him that the English explorer, Capt. James Cook, was also involved in "discovering" Australia for Great Britain several years before he sailed through the Central Pacific to "discover" Hawaii.

"Too bad Capt. Cook did not go to Hawaii first, where your people killed him. Then he would not have come up here and 'discovered' us," the native said.

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