Ruling could be a positive

Honolulu Advertiser
Sunday, August 7, 2005

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Columnist

Last week's federal appeals court ruling on the admissions policy of Kamehameha Schools sent shock waves through the Hawaiian community.

The ruling was not entirely unexpected. And while there are plenty of legal scholars who will say it was wrong, it has some basis in case law and precedent.

In short, while appeals will be launched and alternative strategies devised, it is clear now that Hawaiians-only programs, including those as well-appreciated and successful as Kamehameha Schools, are under vigorous legal attack.

While many are seeing the ruling as a setback, if not an outright defeat, that is not necessarily the final word. In fact, the ruling may accomplish what years of discussion on Hawaiian self-determination have failed to produce: a unified, forward-looking Hawaiian voice on these issues.

This weekend has seen a series of rallies under the sponsorship of the school on all the major islands. These unity rallies, informational gatherings and prayer services were expected to draw a broad spectrum of the community. This includes not just Hawaiians but others who support the mission and goals of Kamehameha Schools.

Here's the interesting thing: Those rallies will bring together Hawaiians who agree on virtually nothing about the self-determination movement. Some support the Akaka bill; others oppose it. Some want to see Hawaiians become a nation within a nation. Others seek total independence.

But there is strong agreement across the board about the importance of Kamehameha Schools as something that belongs to them, has been successful and is not to be trifled with by outsiders.

In short, the ruling may turn out to be a unity builder with greater strength than anything that has come before. If Hawaiians conclude they are of one voice, one perspective on this issue, then they have the potential of becoming a potent political force.

Which is only appropriate, if one believes that what has happened to Hawaiians over the past century was the result of a deliberate political act by the U.S.

It is estimated that something like 20 percent of the population has at least some Hawaiian blood. Imagine if this group, motivated by the assault on Kamehameha Schools, decided to vote and act politically as a bloc.

There has not been a major election in Hawai'i in years that could not have been swayed by a 20-percent voting bloc. Those are numbers big enough to control virtually any election.

Now, it's true that the current lawsuit was decided on the basis of federal case law. Other lawsuits depend on interpretation of the federal constitution. So local political activism can only go so far. But it's also true that politics is eventually local. If this incident creates a unified Hawaiian political base, then it may not be remembered as "one of the darkest days in our lives," as the trustees put it, but the day when an enduring and powerful Hawaiian political identity was born.

Jerry Burris is The Advertiser's editorial page editor.

Reach Jerry Burris at

© COPYRIGHT 2005 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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