- Restoring Independence and Abundance on the Kulāiwi and ‘Āina Momona
On June 23, 2014, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) held the first of fifteen meetings in Hawai‘i and across the United States on its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), which raised five threshold questions and fourteen subsequent questions regarding federal and state facilitation of a federal process to recognize a Native Hawaiian government. The first threshold question queried: “Should the Secretary [of the Interior] propose an administrative rule that would facilitate the reestablishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community?”1 These meetings can be understood as part of a sequence of events dating from 1993, when President Bill Clinton signed the joint resolution that is now Public Law 103-150, thereby acknowledging and apologizing for the role the United States played in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government, calling for a nation-to-nation relationship between Hawai‘i and the United States. Over time, multiple revisions of what became known as the Akaka Bill left many convinced that federal recognition of Hawai‘i as a domestic dependent nation under the Department of the Interior would only ensure continued US occupation. At the DOI meetings, Kanaka ‘Ōiwi and their allies gave overwhelming public testimony with a resounding, “‘A‘OLE!/NO!” to a federally driven form of recognition, calling instead for the end to US occupation and the restoration of Hawai‘i’s independence. As Movement for Aloha No ka ‘Āina (MANA) summarized in a public statement, “Throughout these packed [End Page 969] hearings we witnessed an outpouring of love and patriotism as testimony after testimony rejected the proposed rule change, rejected federal recognition and reaffirmed over and over that the Kingdom of Hawai‘i still exists as a subject of international law. And it is through international law that we expect to move forward to restore justice to our people, lands and government.”
This refusal articulates with other rejections of recognition politics, including that in Glen Coulthard’s past work and his more recent Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (2014) and Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States (2014), whose work reflects the ways that recognition, as Coulthard writes, “in its contemporary liberal form promises to reproduce the very configurations of colonialist, racist, patriarchal state power that Indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition have historically sought to transcend.”2 In her essay in A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui points to one irreducible condition: “What few proponents of federal recognition acknowledge is that this structure differs from the outset, and that the U.S. government prohibits Native governing entities from securing international legal status as independent states” (319).
Yet where the testimony is striking is that Kanaka ‘Ōiwi were also rejecting the US government’s attempt to adjudicate of the terms of a “Native Hawaiian government” that is both ahistorical and exclusionary. As ‘Ōiwi activist and Hawaiian studies professor S. Kaleikoa Ka‘eo argued in his written testimony,
The DOI cannot reestablish a relationship with a government of the Native Hawaiian community. It is impossible to reestablish what has never been established. There has never been a Native Hawaiian Government. This is clearly a false statement. There was a government of the Hawaiian Kingdom with subjects and citizens of all bloods and ethnicities, which included aboriginal Hawaiian subjects. Political status and nationality in the Hawaiian Kingdom was not based upon race.3
Ka‘eo and many others were pointing to the historical materialities of a multiethnic Hawaiian Kingdom where citizens who pledged allegiance to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i became part of the national...