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Hawaii: A Voice For Sovereignty


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Hawaii08Some call it “Paradise”, but Hawaii isn’t just a tourist getaway. Look beyond the resorts, and you’ll find a history of opposition to US occupation. From sacred sites, to indigenous language, Hawaiians are fighting hard to protect their traditions, and their future. On this edition we hear excerpts from the 2012 film by Catherine Bauknight “Hawaii: A Voice for Sovereignty,” which explores the history of Hawaii – from the beginning of the US occupation up to statehood and the present day.


Kaleikola Ka’eo, professor of Hawaiian Studies at Maui Community College; Guy Aina, fisherman from Hana; Kenneth Ho’opai, Jr, minister in Maui; Richard McCarty, attorney; Ke’eaumoku Kapu, youth cultural instructor; Edward Wendt, taro farmer in East Maui; Auntie Susan Lord, Royal Patent Landholder; Woody Vaspra, World Council of Elders

For More Information:

Hawaii: A Voice For Sovereignty
Hawaii – Independent and Sovereign
Hawaiian Kingdom Independence Blog
Hawaiian Independence
Civil Rights Panel Members Urge Rejection in Hawaiian Tribal Status Fight
Hawaiians Split on Movement to Recognize Native Hawaiians
Bill to Grant Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Passes House
Queen of Hawaii Demands Independence from ‘US Occupiers’
Native Hawaiians Recognition (Akaka Bill)
PBS Hawaii – Insights: Native Hawaiian Sovereignty
PBS Hawaii – Seeds of Hope



– This week on Making Contact.

– Development needs to be controlled. Development can only take place if it’s going to benefit the local people. You can’t keep developing everything, because then you can pave over paradise.

– Some call it paradise. But Hawaii isn’t just a tourist getaway. Look beyond the resorts and you’ll find a history of opposition to US occupation. From sacred sites to indigenous language, Hawaiians are fighting hard to protect their traditions and their future.

– We’re not a people that are looking at striving to become a recognized nation, as much as a people that is trying to have our sovereignty or our independence be recognized.

– On this edition, we hear how Hawaii came under US control and why some native Hawaiians want to see it become independent once more. I’m Nancy Lopez. And this is Making Contact, a program connecting people, vital ideas, and important information.

Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959. But the question of independence has never gone away. In a 2012 film by Catherine Bauknight called Hawaii, a Voice for Sovereignty, she explores the history of Hawaii from the beginning of the US occupation to the present day. The film starts by looking at the all important issue of sovereignty and what this word means to Hawaiians.


– The native Hawaiians, the Kanaka Maoli, traveled through vast oceans thousands of years ago to the islands of Hawaii. The air, the water, the land was considered their extended family. They did not separate themselves from the natural world. And still today, the land, their culture, and their spirituality are deeply connected.

The Kanaka Maoli are a people who have exercised their sovereign rights for many centuries. This freedom has been challenged since the United States takeover by political, economic, and military oppression. They have remained silent for over 100 years. But now, they are speaking out.

– Each of us are taking different paths, whether it be through Hula, to the restoration of the lo’i or taro, political sovereignty, financial means, health reform. Whatever the case may be, there are many leaders out there now stepping forward. Hawaiians will refuse to be prisoners of war.

– To understand why many native Hawaiians feel that way even now, the film takes us back to where and how it all began. Here, Dennis Bumpy Kanahele– a political activist in Oahu.

– Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in 1778, the native Hawaiian people lived in a highly-organized, self-sufficient and subsistent social system based on communal land tenure, with a sophisticated language, culture, and religion. That is the findings and fact by Congress, by the United States of America.



– Britain and France, in the Anglo-Franco Proclamation of November 20, 1843, recognize the independent nation state of the Hawaiian kingdom.

– That was Kaleikoa Ka’eo, a professor of Hawaiian Studies at Maui Community College.

– We were recognized before Turkey, before Argentina, before China, before Japan, before many of the African nations were recognized as being part of what we call the Family of Nations.



– The native Hawaiians– the Kanaka Maoli– believed that land could not be owned. For centuries, they were caretakers. But sugar cane and pineapple were becoming a significant part of the Hawaiian economy. The Kanaka agreed to let the corporations borrow their land, believing the promises that the land would be returned to them.


– They were the people that had overthrown the kingdom of Hawaii, was the plantation people, the sugar cane plantation people. They would just plant their cane on the land and say that it’s theirs. And then they would come up with these titles and they would make these titles, and they would say that this is theirs. And in order to make it legitimate in an American way, an America’s system, is they had the money to pay for it. And the Hawaiians didn’t have the money to pay for it.

– That was Guy Aina, a fisherman from Hana. When European explorers arrived in 1778, the native Hawaiian population was 800,000. During the United States takeover a century later, the population had been slashed to 40,000.

– Now really, what happens on January 16, 1893, it’s important to remember in Hawaii’s history that 187 US Marines off the USS Boston were landed in Honolulu and took up position across of the Iolani Palace. And their main purpose was to protect the interests of those who call themselves the Committee of Safety, which were really American citizens and missionary descendants who were bent upon taking political control away from the Hawaiian people.

– Queen Liliuokalani was removed from the throne by US armed forces. In her place, Sanford B, Dole was proclaimed the President of Hawaii.


– Dole and his bandits self-proclaimed themselves to become what’s called the provisional government. And with the help of the US Marines by armed force, begin the US occupation of these islands. And as was stated by the president of that time in 1893, President Cleveland from the US described this act. And in fact, he called it an act of war. These are the words of the US president himself to define what the US Marines did on that day. Now it’s important to understand that, because since that time, we’ve been under occupation. Our country has been under illegal occupation since 1893. The US Marines landed, and they still haven’t left.

And so on January 17, 1883, the queen of Hawaii protested what went on. And she basically said, I yield to the superior forces of the United States of America.


– I, Liliuokalani, by the grace of God and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the Constitution, that I yield to the superior force the United States of America landed at Honolulu. I do this under protest, and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such time as the government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

– Two years after the queen was removed from the throne, a group of supporters was arrested during a failed rebellion. Although the queen knew nothing of these plans, she was charged with treason. For eight months, she was imprisoned in one room of the palace in solitary confinement. It was there that she composed many songs, including The Queen’s Prayer.

The beloved queen of Hawaii died in 1917 at age 79.


– It’s clear to understand. It’s a very important point to understand. There is no treaty of annexation between the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian Kingdom and the US Senate. In fact, the US Senate voted against– voted against accepting the treaty. The Hawaiians come forward with a petition drive, and 39,000 signatures of Hawaiians– my ancestors, 39,000– over 95% of our people at that time signed this petition protesting that action, in fact declaring that they did not want to be part of the United States and in fact we declared ourself to be independent.


In 1898, president McKinley realized he could not pass this treaty through the US Senate. Instead, he passed a joint resolution which purported, that gave this idea that they were intending to annex the Hawaiian Islands in the future. With this joint resolution, the United States began this process of increasing the amount of military presence in Hawaiian Islands and in this kind of facade, built over the years– which they still haven’t come forward to get the consent of the subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom– and this facade has lived on for far too long. And this is really the cornerstone of what you see going on to this day.

The United States still haven’t provided how they gained jurisdiction of these islands, how they gained title to these islands, how did they gain the consent of our people. And this, again, is the crux to what you see going on to this day throughout the Hawaiian Islands.


– We’ll be right back.


You’re listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. Because of generous support from listeners like you, this show is distributed for free to radio stations in the US, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. To find out how to donate, download shows, or get our podcast, go to, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Our handle is making_contact. We now return to “Excerpts of Hawaii, a Voice for Sovereignty.”

In recent years, Hawaiians have begun to confront their past. Up next, we’ll hear about their current struggles to claim ownership of the land, of their culture, and of their livelihood. Here again, Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, the political activist from Oahu.

– We’re just learning about what we lost, and so to reconnect with the land, with our spirituality– as strong as it is– the problem today is that the land has been stolen, taken away, somehow disconnected with the people.


– There are many questions pertaining to the land holdings of Hawaii, questions such as who holds the land titles, the rights, the claims, through land commission awards, warranty deeds, native tenant claims, quiet title through adverse possession, tax map keys, and royal patents.

– We’re looking at this right now.

– That’s Kenneth Ho’opi’i Jr., a minister in Maui. He’s flipping through a large white book with the title grants and patents on the cover. It’s full of names.

– Then this is book of all the islands. And in this book there’s rural patents, lands, and not just that, but names of families, families who have claims to this lands. This land pattern still exists. There was never a transfer jurisdiction from our nation or our government over to theirs, you see? So the laws of the land, the Kingdom laws still exist.

– The way the developers and the plantation owners now claim they own the lands is through what’s called adverse possession.

– This is attorney Richard McCarty, who explains how developers and plantation owners continue to lay claim to the land.

– So even though the families had allowed the plantation to use the lands, now the plantations are showing up and saying now that use was adverse to your interests, so you don’t own your land anymore. And Hawaiians go into court when they’re noticed in for these kind of lawsuits, and their thinking that they can go in and just be honest, be forthright– as they always are– and say, and they hope the judge will do the fair thing and say, wait. You’re a scoundrel, plantation. You don’t own this land. You’ve stolen it. But instead, the courts are saying, you own the land because of trickery in the law.

– In an ongoing battle over land rights, native Hawaiians like Jocelyn Costa are often forced off the land by developers and police who accuse them of trespassing. Land developers are sometimes able to purchase property that Hawaiians claim is royal patent land. With their economic power and political influence, these developers were able to overcome the objections and protest of the native landholders. According to the Kanaka Maoli, projects like a recent large residential development are given approval by land use authorities who don’t legally recognize the patents.

– Again, attorney Richard McCarty.

– At one point, I met a group of families that live in the Ka’ula’ula Valley. And it’s a valley that’s above the town of Lahaina in West Maui, and they were having many problems relating to development pushing into areas that have been their homes for many, many generations. The family of Keeaumoku Kapu and his wife U’ilani and his four children were confronted with developers who showed up with a large bulldozer and were going to threaten sites that needed preservation by the state preservation division. That morning, the family had to go out bare-chested with spears and confront a bulldozer. And when they left their home, they formed a group and said, today is a good day to die if necessary. We will stand. We will protect these lands, and we will hold them at any cost, including our lives, if necessary.


– Politics has really dictated our life, and it doesn’t give us not even a fair opportunity to say anything based upon all the problems that we’re going through right now.

– That’s Ke’eaumoku Kapu, a youth cultural instructor who is fighting for his land.

– And you know, if everybody thinks that we’re living a happy life up here, hey, guess again. Every day is a different day for us. And tomorrow may be a new day where we might end up in court for something else.


– Here again, Guy Aina, a fisherman from Hana.

– We don’t need another KMart, not in Hana. We don’t need another rich development with all these million-dollar houses that’s called some kind of Heights, like Hamoa Heights or something like that. We don’t need that.


– Development needs to be controlled. Development can only take place if it’s going to benefit the local people. You can’t keep developing everything, because then you’re gonna pave over paradise. And you know, that’s the reason why a lot of people come to Hawaii, is for the beauty of it. But if you’re going to keep building on it and covering everything all up with houses, that’s not going to be good. That’s not what people came here for. That’s not what we want.


– From the time plantations started growing pineapples and sugarcane in the 1800s to the development of modern luxury resorts, water has been increasingly diverted away the Kanaka Maoli.


– These lands here– which is known as Crown Lands, ceded lands, lands for the elite–

– That’s Edward Wendt, a taro farmer in East Maui. Taro is a staple crop in the Pacific that has fed Hawaiians for centuries.

– The state has leased these lands out to corporations, sugar companies, pineapple, and also, water is given to upcountry domestic purposes. The state has allowed a small irrigation to collect over $60 billion gallons of water a year for a fifth of a penny per 1,000 gallons, and has allowed a small irrigation and Alexander and Baldwin to continue this practice for over 130 years. The dewatering of the streams has a great impact on our fragile environment. And yet, the state has allowed them to dewater, to have a great impact on our traditional, customary way of life.

– Taro is more than just a source of food for the Hawaiians. It is a spiritual connection between the land and the native people. Water is being diverted away from the taro fields, threatening this precious resource.

– They are diverting the water to the hotels and not using the water for the kuleana rice. The water should be diverted to the river.

– And this is Auntie Susan Lord, a royal patent landholder.

– We need a waterful agriculture for the taro, and we need it for the family, you know, what we’re used to. We used to having kuleana water coming through our land in [HAWAIIAN] Valley, and being able to have taro patches. We’re not able to have taro patches, because there’s not enough water.

– Taro now is becoming a piece of history in Hawai’i Nei It is said that what happens to Halua, what happens to the fields of taro throughout Hawai’i Nei will give us an indication of what happens to the po’e Hawai’i, the people of Hawaii.


– That was Clifford Nae’ole, a cultural advisor for the Ritz Carlton Kapalua.


– During the building of a major resort on Maui, native Hawaiian bones were uncovered in an ancient burial site. Construction was halted and a decision had to be made. Should the bones be moved? Should construction continue? Or, was there another option? This was a sensitive and significant issue for both the Hawaiians and the resort developers. So a meeting was arranged between the developers, government officials, and native elders. For 20 hours, all parties involved negotiated. And the developers reneged. They would move the construction of the Ritz Carlton 500 feet back, and they would preserve the burial site. For Hawaiians, it became the first resort in Hawaii to say sanctity and dignity first.

The ancestral bones were re-interred during a sacred ceremony.

– Many Kanaka Maoli are working in different ways for the people and their sovereignty. Some work with social issues or education, the environment, or housing. Some are willing to protest against injustices, and others want to have an active debate through forums such as a Hawaiian Constitutional Convention where delegates can freely discuss issues such as Native Hawaiian government, banking, and their economy. Others suggest responsible ways to bridge knowledge of the past with modern technologies to develop sustainable resources.

– We go back to the village of creating, the farming, the fishing, and using indigenous architecture as much as we can for the housing.

– This is Woody Vaspra of the World Council of Elders. There’s also opportunities for ocean power and also creative systems like micro utilities, where if one makes enough, it can be shared among other folks.

– I’m Richard Ha. I farm here on the Big Island. We have about 600 acres. Part of it is in bananas, and a good portion of it is in hydroponic vegetables. We really need to try as hard as we can to sustain ourselves with what we have here. Energy, security is on everybody’s mind, renewable energy sources. But something more and more important than that is food security. Maybe we need to broaden our approach to food. And the question that comes up is, what about protein? We could do tilapia, because it’s a good vegetarian fish. And if we integrated it into our greenhouse operation where we fed them waste from our food production, they convert it to ammonia. The ammonia goes back with the water into our reservoir, which we then pump back into the hydroponic tomatoes so we then get a reuse of the resources that we have available, as well as grow protein.


– There is a growing interest in the fate of the Hawaiian culture. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that what happens to indigenous cultures may be an indicator of what happens to all of us.

– This is Lono, music professor and musician.

– And other things are slipping away. Our kids are being distracted with, you know, American Idol and all this stuff that is fake, that will not be there for them later. Hawaiian culture, its style and its language, this Hawaiian music, will be there for you later in your life.

– This is Kili Namau’u, a preschool director.

– In the late 1800s, the Hawaiian people, 98% of the people were literate. One of the best ways to, I guess, subdue a culture was to eliminate their language. And it was abolished. It was against the law to teach Hawaiian in the school.


– The University of Hawaii and a lot of people speak the regular Hawaiian language. I speak the old Hawaiian. This is Auntie Aggie Tanaka, a retired schoolteacher from Oahu.

– I speak the old Hawaiian, which a lot of the people don’t understand me, because I speak the old Hawaiian, not the everyday that they learn at the University by Community College, different schools. So when they speak to me I just look at them, and I went– ho’olohe [HAWAIIAN], which means listen. And they listen, and I speak in my old Hawaiian language, and they stare at me. Auntie, what did you say? I said, [HAWAIIAN] which means, you so low low.

– This is J. Kalani English, the Hawaiian state senator.

– Without Hawaiian as a living language, our entire world view changes and we become what we fear the most. We’ve become like any other state in the union. We are still Polynesian. We’re still part of the Pacific. We still retain many of the Polynesian traits of aloha, and compassion, and love for one another. And as long as the host culture survives, that will be so in Hawaii. The minute the Hawaiian culture is stifled, we become American. We become like any other state, and all is lost.


– So what is the lesson for us today? Well, the lesson for us today is that when we get involved in politics today– especially with struggles over the protection of land or natural resources, or protection of our burials, or protection of our rights to access and gather these areas, the protection of the right of the streams to flow into the ocean, the protection of the resources from the ocean to provide sustenance and to sustain ourselves– these are all struggles regarding the land itself. These are all political. These are all based upon our concept of sovereignty.

Our sovereignty is not determined by a passport or a constitution. But our sovereignty is again, determined by the essence of who we are as a people. That as long as we live on as a people, the essence of who our language, our arts, our dances, our histories, that we live on as a people, that we will continue to struggle and fight. And we are alive. If we continue to struggle, then we make progress, then we are alive.

– That was Kaileikoa Ka’eo, a professor of Hawaiian Studies at Maui Community College.


And that’s it for this edition of Making Contact. You’ve been listening to “Excerpts from Hawaii, a Voice for Sovereignty,” by Catherine Bouknight For more information, go to Check out our website,, to get a podcast, download past shows, or making a difference by supporting our work. Like, making contact on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. Our handle is making_contact. I’m Nancy Lopez. Thanks for listening to “Making Contact.”


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