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Meeting on Native Hawaiian recognition draws hundreds of testifiers in Keaukaha

July 3, 2014 - 5:44am

In the heart of Keaukaha, one of the most Hawaiian communities on one of the most Hawaiian of the islands, speakers were polite but firm: They will create their own government, thank you very much.

More than 130 people signed up to testify Wednesday evening to a panel of Department of the Interior, Office of the U.S. Attorney General and other Obama administration officials. Hundreds more crowded into the Keaukaha Elementary School gymnasium to listen.

It was the 10th public hearing in Hawaii for the federal panel, which is gauging community reaction to a proposed re-establishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community. Meetings continue today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Waimea Community Center and 6 to 9 p.m. at Kealakehe High School.

As at meetings held elsewhere in the state, many speakers want a return to a Hawaiian Kingdom, and nothing else will do. Others point to an ongoing process of registration, election of delegates and a convention created by state statute and coordinated through the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Few want the feds to get involved.

In fact, said several speakers, the only federal official they are interested in talking to is Secretary of State John Kerry, wanting him to answer the questions posed in a letter by OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe. Crabbe asked Kerry to address the legal status of Hawaii under international law decades after the 1893 illegal overthrow of the kingdom with the help of U.S. troops.

“Take it back to John Kerry and get John Kerry here,” said Kale Gumpac. “It’s not your kuleana. Get the people whose kuleana it is to come here.”

There’s much more to government than simply a government structure, said Albert Kahiwahiwaokalani Haa Jr.

“Before you can make a government, you need to know who owns the land,” Haa said.

The group expressed their opinions in more than words. Some chanted, some played guitars and sang songs. State Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, gave her speech entirely in Hawaiian, and then led the room in “Hawaii Ponoi.”

Rhea Suh, an assistant secretary with the Department of the Interior, urged the crowd to also submit written testimony in case they ran out of time or if they felt more comfortable testifying that way. She said allowing the process to start would give Native Hawaiians more options.

“All other native communities in the United States have this option and many have exercised this option,” Suh said. “This option doesn’t even exist for you.”

Officials said this round of meetings is the first of its kind in more than 10 years.

But some in the crowded gymnasium said the federal exercise is accomplishing little other than further angering Hawaiians and widening the gap between the various factions.

“We’ve been talking about sovereignty for so long,” said Louis Hao, East Hawaii supervisor for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. “If we don’t come together it will be more than another 10 years.”

The department wants residents to weigh in on whether the Obama administration should facilitate the re-establishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community and help the Native Hawaiian community reorganize its government.

Patrick Kahawaiolaa, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, believes federal recognition already exists for Native Hawaiians through the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. At statehood in 1959 the compact made between the parties was “… the State and its people will uphold the Hawaiian race …” and “… as a proviso of becoming a State the State needed to accept the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920,” Kahawaiolaa said.

“I will be asking the DOI/DOJ to do their job and enforce the federal law called the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920 against the State, the DHHL and anyone else who has over the 90-year period of its existence abused, used, leased the lands having the status of Hawaiian Home Lands and any acts of State legislation enacted “without the consent” of the US.,” Kahawaiolaa said before the meeting.

About 21.3 percent of Hawaii residents reported in the 2010 census that they had some Hawaiian blood, and 5.9 percent said they were pure Hawaiian. Hawaii County, with 29.7 percent of residents with Hawaiian blood and 8.5 percent pure Hawaiian, leads the state in both categories.