Peter Apo: How to Build a Virtual Hawaiian Nation



This is an attempt to outline what I would call a virtual Hawaiian nation. Virtual is defined as almost or almost as described, but not completely. Hawaiian refers to the origins of the native Hawaiians. Nation is defined as a large collection of people united by common ancestry, history, culture, or language and inhabiting a particular country.

To be clear, the virtual Hawaiian nation I am circumscribing is not intended to be a reference to the Hawaiian nation or the Kingdom of Hawaii which was founded by King Kamehameha I and which did not require Hawaiian ancestry for citizenship.

The virtual Hawaiian nation, made up of the Hawaiian population, is framed by an extensive network of Hawaiian organizations hiding across the state. The network is a pretty impressive and fascinating kaleidoscope full of institutions, organizations, neighborhood social networks and leadership clusters.

The big five

The network of organizations that underpin the virtual Hawaiian nation is rounded off by what I call the “Big Five” of Hawaiian institutions because of their economic performance. To spare you the details of the purpose of each institution, the five include the Kamehameha Schools, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Liliuokalani Trust, the Queen’s Health Systems, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Each institution has committed to separately mandated missions that serve Hawaiian beneficiaries, with the exception of Queen’s, which also serves the public. The convincing thing about these five institutions, apart from their separate tasks, is their enormous overall economic performance. Led by the Kamehameha Schools portfolio, these five institutions, under their joint command, have millions of dollars in cash and hundreds of thousands of acres of land in fee stocks.

Community based organizations

There is a vast network of indigenous Hawaiian community-based organizations, most of which operate as private not-for-profit organizations. The better-known organizations are the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs – there are 67 of them, the Native Hawaiian Chambers of Commerce, the Hawaiian Homestead Association, and the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, which are organized separately on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island.

The fundamental political choices that would change the status of Hawaiians from virtual to real nation are nation within a state, nation within a nation, and independence. Kevin Knodell / Civil Beat

The list also includes the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Polynesian Voyaging Society, Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, Hawaii Public Charter Schools Network, and the University of Hawaii Manoa and UH Hilo Hawaiian degree programs. Also worth mentioning is Ka Huli Ao from UH Law School.

Then there are four most interesting organizations called Royal Societies. These four groups were founded by the Alii, the ruling chiefs. They are steeped in history and share a common goal of preserving Hawaiian culture and traditions.

These are the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and the sister organization Na Wahine Hui O Kamehameha I, the Ahahui Kaahumanu, the Hale O Na Alii of Hawaii and the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors, also known as Mamakakaua.

The Royal Societies provide an important emotional link to the days of royal rule of the Hawaiian Kingdom and a restored sense of cultural dignity. The mix spans a rich collection of Hawaiian culturally-based organizations, too many to describe, including the hula, visual arts, literary arts, travel arts, and canoe racing clubs. One example is the Pai Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and perpetuate the arts and cultural traditions of the native Hawaiians for future generations.

An important aspect of the network, although not formal organizations, is certain Hawaiian dominated neighborhoods like Waimanalo, Molokai, Hana, Waianae, Maili, Nanakuli, Makaha, Papakolea, Kekaha, Kau, and Milolii, to name the most obvious.

Finally, there are the most basic Hawaiian assembly institutions, namely the Christian churches, which are dominated by Hawaiian congregations under Hawaiian leadership. The two most obvious are the Kawaiahao and Kaumakapili churches on Oahu.

What connects this large number of Hawaiians across the state is a haunted sense of the unfinished business of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, followed by its annexation to the United States in 1898.

The future leads through the past

Across the network, there is an expectation that one day the fall and annexation will have to be fully addressed. The demand for some form of reconciliation that may include independence, unlikely as it may seem to some, is simmering. In any event, a legitimate political and economic opportunity for the Hawaiian community to exercise a full degree of self-determination must be aggressively pursued. What this full measure could look like naturally depends on who is turning the kaleidoscope.

Signage for the OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs should convene major Hawaiian institutions. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2019

The three fundamental political decisions that would change the status of Hawaiians from virtual to real nation are obvious: nation within a state, nation within a nation, and independence. I wouldn’t rule out the status quo as a deliberately preferred option for some Hawaiians happy with the state of affairs.

It would be negligent not to mention that there was an Aha (Hawaiian Convention) in 2016 that produced a Hawaiian constitution. But without the resource and voting rights restrictions to ratify the document in a Hawaiian-only vote (cannot use government resources), the document is waiting.

This constitution could be put on the table as an option. The irony is that it doesn’t address either option directly. What it does is put a governance structure in place, then pursue the options, and I expect the Hawaiian citizenship to return for ratification. I expect other models will emerge as part of the deliberative process, including opening up citizenship to non-Hawaiians.

A call for leadership

It doesn’t matter how many visions of a Hawaiian future can emerge from this vast network of Hawaiian organizations if we can’t find a way to engage constructively with one another and agree on a strategy to make the steep climb up the hill to a preferred Hawaiian one Future Navigate by Hawaiians. There is no call for leadership more important than the union.

It is surprising that with all the great work being done in the vast network of Hawaiian organizations, the availability of talented Hawaiian leaders in all sectors, and the availability of resources that could be generated collectively, there is a disappointing reluctance on the part of leaders to who are ready to take them on the glove. I would describe the plight as an anthill without a queen.

The pandemic provided an opportunity to press the reset button, re-energize and renew commitment to redress for the wrongs of the fall, seek justice, activate the virtual nation and a full level of self-determination to navigate wherever this is going could also lead.

OHA should serve as the convener

There is an organization, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which was constitutionally established in 1978 that I believe was purposely intended to serve as a center of gravity for everything Hawaiian. But OHA cannot be everything for everyone.

However, I believe there was an expectation that OHA would come up with a unified leadership strategy as a priority that would bring the Hawaiian community together. I can’t think of a deeper mission for OHA. It would be a great start if you could at least meet and dialogue with the other four major Hawaiian institutions that I call the Big Five. Imua.


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