by Jere Krischel
Last Friday, January 15, 2010, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii was proud to present a panel debate on the subject of the Akaka Bill. We were honored to have three presenters at this panel, Mr. Jere Krischel, Mr. Leon Siu and Mr. John Zogby present their own findings and opinions about the Akaka Bill in a spirited and informative discussion that helped to spread more information about the consequences of the Akaka Bill.
Attached to this article are the audio transcripts of Mr. Jere Krischel and Mr. Leon Siu, as well as the text transcript of Mr. Krischel remarks. Enjoy.
“I’d like to start off with a proclamation. He Hawai’i au; he mau Hawai’i kakou a pau. I am Hawaiian; we are all Hawaiians. For many years people have been told that they’re not Hawaiian, or not Hawaiian enough, and I want to make my bias about this issue very clear up front. Hawai’i is a place, not a race. To exclude all the people whose families have lived and died in these beautiful islands for generations, but who do not have the proper bloodline, is discriminatory, mean spirited, and goes against the very ideals upon which the Kingdom, Republic and State of Hawai’i were founded.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “wait, I’m Japanese!” or, “nah, nah, I’m Portuguese!” For people born and raised in Japan or Portugal, and here today only as tourists, perhaps that’s true. But what about the Japanese guy who knows where every Zippy’s on Oahu is, but couldn’t name the four islands of Japan? Or the Portuguese guy who knows all the good surf spots in Waianae, but not the capital of Portugal? For so many local Hawaiians, there is no other world than Hawai’i, no other home than Hawai’i. But for decades now, people have been insisting that they aren’t Hawaiian enough.
It is my belief that If you look carefully at Hawai’i today, and even more carefully at the history of Hawai’i, you will come to share my bias, and seek the same vision of common humanity. I hope today I can share with you a bit of history, a bit of the present, and together we can share a similar vision of what our future can and should be.
Let’s start with history. Before the white man arrived in 1778, Hawai’i was a perfect place. There was no war, no disease, no native birds or animals had been driven extinct, there was freedom of religion, everyone got to vote, there were no taxes, and everyone was pure native Hawaiian. Oh, wait, that’s not right.
So what’s the real story? Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, the islands we now call Hawai’i were a collection of warring chiefdoms. Oahuans, Molokaians, Kauaians and Hawaiians were at almost constant war with each other. Torture and slavery were common, and women were viciously discriminated against. The ruling class consisted of ali’i and kahuna, who violently subjugated the maka’ainana and enslaved the kauwa. The racial mix was one based upon multiple waves of migration, initially from the Marquesas, but later by conquering Tahitian invaders.
That all being said, it wasn’t that different than the rest of the world. All humans have had violent histories, with torture, racism, slavery, intolerant religion and sexism as recurring themes around the world. The resource limitations of the Pacific meant that technology there would never advance past the Stone Age, but other than that, in 1778, the people living in what we today call the Hawaiian islands were pretty much like any other group of humans.
Continuing with our tale, in 1810, King Kamehameha the Great single handedly unified the Hawaiian islands using only native technologies and tactics. He established a Kingdom of pure Native Hawaiians, and fought against all foreign invaders who dared reach Hawai’i’s shores. Oh wait, that’s not right either.
So what really happened? Of all the amazing people in the history of Hawai’i, the example of King Kamehameha the Great is extremely notable. He was born a lesser chief, but became the first person ever to unify the Hawaiian Islands. How did he manage such a feat? By accepting all people as human, worthy of respect and equality.
His closest advisor and son-in-law, Keoni Olohana, was the father of Kamehameha the third’s Kuhina Nui, and the grandfather of the beloved Queen Emma. You might know him better by his English name, John Young. This ex-British sailor was originally captured by Kamehameha, but later helped equip Kamehameha’s armies with modern weapons, taught them modern tactics, and helped lead them into battle. As one of the people who created the unified Kingdom of Hawai’i, John Young was truly one of the first “Hawaiians”, and today is buried amongst the other Hawaiian royalty in the Royal Mausoleum.
So when the Akaka Bill says that we need a government for native Hawaiians, by blood, let’s always remember that this was not how the Kingdom of Hawai’i was created or governed. Ever. The Kingdom of Hawai’i was founded by a multi-racial coalition, their first constitution in 1840 declared that all people were “of one blood”, and they were far ahead of their time in establishing civil rights and equality regardless of race.
Moving on to the present, let’s talk about the appeal to fairness that Akaka Bill supporters make. The Akaka Bill is supposedly to bring parity between native Hawaiians and Native Americans. But we never really stop to think about what that really means, so let’s be very clear here. Most people with Native American blood are not part of any tribe. With parity we can expect that most native Hawaiians wouldn’t be in the brand new Akaka Tribe.
There are millions of Native Americans who currently have exactly the same legal rights as citizens of any other race. They do not enjoy any special tribal benefits, nor the many disadvantages that comes with tribal membership. They don’t have any legal claims to ancestral lands, or casino revenue. They live side by side with other Americans, and have no special privileges granted to them simply because of their bloodline.
The Akaka Bill will give incredible powers to just nine people, who will get to select the few lucky native Hawaiians who will be allowed into the Akaka Tribe. If you’re well connected and toe the party line of the nine Akaka Ali’i, becoming “native Hawaiian” will be quick, and easy. If you disagree with the ali’i, or speak out against them for any reason, watch out.
The proposed “Akaka Tribe” will be just that, an arbitrary tribe of specially selected “native Hawaiians”. Having native Hawaiian culture will not be a guarantee for membership in the tribe. Having native Hawaiian blood will not be a guarantee for membership in the tribe. In fact, membership in the tribe one year will not be a guarantee for membership in the tribe the next.
One of the more distressing features of so-called “Indian Law” in the United States is the determination of tribal membership. Because tribal membership is held as the sole province of the tribal leadership, any tribe, for any reason, can expel members from the tribe.
This loss of tribal membership is devastating. People are kicked out of the houses they have lived in for generations. Children are taken away from parents by court proceedings they aren’t even allowed to attend. Allocations of tribal income are revoked.
It’s likely that the DHHL lands will be converted to Akaka Tribe lands, and it is a good bet that those people already living on DHHL lands will have to be very careful about how they treat the nine Akaka Ali’i. Cross the wrong people, and you’ll be kicked out of the tribe and lose your house, and get kicked off of the land your family may have been living on since 1921.
You could compare it to the loss of U.S. citizenship – imagine a world where if you offended a Legislator of the State of Hawai’i, they could revoke your U.S. citizenship, and you could be deported to some country you’ve never even been to. Now, if your leaders could destroy your life that way, would you dare speak out against them? Would you dare vote against them? Would you dare expose corruption, or demand justice? This is what “tribal law” has brought to Native Americans today, and it is exactly what the Akaka Bill will bring to Hawai’i and to native Hawaiians.
Of course, who is and isn’t native Hawaiian wouldn’t be such a poisonous issue if it wasn’t for the disparate treatment being proposed. If everyone is treated equally, then it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself native Hawaiian, or native African, or native American, or native Italian – self identification would be a simple matter of personal preference, unfettered by any legal consequences.
But already, we live in a world where DHHL beneficiaries have to be concerned about not being “Hawaiian” enough. People are forced to consider race when they choose spouses, in order to preserve benefits for their children. Already we live in a world where money taken by OHA must come out of the pockets of people who are not eligible for their programs, and where one drop of blood can make the difference between having a benefit, or not.
The Akaka Bill promises to enshrine this poisonous idea into law, and to exacerbate the pain and suffering caused by the government arbitrarily deciding that some people are better or more deserving than other people, simply because of their race.
The alternative vision for the future, is one where we can simply eliminate race from the equation, and return to the wisdom of the first constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Get rid of all blood quantum measurements, racial classifications, and simply open up OHA programs for anyone in need. End DHHL once and for all by distributing the property to the beneficiaries in fee simple, and allow them to decide for themselves what they want to do with their land and their lives.
Hawai’i has a choice, and all the people of Hawai’i deserve to have a voice in whatever the future holds.
Jere Krischel is a civil rights activist and senior fellow with the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii.