If you keep up with E Hana Kakou, the Grassroot Institute’s regular program on ThinkTech Hawaii, you may have seen the recent interview with Leon Siu, a well-known Native Hawaiian Sovereignty activist. As a general primer on the Sovereignty Movement and what it stands for, this video is a good introduction to the topic. The issue is, after all, a complex one that is somewhat beset with myth and misinformation, and Mr. Siu does a great job of clearing that away.
What is truly intriguing, however, is a discussion that comes up towards the end of the program (embedded below). It directly addresses a question that might have occurred to you on reading the very first sentence of this article: Why is the Grassroot Institute sharing time with the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement? After all, our opposition to the various state nation-building efforts (e.g. the Akaka Bill, the Native Hawaiian Roll, etc.) is one of the Institute’s core principles. The strange and unexpected answer? We actually share some important common goals with the Sovereignty activists.
First, a clarification. There are really two different categories that can be used to describe current efforts to advocate for Native Hawaiian sovereignty. First, there are the efforts by the state and federal government to create a semi-autonomous Native Hawaiian nation. This category includes the Akaka Bill, the Native Hawaiian Roll, possible action from the Department of the Interior, and any similar government action to create a tribal entity for Native Hawaiians. This is what the Grassroot Institute has been advocating against since its inception. In recent months, we have begun to refer to it as the “nation-building process” in order to differentiate it from the other category of sovereignty action.
That second category (of which Leon Siu is a representative) refers to the Native Hawaiian activists who reject the authority of the state and federal government and affirm the continued sovereignty of the Hawaiian kingdom. Made up of a number of groups, it is not a monolithic entity, but they do share a desire to see the recognition of a sovereign Hawaiian nation. For this reason, it is most accurate to call them the Hawaiian Independence Activists.
What you may not have realized is that they also agree with the Grassroot Institute when it comes to the state nation-building process. In fact, they explicitly reject government efforts to create a Native Hawaiian tribal entity. As Leon Siu explains, they are opposed to the Roll, the actions of the Department of the Interior, and similar initiatives–for them such efforts represent a step backwards, an acknowledgement of an authority that they have previously disputed.
The result is interesting and unexpected common ground. OHA and its supporters would like to ignore the objections of the Independence Activists and have tried to play down the movement’s reach, popularity, and influence. However, those who were able to attend the DOI hearings this summer know how far this is from the truth. There was overwhelming opposition to federal involvement in the nation-building process, and the Independence movement was part of it. The fact that the Independence Activists continue to urge the state to stop or delay the ‘Aha, take issue with the Native Hawaiian Roll, and generally oppose efforts to create a tribe expose the mendacity of the claim that these things are, “what the Native Hawaiian people want.”
So where does this leave those of us who oppose the nation-building process, but do not agree with the aims or political beliefs of the Independence Activists? With some interesting new friends.
From the perspective of someone who champions liberty in general (and civil liberties in particular), one of the greatest compliments we can pay to activists like Mr. Siu is that they are not really asking anything of us. They are actively opposing expansion of the federal and state government. They have serious questions about the way that state funds are being spent. And their movement operates outside of federal and state action. If you believe in the principle of free speech, then you will passionately defend their right to advocate for any position they wish (regardless of your own opinion of it). But there’s more to it than just free speech rights. Here, we can be grateful for what the Independence movement has added to the debate. The Grassroot Institute does not embrace the aims of the movement or share its historical perspective. But we would be foolish not to recognize our common ground and appreciate what it contributes to the dialogue about the future of Native Hawaiians.