“So is this the year the Hawaiians get their land claims settled?” I asked a friend recently during one of those conversations on what the New Year might bring. “Or is this the year they get totally f*****?”
I was referring, of course, to the State of Hawaii’s attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the state Supreme Court’s moratorium on sales of the so-called “ceded lands” that were seized during America’s illegal overthrow of the monarchy.
“They’ll get their land claims settled and then they’ll be totally f*****,” he said, referring, of course, to the Akaka Bill, which proposes to make things right with the Hawaiians by placing them under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior and extinguishing forever any claim to independence.
We aren’t the only ones worried that the Akaka Bill, which has taken various incarnations since it was first introduced back in 2000, will again be aggressively pushed forward in an attempt to stave off the state’s blatant land grab.
Driven by that sense of urgency, Akaka Bill supporters will trot out the tired colonial reasoning that something is better than nothing, which is what the kanaka maoli will get if the Supremes rule in favor of the state. And unfortunately, that’s not an unlikely scenario, given that a majority of the Justices don’t appear to much care about justice.
And now we’re presented with yet another scenario as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Senate leaders reveal plans to introduce legislation aimed at heading Gov. Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett off at the pass. According to an article in today’s Star-Bulletin:
"We continue to believe that the justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled correctly, and this bill is the legislative vehicle to implement the decision," OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said.
Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said he is also considering similar legislation and expects support from other legislative leaders.
"The Senate president (Colleen Hanabusa) is also going to have a proposal; we will hold a hearing and then, if there is support, consolidate the ideas into one bill," Hee said.
The proposal, Apoliona said, would prevent the sale of the ceded lands, but it would not stop the state from transferring ceded lands between state agencies or stop the state from leasing ceded lands.
The prospect of such legislation is intriguing. For starters, it’s a major political slap down of the Lingle-Bennett team, which has taken the eye-popping position in its U.S. Supreme Court filings that the Hawaiians have no land claim at all.
While that stance may play well with such Hawaiian-haters as Ken Conklin and the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii, it’s pretty obvious that most folks believe the kanaka are entitled to at least something, as evidenced by support for creating OHA during the last Con-Con.
Passage of such a bill also would serve to further ostracize Lingle, thus undermining her dreams of attaining higher office, and indicate that the Lege would be unlikely to approve Bennett should Lingle (shudder) nominate him for a seat on the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Most important, it would prevent the state from selling off the so-called “ceded lands,” which comprise the land base of a sovereign Hawaiian nation, until the nation’s claims can be properly settled.
It’s clear that the Hawaiians do have legitimate claims. For starters, there’s the 1993 Apology Resolution, which recognized that the Hawaiians never relinquished their claim to sovereignty and acknowledged America’s wrongdoing in the overthrow.
But the Apology Resolution isn’t the only indication that the federal government recognizes Hawaiian land claims. When the Navy gave up Kahoolawe, which it had abused for decades as a bombing target, it specified that the state should hold the land in trust until it can be returned to a Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.
Now, if the feds didn’t believe the Hawaiians had any claim to sovereignty or land, they would have just given Kahoolawe to the state, as Lingle guys claim the "ceded lands" were given to the state under the Admissions Act. Instead, you’ve got the Navy — an armed enforcer of American policy — telling the state, “Kahoolawe isn’t yours, it belongs to the Hawaiians.”
And if the state has always maintained, as Lingle-Bennett also contend, that the Hawaiians have no legitimate land claims, why did it agree to hold Kahoolawe in trust until it could be returned to a sovereign Hawaiian entity?
On the upside, Lingle-Bennett’s attempt to ace Hawaiians out of their land could serve as a much-needed catalyst for the sovereignty movement. As The Hawaii Independent recently reported, a forum on the Supreme Court case drew a packed house and prompted a heated debate.
Interestingly, during that session Bennett asserted:
“The Hawaiian people have a moral claim to the land, but not a legal one,” Mr. Bennett said. “These decisions are committed to the discretion of Congress, whether or not it is immoral.”
That statement made me wonder what kind of a man would energetically argue an immoral position, especially when the stakes are so very high.
The article also quotes Andre Perez, an independence activist who is facing trespassing charges for a protest at the Naue burila site, as saying:
“…for those actively seeking justice, Mr. Bennett is a dead end.”
“Don’t waste your time with this forum,” he said. ”We need to come together. We can put down our differences and gain power. We can build a lahui and get back to a nation.”
To that end, 10 groups have come together as the Hawaiian Independence Alliance. And longtime sovereignty activist Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell is currently gathering signatures on a letter asking Obama “to immediately instate a moratorium on the Akaka Bill in the U.S. Congress.”
Things are clearly coming to a head. Less clear is whether justice or immorality will ultimately prevail.