A light rain had just passed and Makaleha was cast in a pale pink glow when the dogs and I set out toward the place where the sun was getting rosy on the horizon. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, only that it was makai.
We followed a rainbow and ended up on the thick sands of Kauapea, the beach so wide that in places I could sit and not even see the sea, making it feel almost like I was in a desert landscape. Since it’s Memorial Day, I thought of all the warriors who had been killed in that place — the site of many horrific battles in days of old, or so I’ve been told — and of all the death that humans have meted out to one another for what somebody thought was a worthy cause, a good enough reason.
And that made me think of my friend Kaimi, who stopped by last night after spending the past two weeks in New York. He, and a few other denizens of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi (PKOA) were attending a World Indigenous Persons conference at the United Nations.
There were plenty of sad stories to be told and heard, and he recounted some of them: gang rapes, disappeared relatives, orphaned children soldiers, immigrants gunned down at the U.S.-Mexico border, rocket attacks in Gaza — the experiences of indigenous people who had survived, and sometimes still lived with, intense violence. It provided a sobering global context for the struggle that kanaka maoli face in regaining their nation, living with an occupation.
“At least we’re not getting bombed,” he said.
We were silent, as that fortunate reality sank in fully. He broke it with the heartfelt utterance of a question that bears repeated asking: “Why does there even have to be war?”
He was carrying a passport — the result of a friendship forged with a Cherokee man on an earlier visit to the UN — issued to him by the United Nations of Turtle Island as a diplomat with the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi.
“I used it at the airport, on my way back from New York,” he reported. “The TSA guy who checks your ID got all excited. He was like, ‘OMG, does this mean you guys finally broke away from the United States?’”
Which gave Kaimi an opportunity to explain that the Hawaiian Kingdom never was part of the U.S. because it was illegally overthrown and annexed. The agent called over his supervisor and co-workers, showing them the passport and saying, “We’re going to be seeing more of these now.”
Kaimi said the PKOA has been forming treaties with other nations, gaining recognition, making international connections. On this visit, they reportedly even forged an alliance with some folks who want to help fund efforts to grow jatropha, a plant used in biofuel production, rather than GMO crops on the Westside.
While not everyone they encountered knew about Alii Nui Dayne Aipoalani, they were all familiar with what had happened to the indigenous people of Hawaii. And while different indigenous groups were pressing different issues, Kaimi said a common theme ran through: "Ask permission, and give them the right to practice their own spirituality.”
Those representing the PKOA weren’t the only kanaka in attendance. Kaimi said they also ran into some who were advocating “nationhood OHA-style, for Hawaiian-Americans,” as well as others who were presenting themselves as someone, or something, they were not.
“It’s not just our nation that has this going on,” Kaimi said. As he surveyed the crowds attending the sessions, listened to representatives from nations large and small, heard stories of indigenous movements co-opted by governments, corporations, infighting, greed, he found himself scrutinizing.
"It's the hardest thing, you know, figuring out, who is the faker? And who is the real group?"