As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, with America noisily celebrating itself as the supposed “land of the free and home of the brave,” it’s easy to forget about the indigenous people who were deprived of their land so the U.S could make a nation.
But yesterday, that issue came again to the forefront when several members of the Reinstated Government of Hawaii were sentenced for “camping without a permit” for sleeping overnight on so-called "ceded lands" at Salt Pond Beach Park while holding their national elections. They pled no contest, and Judge Trudy Senda required them to pay $10 fines after listening intently, and apparently with interest, to their statement (emphasis in the original):
I stand before this Court as an indigenous person in Hawai`i, found guilty of sleeping on my ancestral land without getting a permit from the government that occupies us. By now it is well known, even to this prosecutor, that the land and the very sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawai`i was stolen from my ancestors a little over one hundred years ago. Normally after such a crime we would expect an apology and restitution. But those normal expectations have only been half met. The United States has apologized for stealing our land, and they have promised to return both land and sovereignty.
But I stand before you today not having land returned to me, but being fined for simply sleeping on our land that has not been returned yet. How can this be consistent with that apology? How can the prosecutor actually ask you to make me pay the State of Hawai`i, when even the State has apologized for taking our land and has promised to return the same? I’m sure the State feels generous in asking that we only pay $10 fines. I want to say on record that there is nothing generous about fining indigenous peoples for sleeping in occupied territory without asking permission of the occupying forces.
Also, Your Honor, I want you to know that we were not just fooling around at Salt Pond that day. We were engaged in organizing our Nation, conducting citizenship drives and voting for our elected officials in our indigenous Nation, the Reinstated Hawaiian Kingdom. In December of last year, President Obama signed a Declaration of the United Nations, further promising rights to indigenous peoples such as myself. This United Nations Declaration is now the law of the international community and the United States. The Declaration says, and I quote,
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities."
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.
In closing, I have pled no contest to these charges because I cannot afford to contest them, and for no other reason. This prosecution, however small, is just one more violation of our rights as indigenous people, and one more example of law enforcement’s reluctance to give real meaning to what your government promises and promises, but never delivers. Thank you.