Dawn arrived with great gusts, a smattering of chilly rain and streaks of yellow and rose in an otherwise leaden sky. Koko and I were out walking in it, quickly, so I could keep warm, but not so quickly that she couldn’t indulge in the smells that are her primary connection to the world.
As we walked, I reflected on some of the events of the past week, particularly Waldeen Palmeira’s decision to discharge — she couldn’t exactly fire them, as The Garden Island headline proclaimed, since she wasn’t paying for their services — her two attorneys from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., just as a hearing on a motion for an injunction against the DOT’s highway widening project at Wailua was about to begin.
Her announcement stunned everyone — attorneys on both sides, her friends and supporters in the courtroom, folks following the issue and most likely even The Garden Island reporter, of whose presence she was obviously unaware, because she intended to keep her actions private, apparently not realizing that anything that happens in an open courtroom is public.
Blogger Andy Parx wrote a scathing assessment of her decision, in which he chastised Waldeen for forgetting that even though she was the plaintiff, the case was not about her, but a place, and an issue, with tremendous significance to the community.
I despaired — for Waldeen, who has been experiencing great grief and stress; for Alan Murakami and David Kimo Frankel, who were being publicly repudiated after expending tremendous effort to prepare for the hearing; for the future of the case, since very few lawyers are willing to take cases that involve Hawaiian cultural issues and burials, especially when there’s no money in it; and for the Wailua area, whose cultural significance was so beautifully articulated by Kehau Kekua and Aikane Alapai on one of my recent KKCR radio shows. (Mahalo to Angus and Laura Christine for getting it into the archives.)
But I also felt angry, because the whole situation reflects the ugly legacy of colonialism that continues to undermine the Hawaiian people and their culture. Waldeen reportedly was motivated in large part to sever her relationship with NHLC because she felt she couldn’t trust the organization or the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, whose compliance officer, Kai Markell, was scheduled to testify as an expert witness.
Because OHA was created by the state and receives money from the state — albeit revenues generated by the state’s leasing of the so-called “ceded lands” that comprise the Hawaiian nation’s land base — and because NHLC receives funding from OHA and the state Judiciary, among other sources, both organizations are considered by some to be instruments, pawns, of the state, and so are suspect.
I’ve heard that sentiment expressed numerous times, including on my KKCR shows that featured NHLC attorneys. In one, a caller criticized NHLC for “playing the state’s game” in its efforts to protect burials, and in another, a caller said NHLC and OHA were “wasting their time” dealing with the state when it’s an illegitimate entity.
In the broader context of things, that’s true. If you happen to believe, as I and others do, that the Kingdom of Hawaii was unlawfully overthrown, its crown lands were stolen and the Islands are now illegally occupied by the United States, then yes, the state is an illegitimate entity.
But unfortunately, it currently holds all the power, and to think that one can sidestep its legal and political processes, reject the paltry proceeds proffered from its stolen coffers, and somehow prevail, is unrealistic. I have talked with attorneys who have seen people come into court claiming they are exempt from the long arm of Western law because they are Hawaiian nationals, or who refuse to even enter the courtroom for the same reason, and they’ve seen these same people fined and sent to jail.
Even though the groups working to establish independence and sovereignty believe in their own legitimacy, and I do not disagree, the fact is, the state doesn't recognize them at all. We all saw what the county and state thought of the Kingdom of Attooi’s authority when it arrested Dayne Aipoalani and Robert Pa for impersonating police officers after they flashed their Kingdom badges at the Superferry protests.
Even the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, in trying to gain international recognition, has been going through the painstaking process of working through the Western court system, starting with a District Court on Maui.
I heard Prime Minister Henry Noa on the radio a while ago being asked about the Naue burials case, and what the Nation could do about it. He replied essentially nothing, because they have no authority to take down the house. And when a caller asked what the Kingdom of Attooi was planning to do about it, Robert Pa gave pretty much the same answer.
Yet people criticize NHLC, which has devoted countless hours to the Naue case, as well as other issues involving Hawaiian Homesteads and water rights, for being an instrument of the state, playing by their rules, when they are the only organization mounting any sort of a meaningful challenge in many crucial issues.
NHLC attorney Camille Kalama responded to one of the critical KKCR callers by saying that while she is looking to and working toward the day when the Hawaiian nation is again independent, she is meanwhile doing all in her power to prevent further losses of its land, resources and culture, and for her that means participating in the Western legal system.
Aside from revolution, what other options are there when an occupier has claimed a nation’s lands and resources?
That’s what colonialism does. It forces the oppressed to play by rules skewed wildly in favor of the oppressor, and it divides, with an eye to maintaining its dominance, the people it is oppressing.
So in the end, they often keep on losing, which is what happened in court on Tuesday when Waldeen discharged the NHLC.