By Kourtney Christen Kealohalani Kawano
On Jan. 3, 2021, members of the U.S. Congress welcomed Sen. Kaialiʻi Kahele into their ranks when he and other newly elected members were sworn in at the U.S. Capitol. As the second Native Hawaiian congressional member since 1959, Sen. Kahele spoke about supporting kūpuna and keiki alike, and the dire need for Americans to see beyond the political strife that flourished throughout the 2020 election cycle.
Little did Sen. Kahele know of the great strife that Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, would bring just three days later.
That day, as the ua poured down outside my home in Hilo, I stared at my computer and watched a massive breaching of the U.S. Capitol by extreme supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump as the results of the 2020 Presidential Election were to be certified in favor of President Joseph Biden, Jr. and just one day after Georgia elected its first Black senator.
As a Kānaka and Indigenous woman, I am not surprised that capitol law enforcement demonstrated restraint against these rioters.
From the safety of my home almost 5,000 miles away from Washington D.C., even I could see that the majority of these extremists were white. These anarchists were not met immediately with armed military officers; no, that warm welcome is apparently reserved exclusively for our Black and Brown relatives who truly understand the meaning of peaceful protesting.
In reflecting upon the aftermath of January 6, and Trump’s subsequent second impeachment by the U.S. House for inciting the riot at the Capitol, I pondered what these two events mean for our lāhui in this new decade.
I believe Kānaka must recognize the irony in witnessing the descent into chaos of the very institution that oppressed our ancestors’ right to self-governance.
Are we to believe that Indigenous Peoples were the savages all along?
Native protestors during the Black Lives Matter movement did not storm the Senate chambers or loot historical artifacts.
And Queen Liliʻiuokalani never encouraged her constituents to engage in violence during the American insurrection against her Kingdom. A true leader, dedicated to the wellbeing of her people, Liliʻiuokalani advocated for peace, knowing that Hawaiians are a resilient nation that can collectively resist oppression.
While I am doubtful that America will achieve racial equity under a White presidential administration, I believe these two contemporary events provide the impetus for Kānaka to realize the wisdom that exists within our lāhui in the pursuit of social justice.
These modern examples of the failure of American “democracy” and “egalitarianism” can be used as motivation to reimagine an aupuni (government) that foregrounds our sovereignty and empowers Kānaka instead. Let us enact our political agency and awaken to the reality of who the savages really are: the “Trumps” of the world who falsely associate whiteness with power. Let us find the courage to unite with other communities of color who reject notions of inferiority. And let us experience continued success in disrupting colonialism, inspiring our ʻöpio, and honoring our ancestors through our resistance.
Kourtney Kawano is a Native Hawaiian graduate student at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies in the social sciences and comparative education division. She received her B.A. in government and religious studies from Dartmouth College in June 2018 and previously taught at Keaʻau High School on Hawaiʻi Island.