As a Native Hawaiian, I, like many others in my community, encounter from time to time, challenges to my identity, my place and my aspirations in the land of my ancestors: a place where I am now part of a minority. And so it was that I found myself bristling recently when asked by a non-Hawaiian to explain why Hawaiians are so vigilant and so passionate and why they think the world owes them something.
The gall of the question is breathtaking on so many levels. But I would like to get past my sense of injury at the ill-mannered question to offer some counsel for the new year.
To those who would question the Native Hawaiian quest for sovereignty, I suggest a history lesson might be in order. The imprisonment of our beloved Queen Liliu‘okalani in her own palace by a group of American businessmen led by Sanford Dole, with the support of the American Minister in Hawai‘i, John L. Stevens, is a story that still burns in our hearts and our memories. The illegal annexation of Hawai‘i soon followed. This is not some uncertain event that is lost in the distant past, even if it barely gets passing mention in most American schools.
I grew up with a very clear sense of the magnitude of the injury that was done to my people. We have kupuna still with us who can tell stories of that time. Being dispossessed is a wound that does not heal quickly, if it heals at all.
But that was 1898 and this is 2019. So what do we do to right history’s wrongs?
We remain vigilant, passionate and we take steps to secure our children’s future. We may not be able to entirely undo what has happened and we must be practical about what we can accomplish in the world we live in today.
As the years passed, our once self–sufficient island where we knew how to manage the land in ways that sustained our people, became more and more drawn into serving the market economy of the United States. That has bred a dependence and created a vulnerability that did not exist before. Our ancestors understood and practiced sustainability long before it became a buzzword for our times. So much of what is promoted in the media today with regard to reclaiming past agricultural practices and ways of living in community are values that are fundamental to the Hawaiian culture. The rest of the U.S. is just beginning to catch on to what our kupuna knew and practiced.
So, yes, we Native Hawaiians are vigilant. Yes, we Native Hawaiians are passionate. But acting as if the world owes us something? I think not. Though I fear we sometimes might convey that impression when we allow angry rhetoric to get in the way of constructive plans and programs to build a better world for our children.
As an OHA trustee—and as a proud culture-bearer for my community—I pledge to redouble my efforts to help realize the Queen’s hopes for the well being of her people. We must do more to improve the health of Native Hawaiians, increase business and educational opportunities, foster energy independence, address homelessness and other social ills that are keeping us from realizing our full potential. I hope we at OHA will do more to address these challenges in the year ahead. These efforts will help secure our economic sovereignty.
And if watching us address these challenges moves anyone to remark on our vigilance and our passion, that will be a good thing indeed.