Recent protests by kiaʻi demonstrate issues critical to Native Hawaiians, including questions of governance, preservation of traditional and cultural rights, clashes over land and water, and frustration over the over-exploitation of ancestral lands. Dangerous calls to enact violence against kiaʻi who practice aloha ʻāina symbolizes the worst trauma against our communities, who continually practice compassion and dedication to restoring self-governance.
Conformance to the “rule of law” constitutes the continuing systematic attack on our communities from private-sector mega-projects in the name of ‘conservation.’ Native Hawaiians have been long subject to forced evictions, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention, limitations to the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, stigmatization, and surveillance resulting in the dislocation and removal of kānaka from our cultural practices.
Instead, kiaʻi are actively protecting their constitutional rights to engage in traditional and customary practices. Although some claim that these corporations follow the law, government officials have failed to abide by their public trust duties by taking actions that negatively interfere with Native Hawaiian rights. Although state officials vow to protect public interests, they conveniently choose to ignore their legal obligations to protect monetary interests of corporations at the expense of our kānaka communities.
Kiaʻi have been arrested for engaging in their constitutional right to practice their traditional and customary rights to mālama ʻāina and engage in free speech under the guise of broad and ill-defined charges, such as public disturbance, obstruction of the road and incitement. Despite overwhelming evidence of the safety and order present at these demonstrations, government officials continue with misinformation propaganda to threaten and undermine the credibility of protectors. Yet if preserving infrastructure, safety and technology company profits are the goal, there are a variety of legal tools available to law enforcement. These criminal complaints suspend judicial guarantees and suppress peaceful social protests. Subjecting Native Hawaiians to the criminal justice system adds to the problems our kānaka currently face, including abuses of pre-trial detention that last for several years, lack of access to legal counsel to put on a viable defense, and longer and harsher sentences than our non-Hawaiian counterparts.
The police response to these protests seem disproportionate at best. Our communities are crying for help and for police supervision to be targeted to address growing crime in their districts. However, government officials continue to protect corporations and their projects with rapid, increasingly violent police responses with more and more kiaʻi being arrested. Ironically, although the system has painfully failed Hawaiians, the system appears quick to devote substantial resources into criminalizing them.
In short, these acts of civil disobedience are about long overdue justice for Native Hawaiians. As a community, we are now forced to confront the crisis that our systems continually privilege ‘advancement’ of the Western scientific community, which appears willing to bulldoze any culture to further its material desires. For 125 years we have felt ignored and unable to exercise governance over our own affairs in an oppressive state. Now, we seek to huli the system to fight against these historic injustices faced by our resilience and cultural history in calling for systemic change. We are answering the calls in our naʻau to call for a righteous home. Our community is standing up for itself after decades of poor management of our islands’ natural resources that has prioritized foreign economic interests.
These demonstrations show that another world is possible, another way of being with one another and the earth, grounded in kapu aloha, and that the wisdom of our ancestors is viable and attainable.