NOTE: This piece was originally presented at a forum on Indigenous sovereignty and Hawaiian Sovereignty Restoration Day at the Party for Socialism and Liberation branch office in Albuquerque, NM on Friday, July 31.
by David Uahikeaikaleiʻohu Maile
I want to begin by telling you that today is a Hawaiian national holiday. It’s a day of celebration. So, I think its best to explain what the celebration is all about. Today is known as Hawaiian Sovereignty Restoration Day. Ma ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in Hawaiian language, today is called Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea. Lā, meaning day. Ho‘i, which is repeated for emphasis “ho‘iho‘i,” meaning to return or restore. Ea, meaning life, land, and sovereignty.
Now, with this translation in mind, it should be clear that I’m not going to be discussing patronizing notions of Hawai‘i as the 50th state, which representations in the television show “Hawai‘i 5-0” or the new film simply titled “Aloha” might have you believe. This is not an invitation to reminisce on touristic fantasies about paradise. And certainly, I will not be teaching you about some romanticized tradition used by my ancestors for your spiritual restoration. Instead, I will focus on Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea as a Hawaiian national celebration in order to map out what Indigenous sovereignty looks and feels like in ongoing struggles with racism, settler colonialism, and capitalism.
Admittedly, I am not a Hawaiian historian. Nor am I interested in debating the accuracy of historical narratives. I am much more concerned with informing and sparking discussion regarding Indigenous sovereignty, nationalism, and radical coalition building for decolonial futures. This is a kuleana or responsibility that was given to me, and I feel it in my bones, in each breath I take. Being open about one’s position is an integral responsibility to a genealogy or mo‘okū‘auhau. In 1897, C.B. Maile, my great-great grandfather was one of the many po‘e aloha ‘āina—which translates as “people who love their land” but also stands for “Hawaiian patriots”—who signed anti-annexation petitions that were eventually given to the U.S. Senate as evidence suggesting Hawaiians didn’t want to be American. After senators debated the treaty of annexation, these written protests of 1897—conventionally called the Kū‘ē petitions—compelled senators to vote down the treaty of annexation. Despite successful efforts to resist U.S. annexation, Congress passed a Joint Resolution called the Newlands Resolution making Hawai‘i a territory and folding the Hawaiian Nation into the U.S. albeit under illegal jurisdiction.
At face value, this might appear simple and clean-cut. Yet, U.S. constitutional law suggests Congress is unable to annex a foreign nation with the passing of a Joint Resolution. Simpy put, Congress doesn’t have the power to take sovereignty away from an independent nation or country. In order to legally perform that manuever, a treaty, with the consent of both nations is required. And, since my great-great grandfather and others successfully demonstrated their lack of consent, a treaty of annexation doesn’t exist. Thus, what the U.S. did is called an “illegal annexation,” which allowed the formation of the current “fake-state” of Hawai‘i.
It is because of C.B. Maile’s courageous actions, and the work of my great-great grandmother Ko‘olau who published poetry celebrating Hawaiians attempting two rebellions against the white supremacist U.S. military-backed provisional government in 1889 and the Republic of Hawai‘i in 1895, that I am able to speak tonight about Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea. To begin, I’ll be providing a political trajectory of Hawaiian Sovereignty Restoration Day. Then, I’ll showcase the ongoing struggle at the sacred mountain Mauna a Wākea for how organizing to protect it from desecration and desctruction at the hands of the Thirty Meter Telescope articulates sovereignty. And finally, I will conclude by reconsidering the politics of restoration.
It was 1843, and the British consul to Hawai‘i Richard Charleton became invovled in a dispute with Ali‘i or chiefs over a small house lot provided to him in Honolulu. Against the wishes of the Ali‘i and their laws, Charleton expanded the physical structure of the home, and he was charged to pay easement, break down the expansion, or demolish the entire home. So, Charleton sent word to Lord George Paulet, a commander of a British warship. On February 10, 1843, Paulet travels to Honolulu and moors his warship to investigate Charleton’s claims of unfair treatment over land ownership “rights.” He then demands to King Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli, that (1) Charleton be given “rights” over his alleged lands; (2) all British citizens in Hawai‘i should only be judged by British law; and (3) Charleton should receive $100,000 as a form of indemnity payment. Paulet specifically stated “if my demands are not met, I will be obliged to take coercive steps to obtain [the] measures for my countrymen,” suggesting that failure to comply by Kauikeaouli would result in the leveling of Honolulu harbor with canon fire and war with the Hawaiian Kingdom.
This wasn’t the first time the Hawaiian Kingdom was threatened by war with a foreign power, especially one from Europe. On July 10, 1839, a French captain by the name of Cyrille Laplace sailed to Hawai‘i with orders from the French government to investigate the treatment of French Catholics by Protestant missionaries sent to “civilize” the “heathenistic” Hawaiians. Earlier in 1839, French priests of the Roman Catholic Church attempted to establish a mission. Anti-Catholic Calvinist missionaries opposed their presence and managed to push the priests and their mission out of Hawai‘i. Laplace, thus, demanded French priests be allowed to establish a mission, be given a land grant for their mission, and be paid $20,000. With Kauikeaouli away, the Kuhina Nui Kekāuluohi agreed to all of the demands in order to stave off war. So, in 1843, the Hawaiian Kingdom was pretty familiar with diplomacy under threat of war by a “Great Power.”
After Paulet made his initial demands, Kauikeaouli smartly informed the commander that he’d sent an official of the Kingdom, Sir George Simpson, to settle this affair with Queen Victoria in England under the basis that Paulet’s demands were “contravening the law established for the benefit of all.” But, upon receiving threats to decimate Honolulu harbor and harm Hawaiians and their citizens, Kauikeaouli reluctantly ceded sovereignty of Hawai‘i to Paulet under written protest to Queen Victoria. The protest called on Britain to “e ho‘iho‘i mai i ke ea o ka ‘āina” to return the sovereignty of the land. The British government quickly disavowed Paulet’s actions, and the protest was forwarded to Admiral Richard Thomas who sailed from Chile to Hawai‘i on July 26 to reprimand Paulet and restore Hawaiian sovereignty to the Kingdom. On July 31, after 5-months of British occupation by Paulet, Thomas declared Hawai‘i free and returned sovereign power to Kauikeaouli and the Kingdom. As a result, that day was declared a national holiday and celebration, and it was named Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea.
It was also on that day in 1843 that Kauikeaouli announced “ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono,” which means the “the sovereignty of the land has been continued because it is pono [right or just].” This became Kauikeaoli and the Kingdom’s motto, especially as later that year the Hawaiian nation became recognized through a joint declaration by Great Britain and France as a sovereign independent nation-state and member of the family of nations on November 28. This day is another Hawaiian national holiday called Lā Kū‘oko‘a or Hawaiian Independence Day. Ironically though, when Hawai‘i was wrongly incorporated as a state in 1959, the State of Hawai‘i appropriated this motto for itself. Let me be clearer, this motto celebrates Hawaiian national sovereignty, particularly after it was restored and recognized in 1843, but it is declared the motto of the State of Hawai‘i, which is under the alleged sovereign power of the U.S. nation. In this instance, we see how sovereignty and nationalism collide under settler colonial recognition.
In another contradictory example, President Bill Clinton signed U.S. Public Law 103-150, that is colloquially known as the Apology Resolution which, “Acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i [on January 17, 1893] occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the U.S. and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the U.S. their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands.” Yet, this resolution also contends, “Nothing in this Joint Resolution is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the U.S.” While the U.S. federal government acknowledges and apologizes for illegally overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom, its recognition of Hawaiian sovereignty then and now maintains a precariousness and anxiousness in its sanctioned regime of power. “We recognize we’ve done wrong,” they say. Accepting such recognition means acquiescing or consenting to the power of another and subverting one’s own control of what constitutes “wrong.” For example, the Department of Interior’s Advanced Notice for Proposed Rule Making hopes to recognize a Hawaiian government, but any potential consent to federal recognition would subordinate self-recognition of the Hawaiian Nation. And, that doesn’t sound like self-determination to me. The policies and politics proffered by settler colonial states, from the U.S. to Canada to Australia and elsewhere, to recognize Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty are always unequal and unfair exchanges of power.
Therefore, even in the landscape of Hawai‘i’s sovereignty being restored and recognized, Hawai‘i is illegally occupied by the U.S, especially vis-à-vis militarization. Its military command of the Pacific called PACOM is stationed there. One fifth, about 300,000 personnel, of the U.S.’s active-duty military force is stationed at the U.S. Pacific Command. Along with veterans living in Hawai‘i, the military population present in Hawai‘i accounts for approximately twenty percent of the entire population. I imagine, also, that this number is much higher now since those estimates in 2008. Although Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea is a day to celebrate Hawaiian sovereignty, the restoration and recognition in 1843 requires us to sincerely link and examine the ways de-occupation, de-colonization, and anti-capitalist movements by Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and our allies continuously fight against racism, settler colonialism, and capitalist development.
In specific, the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the white supremacist U.S. military-backed oligarchy in 1893 opened the door for the military industrial complex as well as capitalist developments that dispossess Hawaiians of our ‘āina or land and eliminate us through displacement from ancestral lands and by genocide. As a result of imperialism, westernization, and Americanization from 1778 to 1900, the Hawaiian population decreased dramatically from 800,000 to a mere 40,000; a rate of ninety-five percent. Now, settler colonial dispossession and elimination is much more subtle, being facilitated through the settler colonial state in racist legislation, militourism, criminalization, and also astronomy industry development. Enter the struggle over the sacred mountain Mauna a Wākea from desecration and destruction at the hands of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).
The construction of TMT is led by the Thirty Meter International Observatory LLC (TIO), which is financially backed by international astronomy organizations from Japan, China, India, Canada, and the U.S. Their support contributes to approximately $1.4 billion in research and development funds. It is also supported by various institutions of Hawai‘i’s settler state, including the University of Hawai‘i, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and previously the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The TMT proposes to be an 18-story high industrial telescope complex that would extend 20 feet down into the sacred piko or navel at Mauna a Wākea and span more than eight acres at the mountain’s northern summit. In 1986, the University was granted a lease by the state to build “an observatory” on Mauna Kea. Today, there are thirteen telescopes on this mountain. With the University leasing the land for almost nothing, the TMT is proposed to be next, and it would be the second largest in the world. The construction of TMT violates state laws to protect conservation districts and appropriately survey environmental impacts. It would adversely affect the maintenance of natural resources in Hawai‘i. And, its development infringes upon the Indigenous rights of Kānaka Maoli, particular related to gathering rights and religious freedom rights.
The mountain is a sacred temple, a burial ground for our ancestors, and its northern summit is the wao akua (realm of the gods) that links Papahānaumoku (Earth Mother) to Wākea (Sky Father). One mo‘olelo or story explains how Poliahu, the snow goddess of the mountain, was once pursued by the god Kū in his form of Kūkahau‘ula, which means Kū of the red-tinted snow. In the story, Kūkahau‘ula is thwarted in his pursuits because his manifestation is the rising sun and Poliahu’s frost, snow, and freezing rain stops him. When Kūkahau‘ula finally does embrace Poliahu, her heart melts along with the snow on Mauna a Wākea. This mo‘olelo’s hidden meaning or kaona also explains the end of the ice age, according to Hawaiian espitemologies and literary traditions.
Yet, on October 7, 2014, the TMT met for a groundbreaking ceremony to initialize construction at this sacred mountain. Thankfully, it was interrupted and stopped by Kanaka Maoli protectors that refused the desecration and destruction. In March of this year, construction crews transported large equipment and machinery to the northern plateau of Mauna a Wākea to begin development of the TMT. While thirty-one were arrested, protectors calling themselves the Kia‘i Mauna (guardians of the mountain) halted construction by blockading the only access road on April 2. After holding the blockade steadfast and maintaining a non-violent spiritual vigil under the premise of Kapu Aloha, construction crews made another attempt with help from Hawai‘i county police officers and the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement. So, on June 24, hundreds of protectors lined the access road to the northern plateau of Mauna a Wākea to block any construction. Despite having eleven Kia‘i Mauna arrested, they were again successful in stopping any development from occurring.
At the heart of this defense, as explained by protectors Kaho‘okahi Kanuha and Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, is the idea of Aloha ‘Āina ‘Oia‘i‘o. According to Ka‘eo, this translates to a genuine love of land that relies upon truth. Given the historical records related to restoration and recognition of the Hawaiian Nation’s unextinguished sovereignty, Ka‘eo says, “No consent. No treaty. No title. No TMT.” This nationalist critique claims the telescope has no right to be built because of jurisdictional violations under Hawaiian Kingdom law. The logic goes, if Hawaiian sovereignty has never been relinquished and Hawai‘i has been illegally occupied by the U.S. since 1893, then international laws dictate the TMT doesn’t have a legal right to be built.
On top of this critique, there is a criticism, which I’ve written about elsewhere, that the TMT produces capitalist-colonialist violence. Simply put, through discourses about science and progress, the construction of TMT is justified in racist, imperialist, colonialist, and militarist ideologies that sanction capitalist development of Mauna a Wākea for the astronomy industry through settler colonization. The protectors know this. They are incarcerated and criminalized for their resistance to this. But, in standing strong in Aloha ‘Āina ‘Oia‘i‘o, resistance to the TMT expresses Hawaiian sovereignty. That stance and its resistance to marginalization articulate national sovereignty. It conveys a political autonomy over land and natural resources. It marks a kind of sovereignty, more appropriately called ea, that exists exterior to the apparatuses of the state. On June 24, after being released from police custody, Kaleikoa Ka‘eo told reporters asking about the actions taken by Kia‘i Mauna to stop TMT construction that “this is nation building.”
From Mauna a Wākea to Haleakalā to Oak Flat and other Indigenous peoples’ sacred places, Native liberation movements that antagonize racism, colonialism, and capitalism reflect Indigenous sovereignty. It is the reflection of a self-determining right and authority to oppose the imposition of physical and psychic violence. In particular then, I find myself curious about the politics of restoration.
As I’ve demonstrated, Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea is a celebration of national sovereignty and independence for Hawai‘i. Today is a day that is celebrated across the Hawaiian islands with ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, educational speeches, workshops, oli (chants), mele (song), hula, activism and much more, especially as this holiday was banned for some time. Yet, my mind still returns to curiosities about the idea of restoration. To restore means to bring back into existence, into use or to bring back to a former, original condition. In a way, it reminds me of recognition. So, I wonder what self-determination looks like when power is centrally located in the ability to take-away and restore sovereignty? What happens when we consider restoration through law or recognition through declarations and treaties more important than sovereignty itself? Is sovereignty, then, held through legal power only? The complexity of sovereignty demands that we sincerely rethink what Indigenous sovereignty looks and feels like.
This is especially true considering the ways that international law restored Hawaiian sovereignty and U.S. constitutional law recognizes Hawaiian sovereignty, yet my people are still disenfranchised through laws that are more concerned with protecting the rights of corporations, institutions, and the state rather than our Lāhui (nation or people). It was just last night that Maui County Police arrested twenty protectors that asserted their sovereign rights and successfully halted construction crews working on the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on another sacred mountain called Haleakalā. It was just this morning when the police from the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement quietly snuck up Mauna a Wākea under the cover of darkness to arrest seven more Kia‘i Mauna.
When will we learn that an overreliance on the legal powers of restoration and recognition should not supersede our Indigenous sovereignty? This means that sovereignty isn’t solely mediated through international or U.S. law. It’s also embodied. It is felt. It is asserted through true love and care of the land, in Aloha ‘Āina ‘Oia‘i‘o. It is a refusal of American citizenship. It is a resurgence against capitalist-colonialist violence. A rejection of astronomy industry development at Mauna a Wākea and at large. The politics of restoration, like celebrating Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea, should be about ea, claiming life through our political autonomy and our land. The protection of Mauna a Wākea illustrates this. We will continue to rise, until the very last po‘e aloha ‘āina is left standing. It is as Kanaka Maoli scholar Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua says, “Like breathing, the work of ea will continue on and on.”