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The upside-down flag of Hawaii, which was the flag of the Kingdom as well as the State, symbolizes a "nation in distress" and is a common sight in the islands today...
State Flag Inverted


A Second Glance

Guest essay by Poka Laenui (Hayden F. Burgess)

Remember Statehood Day 1959? Celebration swept through these islands on news of our joining the union of States of the U.S.A. Communities lit bon fires, neighborhoods held impromptu dances, cars blared their horns and people walked the streets with broad grins and greetings, seeing themselves as full-fledged Americans. Hawai`i Democrats and Republicans were together in the quest for Hawaiian Statehood. Hawai`i's media were in full support as well. Opposition voices were silent.

One decade later, the modern native Hawaiian rights movement emerged through issues raised over Kalama Valley evictions, Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawai`i, and the outrage over the Kaho`olawe bombings. Another decade later emerged the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement through defenses from prosecutions of Nappy Pulawa (alleged underworld leader), Hayden F. Burgess (lawyer denying American citizenship), Sand Island evictions, Makua evictions, Waimanalo evictions, . . . . The native rights and the sovereignty movements often appeared indistinguishable. As the political rhetoric grew, the Hawaiian language, hula, canoe paddling, and music flourished anew, spreading across racial lines, giving an added dimension to the Hawaiian movements.

It is 38 years since those celebratory days of Statehood. The Hawaiian movements provide a new basis from which a second glance at the Statehood process and the decision reached in 1959 is taken.

"A double fraud was committed when Hawai`i was declared a State of the U.S.A." proclaims a paper from The Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs, an early proponent of the Hawaiian movements. Black's law dictionary defines fraud as "an intentional perversion of truth for the purpose of inducing another in reliance upon it to part with some valuable thing belonging to him or to surrender a legal right; . . ." Harsh words indeed to throw at a nation generally seen as a leader in human rights and fundamental freedoms. Yet, they are now thrown more and more in the sovereignty movements.

This indictment of fraud is rooted in historical events. It is now uncontested by the U.S. government that a unified monarchical government of the Hawaiian Islands was established in 1810 under Kamehameha I, that from 1826 until 1893, the United States recognized the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii, extended to it full and complete diplomatic recognition, and entered into treaties and conventions with the Hawaiian monarchs. The U.S. Minister along with a small group of non-Hawaiian residents of Hawai`i, some U.S. citizens, conspired to overthrow the Hawaiian government, and in pursuance of this conspiracy, the U.S. Navy landed in an invasion of this country. A puppet government was formed which subsequently "ceded" Hawai`i to the United States in 1898. Two years later, Hawai`i's was governed under the "Organic Act" as a "Territory of Hawai`i," its governor appointed directly by the President of the United States.

Two major wars swept through the world and as the second world war came to an end, there emerged a new international organization, the United Nations. In San Francisco, 1945, leaders of nations gathered to sign a U.N. Charter which called for self-governance of territories under colonial-style conditions. Neither the members of the U.N. nor these "non-self governing" territories were specified in the Charter. But the following year, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 66 in which specific U.N. members and the respective territories under their rule were named. The United States became obligated under a "sacred trust" to bring about self-governance to Alaska, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Panama Canal zone, Puerto Rico and Hawai`i.

Over the years, the U.N. clarified self-governance to mean giving the people of the territory choices of how they would relate to the U.N. member - integration, free association, or independence. This self-governance process was meant to break the chains of colonization which held territories within the grips of such nations. As a result, many African countries began their emergence from colonization during these years. The Pacific and Asia regions also followed this process.

In Hawai`i, decolonization went awry. Rather than permitting the three choices called for by the U. N, the United States limited the choice to "integration." In 1959, it placed before the people the question: "Shall Hawaii immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?" A yes response resulted in Hawai`i's integration into the U.S. as a State. A no vote would have resulted in continued territorial status in the U.S. - integration. The choices of free association or independence were never presented to the people. No education on these alternatives were presented: no public debates on these matters were conducted. The U.S. appointed governor never raised the issue. The Democrats and the Republicans failed to point out the right to these choices. Nothing came from the campuses of schools and the University of Hawai`i.

Thus, when the United States reported to the U.N. General Assembly in 1959 that Hawai`i had exercised its right to self-governance and in doing so, elected to become a State, it convinced that assembly to remove Hawai`i from the list of territories subject to self-governance. An intentional perversion of the truth was thus committed to induce the U.N. to deny Hawai`i fundamental right to self-determination.

The "Statehood Process" for Hawai`i was a double fraud. It not only failed to provide the correct set of choices to be voted upon. The process altered the "self" who could exercise "self determination." The qualified voters in this process were U.S. citizens who had resided in Hawai`i for at least one year. Since the American invasion and annexation and during its watch, thousands had migrated to Hawai`i, coming from the U.S., Europe, Asia and other Pacific Islands. Many were associated with the U.S. military's presence in Hawai`i. Others came for employment, education, opportunities or escape. These people who were or took up U.S. citizenship were all permitted to vote. But those who dared to declare themselves Hawaiian citizens, refusing to accept the imposed American citizenship, could not vote.

The Americans controlled education, economics, media, the judiciary as well as the internal political processes, managing in these years to continually squeeze the Hawaiian identity from public life. This practice of altering the "self" by maintaining control over transmigration, public education and economic dependence is familiar among colonial countries not wanting to lose their colonial possessions. France's conduct in Tahiti and New Caledonia and Indonesia's in East Timor, West Papua, and the Moluccas Islands are mirrors of the U.S.' conduct in Hawai`i.

Thus, 38 years after the Statehood vote in Hawai`i, the question of Statehood is being revisited, pried open, in fact, by this better understanding in Hawai`i of the rights which should have been accorded the "real" people of Hawai`i entitled to vote on such an important question.

Among sovereignty advocates, there has been a narrowing of the favorite models. Some are urging a "nation within a nation" model of integration, crafted along the lines of the American Indians treatment by the Federal government. A growing number are urging instead complete independence from the U.S. as Hawai`i had been before the invasion and as we see more and more nations are becoming as they enter the United Nations. Few are suggesting a free association relationship with the U.S., and among those who are, even they suggest it should merely be a transition stage to full independence.

Who should vote in such a decision? One group suggests voters should be restricted by race whereby only those of the native Hawaiian blood participates. Such advocates generally support a position of integration in which the native Hawaiians are provided a special position within the society. A second suggestion is that the "Hawaiians at heart" should all be able to participate, that is, all those who practice the culture, hula, plant taro, who claims to be "Hawaiian". This approach, however, faces the obvious difficulties of verification. A third and popular position is to follow the historical and cultural legacy of the Hawaiian nation, that is, Hawaiian citizens under the nation were multi-racial, multi-cultural, but whose national allegiance were dedicated to Hawai`i. Under this approach, there would be a wide range of people becoming "eligible" but the real test would be to choose to undertake Hawaiian citizenship, thus disavowing any other citizenship. Hawaiian independence is the favored position of advocates for this third position..

The Sovereignty and Native Rights movements are providing fertile ground for reexamining Hawaiian Statehood, the Hawaiian "self", and the multiple possibilities in Hawai`i's future. This reexamination raises issues stretching far beyond these islands' shores and into international political arenas:

  1. Are claims of self-determination ever closed by events later discovered to have been fraudulent?

  2. Who are the people to vote in the process of decolonization, citizens of the colonial government or the colonized people themselves?

For a much longer period, the international community struggled, and continue to do so, with these questions. As we are reminded of the anniversary of Hawai`i's Statehood, these questions now become central to the people of Hawai`i nei.

Poka Laenui
(Hayden F. Burgess)
86-649 Pu`uhulu Rd.
Wai`anae, HI 96792
Tel: (808) 696-5157
Fax: (808) 696-7774

Also see: Is Hawaii Really a State of the Union?

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