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Hawaiians take step toward self-determination

Result of Native Hawaiian Vote favors convention to propose form of sovereign government

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 12, 1996


HONOLULU -- Native Hawaiians appear ready to take another step toward some form of self-determination after approving the election of delegates to a convention to propose a Native Hawaiian government.

The Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council announced Wednesday that 73 percent of the Native Hawaiians who returned mailed-in ballots this summer favored a convention to design some form of sovereignty.

Ballots were mailed to 80,000 Native Hawaiians, including many residing outside the state of Hawaii, and 30,423 valid ballots were returned, according to council Chairman Sol Kaho`ohalahala.

Although less than 40 percent of those receiving ballots returned them, Kaho`ohalahala said he is confident the results reflect the will of the Hawaiian people. He said the response is no worse than the number of Hawaii's eligible voters who participate in general elections.

``This is a victory for the Hawaiian people,'' Kaho`ohalahala said. ``One-hundred and three years after the overthrow we are at the dawn of a new age. It is time for Hawaiians to join hands and put our differences aside.''

The vote is seen as an important first step in a process of establishing for the 200,000 descendants of Hawaii's indigenous people some form of separate relationship with the U.S. government.

Much of the argument for sovereignty and self-determination for Hawaiians focuses on the U.S. involvement in the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili`uokalani, Hawaii's last monarch.

The results were announced near the statue of King Kamehameha, the monarch who united the islands, amid Hawaiian songs, chants and prayers.

Natasha Kama of Maui, a council member, prefaced her prayer by recalling Lili`uokalani's prayers for the eventual restoration of the Hawaiian nation following her overthrow.

The next step is not clear, but Gov. Ben Cayetano said the council is the logical body to carry out the election. However, he said the Legislature will have to decide if the council should survive past its Dec. 31 expiration date.

Cayetano also wants the council to persuade Hawaiian groups to pay for the election and convention.

Council members have estimated costs of a convention at $6 million to $12 million, which the state cannot afford, Cayetano said.

But Kaho`ohalahala said the council already has formed a nonprofit organization, Ha (the breath of life) Hawaii, to carry out the planning of the election and convention.

He said he hopes the convention can get under way in a year or 18 months.

Some Hawaiians boycotted the $2 million election, objecting to the state's involvement. They contended any decision on sovereignty should be left entirely to Native Hawaiians.

The release of the results had twice been temporarily halted by federal judges.

The council originally planned to announce the results on Sept. 2, the anniversary of the birth of Queen Lili`uokalani. But that announcement was halted by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, pending his decision on two lawsuits challenging the election.

After Ezra ruled that there was no constitutional problem with the election, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Fletcher issued a temporary stay on Monday so the court could hear arguments for a full stay pending outcome of an appeal.

Fletcher and two other 9th Circuit judges voted on Tuesday to deny the full stay.

The appeals court will hear the appeal of Big Island rancher Harold Rice, who claims the Native Hawaiian Vote is illegal because non-Hawaiians were not included. Plaintiffs in the other lawsuit will not appeal.

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