By Burl Burlingame
Some talk, others act. Dennis Pu'uhonua "Bumpy" Kanahele moved the Hawaiian sovereignty issue from an abstract debate into the real world in 1994, earning a host of admirers and detractors along the way.
Kanahele is "a very interesting and very unique character," said friend A'o Pohaku Rodenhurst. Other sovereignty groups "play the political arena, attend meetings, talk the rhetoric but don't test the laws, but Ohana Council is...the boldest group. It's testing the (legal) waters."
Other well-known sovereignty activists such as Mililani Trask and her Ka Lahui Hawaii organization belittle Kanahele's work. Trask said Kanahele and Ohana Council do not represent the majority of Hawaiians.
Whether that's true remains to be seen. Kanahele's highly visible nose-thumbing at government officials, however, focused worldwide attention on the sovereignty issue. As a leader in the Ohana Council, a vague confederation of approximately 7,000 sovereignty boosters who believe the American annexation of Hawaii occurred illegally, Kanahele was often creating news where none existed before. Sovereignty claims are best pursued as an independent nation rather than as a powerless pawn of the state government, Kanahele feels.
Using this argument, Kanahele then threw his weight behind the Napoleon family of Waikiki, who were seeking grandfathered status a beach vendors. Since the state had no authority over the Hawaiian nation, argued Kanahele, the Napoleons had squatters' rights to beach concessions. Besides, occupying the beach would create a high-profile case that would turn a spotlight on Hawaiian issues of international law.
An English-language flier chiding tourists for spending American money in Hawaii, because it "supports the illegal and immoral destruction of the Hawaiian people, their culture and the natural resources" caused consternation with tour operators, although Kanahele claimed the message was educational, not confrontational.
During the spring and summer, the Council worked with several Hawaiian families claiming stewardship of ceded lands at Waimanalo, settling on Makapuu Beach and Kaupo Beach Park. A small village sprang up on the site, prompting punitive action by government officials.
By midyear, the state and the Council had come to a shaky agreement on relocating the campers. Even so, 23 Hawaiian protesters were arrested, but not charged, staving off a legal decision on their status.
By fall, the organization changed its name to The Provisional Government of the Independent Nation State of Hawaii, reflecting its internationalist stance. Kanahele remains busy, most recently helping create a sovereignty update on Internet, the global computer network.
"I don't have a moment to myself, but it's well worth it. We're talking about developing a country here," Kanahele mused earlier this year.