By Pete Pichaske
WASHINGTON -- Native Hawaiians have begun gathering here for what they hope will be both an eye-opening and unifying rally marking the 100th anniversary of Hawaii's annexation.
As many as 3,000 Hawaiians and their supporters are expected in the nation's capital for an unprecedented two days of Hawaiian chants, dances, music and speeches, all aimed at drawing attention to a little-known and, organizers say, poorly treated minority.
"This march has been long overdue," said organizer John "Butch" Kekahu, 54, shortly before he left Kauai yesterday to fly to Washington.
"Tourists come to Hawaii and see such a beautiful place, and they think everything is hunky-dory. But it isn't."
"If you live in Hawaii, you know Native Hawaiians are at the bottom of the barrel," said Riley Cardwell of California, the march's media coordinator who arrived here last night. "But over here, you don't have that. It's almost a secret.
"We want to make Americans on the continent aware that Americans have done it one more time, just like they did it to Native Americans here."
The "Aloha March" will begin tomorrow with an opening ceremony and prayer vigil in the Capitol building's Statuary Hall. It will culminate Saturday with a march to the White House, followed by more prayers and speeches on the nearby Ellipse.
"It's time for a change," said Kekahu. "The U.S. government has enough problems. It's time for us to be responsible for our own government ... We want to be able to get our kingdom and our nation together."
Cardwell said Native Hawaiians from across the country will be joined by allies, including Native American groups, the Gray Panthers and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Committee. Although somewhat vague, the goals of the Aloha March are as much spiritual and educational as political -- perhaps even more so.
Plans call for an opening lei ceremony at the Capitol Building and a 24-hour prayer vigil, punctuated by an hourly, ritual blowing of a conch shell.
Rally participants will be asked to sign a copy of the "Monster Petition," the 1898 petition protesting annexation originally signed by thousands of Native Hawaiians.
Kekahu and others also hope the two days will allow Native Hawaiians to reach some form of agreement on achieving greater autonomy.
"The main thing is for Hawaiians to get their act together," he said.
The Native Hawaiians, he said, plan to "get advice from the experts" on sovereignty from national and international officials.
Hawaii's congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, seem to be keeping a wary distance from the march. All four members of the delegation were invited, but only Rep. Patsy Mink was even considering attending. An aide said today Mink's attendance depended on Congress' schedule.
The House is busily wrapping up its business before taking its annual August recess beginning tomorrow, while the Senate already has left for the summer.
One observer noted that the very premise of the event -- to protest annexation, and by extension inclusion in the United States -- put selected federal lawmakers in something of an awkward position when it comes to showing support.
Still, most of the Hawaii delegation planned to send messages of encouragement and support to the demonstrators.
"The senator's position has always been that any efforts at educating the public and the federal government, in a positive manner, about Native Hawaiians' concerns is good," said Paul Cardus, spokesman for Sen. Daniel Akaka.
© 1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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