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Hawaiians strive for unity

The Maui News
Sunday, January 5, 1997


Staff Writer

LAHAINA -- The Native Hawaiian voices of Maui that weren't heard on Oahu last month let loose with a cry of unison Saturday that most certainly will echo around the islands.

``This was one of the best meetings I've attended in 20 years,'' said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., one of the organizers of the five-hour gathering held in the social hall of Waiola Church. ``Maui is going to set the trend as to how to be unified . . . Everything is going to snowball from this.''

About 75 people were asked by Maxwell to ``leave their egos and affiliations outside the door'' as they braved the downpour that pummeled Lahaina most of the day. So those who walked in as members of Ka Lahui, The Nation of Hawaii, the recently disbanded Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council or any other organization became part of the group at hand and not a separate faction.

The theme for the day was unity.

``Everybody was in one heart and one mind, I think,'' said Maxwell.

The meeting came about because of the disappointment experienced by Mauians who attended a statewide conference on Oahu last month regarding the next step in the sovereignty process. After the exhilaration of the results of the Native Hawaiian Vote in September in which 73 percent of the respondents said they wanted some form of self-rule, participants went to Honolulu with high hopes of moving forward.

They returned discouraged, feeling they had not been heard.

So with another statewide gathering planned for Feb. 8-10 at Kualoa Park on Oahu, Native Hawaiians of Maui Nui -- the ``greater Maui'' area of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe -- decided to take their own step forward Saturday.

The very notice of the meeting caused a stir around the islands, according to Maxwell.

``I had calls from all over the state asking, `What is this all about?' '' he said. ``I said, `We're getting ourselves together.' ''

By the end of the day, no delegates had been elected nor official policies etched in stone, but consensus was achieved on a number of things that formed a mission statement of sorts.

Akoni Akana and Ed Lindsey both came up with several key goals that the crowd unanimously agreed upon. Those in attendance enthusiastically committed themselves to ho`olokahi (peace and unity) while pursuing self-determination or sovereignty in some form and to get back their land rights, their ocean rights, their birth rights as Native Hawaiians and their water rights. They also dedicated themselves to the concept of Maui Nui -- and not just Maui -- in decisions.

Akana, who said he'd never seen so many people at a sovereignty meeting on Maui before, reminded his peers that conflicting factions only hurt themselves.

``The government enjoys the differences -- they want us to be divided,'' he said.

Lindsey concurred.

``We have not been able to play our Hawaiian card in this political process because we're not united,'' he said. ``How are we going to proceed toward working for the same thing, to come together, to accomplish the same thing? We're not here to say, `I'm better than you,' we're all good. Who's our worst enemy? Not them. Us!

``In Lahaina, there's development going on that's against us. The more we milimili (move slowly), the more they're going to take. Do you want that?''

Everyone responded with a resounding ``No.''

Kekula Bray-Crawford supported the idea of unity, too, as long as diversity was not lost in exchange.

``I want unity, but I also want to know about the differences,'' she said, hoping everyone would be allowed ``to disagree and (know) why we disagree.''

``That's consensus, to me,'' she said. ``To find strength in diversity.''

Dana Naone Hall said her only interest in sovereignty ``stems solely from my desire to protect the land, water and places important to our kupuna.''

Earlier, she said Hawaiians need to take advantage of the current mood in high places on Oahu and Washington, D.C., before the political scene becomes more hostile.

``Inevitably, the state and federal governments will be involved . . . ,'' she said. ``Are we at the point where we will seize the day and move forward or will this process drag on until the political landscape changes? The pendulum swings both ways, you know.''

Hall also recommended that when it comes time to decide on apportionment for delegates, that a land base be used to determine the number of elected representatives, not population. The fear, obviously, was that Oahu would overwhelmingly control things if only population is considered.

Many Native Hawaiians opposed the vote last year because the state was underwriting the costs and Gov. Ben Cayetano had appointed members of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council.

As part of a response to that, Maxwell said a fund-raising concert will be held Jan. 17 to earn money for anyone who would like to participate in the February conference at Kualoa Park. Details about the concert will be released later.

The group Saturday was not only a mixture of those affiliated with various sovereignty organizations, but also a blend of age groups with articulate young leaders of the future joining in along with the kupuna.

And it was kupuna Kealoha Camacho who may have made the most heartrending observation about the urgency needed to spark the movement that started more than 20 years ago.

``It can happen in your time,'' she said to those around her. ``For us kupuna, we're makule (old) now. Our time has gone.''

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