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What meaning does the sovereignty vote have for our community?

Haleakala Times, September 17 - 30, 1996

By Richard LaFond, Jr.

"Hawaiians are a sovereign people without a sovereign government," Davianna Pomaika`i McGregor, Vice-Chairperson of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council stated in a press release. Ironically, Native Hawaiians and the general voting populace seem to react similarly to democratic governance opportunities. Out of 80,000 Native Hawaiian voters, 37.5% participated in the sovereignty vote, while 36.7% of Maui County's 55,000 voters cast ballots in the recent Primary election.

Yet among the Hawaiians, there is a solid majority in agreement with the sovereignty process 73% gave a mandate to hold elections for delegates who will propose a Native Hawaiian government. In Maui County, 79% voted `ae, with Maui's 11th (Kihei and Kula) and 12th (Haiku and north Kauai) representative districts leading the state with 84.4% and 82.8% approval, respectively.

On the day that the results of the vote were announced, leaders in Maui's Native Hawaiian community conducted a candidate forum at Maui Community College, in association with the MCC Student Government Association.

Na Kapuna O Maui invited candidates in two winner-takes-all primary contests to attend. Sol Kaho`ohalahala, Chairman of the Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council and a Maui County Council member seeking a second term was the only incumbent on the panel. His challenger Riki Hokama made his first and only forum appearance in the campaign. Half the candidates for the 5th State Senate District accepted the invitation: Ian Chan Hodges and John Wayne Enriques. Incumbent Joe Tanaka and challenger Jay Nakasone did not attend.

Though the Primary has occurred and the two incumbents have been reelected, the discussion held fast on the heels of news of the Sovereignty vote provided a glimpse of the work ahead for anyone playing or wanting to play a public policy role.

Candidates responded to questions asked by Tasha Kama, Charlie Maxwell, and the Haleakala Times, and later, the general public in attendance. Focus topics were economic stability, Hawaiian Sovereignty, education, land and water and Hawaiian rights, and health and safety.

At this event the big question was, "What next?" Now that Hawaiians have voted overwhelmingly to convene and propose a form of self-determination, the responsiveness of existing political structures and governance systems will surely be tested. As Chan Hodges said, it is the most significant economic and social issue for the State of Hawai`i. Kaho`ohalahala very clearly stated that addressing the issue should not be limited to Hawaiian people. "Everyone is responsible and should participate in the process," he said.

Land and water resources now controlled by State and private interests, are vital to a re-emerging Hawaiian nation. Recent court rulings have seriously and broadly acknowledged Native Hawaiian rights to natural resources, including access through private property for traditional uses such as hunting and gathering. Contrarily, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources has locked both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians out of Makena Beach during the night, for an indefinite term.

Kaho`ohalahala reminded everyone that Hawaiian rights are inherent rights, and the Admissions Act that granted Hawai`i statehood established the State as trustee, not as owner, of resources. There is also a cloud over the State's title of ownership because of admissions by the U.S. Congress and the President under public law 103-150 that the ceded lands were illegally acquired by an illegal government. A State court has already ordered the State to stop the sale of public lands because of Hawaiian sovereign claims to those lands.

There was surprising consensus among Na Kapuna forum candidates to restore all ceded land and water to Hawaiians. Kaho`ohalahala suggested inclusion of the base of Hawaiian Homelands and offered an ecological elaboration. In his view, the community should apply its visions to resources rather than the reverse as is now common practice, and water should be the context for development decisions.

When asked to describe the responsibility of State and County elected officials to the mandate of the sovereignty vote, Kaho`ohalahala cited his own programs for the county council and administration as an example that the first step is education, elected officials must become educated and must help educate the general public.

McGregor says that the Hawaiians must also choose good leaders and find the leverage needed to endow a sovereign Hawaiian government with lands and assets. She said that certain interest groups, though, want the legislature to regulate Hawaiian rights. Since the State Supreme Court reaffirmed the access rights of Native Hawaiians over private property, bankers, realtors, investors, and title insurers claim to be reluctant to invest in Hawai`i. Chan Hodges declared that legislative bodies ought not try to control the process, but rather consider the impacts of sovereignty within the context of their responsibility to the people of the state as a whole, and prepare to assist in a smooth transition from present ways to a new relationship with sovereign people.

"Only a process of recognition, redress and settlement of Hawaiian claims and rights can address these situations," said McGregor. "What the governor, the legislature, the bankers, lawyers and investors must ultimately acknowledge is that only a sovereign Hawaiian government can represent the Hawaiian people in such a process of redress and settlement," she added.

When asked what could be done immediately to facilitate the change, Kaho`ohalahala said there should be an immediate moratorium on the lease and sale of ceded lands, and an inventory conducted of revenue producing and conservation lands, to help the Hawaiians identify their assets. Chan Hodges agreed, and said that, given the ramifications of the sovereignty vote, the Hawaiian Affairs Committee of the State Legislature should become the new Ways and Means Committee. He noted that the Legislature has treated Hawaiian Affairs as a Siberia for insubordinate members.

When asked how government might promote economic stability for all residents of Hawai`i, Kaho`ohalahala responded that it must focus on sustainability. He also suggested that there are creative ways for government to help reduce the cost of living, such as assisting businesses to collaborate for lower costs.

As an example he cited two neighboring grocery stores on Lanai that carry the same brand of milk, but bring it in independently; if they collaborate on shipments, they could attain lower shipping costs.

Chan Hodges pointed out that a major factor in the high cost of living in Hawai`i the shipping rates set by three appointed individuals that constitute the Public Utilities Commission.

Education was also an important topic for Na Kapuna. Maxwell wanted to know if it would be important to the candidates to maintain funding for Hawaiian language and cultural immersion programs. Kaho`ohalahala said that the essence of a person is in their language, and he would like to see such programs broadened to include other ethnic groups so that they may also experience the benefits of the native language and tradition. This would also increase cultural understanding, tolerance, and respect, beneficial virtues for all of Hawai`i's residents as they come to terms with the sovereignty process.

Among Hawaiians, the next step is the business of apportionment and the election of delegates to a convention that will discuss and propose a form of self-determination. Several groups are conducting open public meetings to discuss the vote and how to make every step toward sovereignty an inclusive process.

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