In 1853, the Mexican/ Arizona border divided the Tohono O’odham tribe, also known as the Papago. The tribe has been trying for many years to get similar immigration exemptions as Canadian tribes who have been split by the border. Thus far, their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Native Hawaiians are the only group of indigenous people in the United States with which the federal government has made no efforts to settle land claims. The Dept. of Interior (who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs) provides Hawaiians with no federal services, but in recent years, Native Hawaiians have been included in federal legislation affecting Indians, and a bill is now in the Senate which would grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians, as it does to Indian tribes.
Why are Native Hawaiians not on an equal footing with American Indians? One of the reasons is that Hawaii did not become a state until 1959. Remember that this was well into the termination era. Congress did not want to recognize Indian tribes any longer, and certainly didn’t want to add to those receiving federal services, so Congress gave power to the state of Hawaii to deal with Native Hawaiians.
Many Native Hawaiians dream of a day when their sovereignty will be restored, they cede from the United States and once again become an independent nation. A brief history will help you to understand the Hawaiian struggle for recognition and sovereignty.
Captain Cook made the first European contact with the Hawaiians in 1778 – almost 300 years after contact was made on the mainland U.S.
In the early and mid-1800s, Hawaii was treated as a foreign nation. In1826, the U.S. entered into the First Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Hawaii. The executive branch of government creates treaties and the agreements must then be ratified by the Senate. This treaty was never ratified, but the State Dept. considered it an agreement between nations arising under international law.
In 1848, President Tyler assigned a foreign minister to Hawaii and in 1849 the first ratified treaty, dealing with friendship, commerce and navigation, took effect. This was followed by a commercial reciprocity treaty of 1875, but by the 1880s, the U.S. considered Hawaii part of the American system. Attempts by Japan or England to colonize would have been considered acts of war.
Hawaii used to consist of eight islands with four separate chiefdoms. Land was held communally. Commoners worked the land and gave a portion of everything they got to the chiefs. In 1810, the governmental structure of the islands changed and the islands became a single kingdom under King Kamehameha.
The first foreigners to become involved with the king were traders and missionaries. The communally held land system used in Hawaii came under pressure as outsiders came to the island and wanted land. In 1848, the Great Mahele was instituted. Land was divided so clear title could be determined and transferred. King Kamehameha designated 1.5 million acres for chiefs and people of his kingdom and kept 1 million for himself and his family. Commoners got very little of the land.
The Great Mahele, and laws passed soon after it, lifted restrictions on alienation. Some of the best Hawaiian lands went to foreigners. The King sold land as he pleased and chiefs had incurred large debts that they paid with land. Some chiefs tried plantation farming that failed and they lost their land to foreclosure. By 1890, foreigners, mostly Americans, owned over one million acres of land in Hawaii. They controlled another 750,000 acres under leases they got at bargain basement prices from the government and king.
As far back as Ulysses S, Grant, American presidents and other government officials suggested voluntary annexation of Hawaii. Finally in 1887, an opposition group, made up mostly of American businessmen, pressed for adoption of a constitution that would make the monarchy a ceremonial figurehead and give power to a cabinet that was responsible to a newly created legislature. King Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii at this time, asked the U.S. for protection from this opposition group but got none. He was forced to sign a constitution known as the “bayonet constitution”.
The new Constitution left the king with no power and the U.S. dominated cabinet ran the Hawaiian government. The king tried to regain power, but there was already an American military presence in Hawaii. The American and European foreign ministers discouraged the king from trying to recover his governmental power.
King Kalakaua’s successor was Queen Liliuokalani. There was a group opposed to the queen and, with strong encouragement from Washington D.C., they worked hard for annexation of Hawaii. The Annexation Club was a secret group that plotted to overthrow the queen. The Annexation Club had assurances of support from the American foreign minister.
In 1893, American military forces came to Hawaii, claiming that they were protecting the consulate and the lives and property of U.S. citizens, but they positioned themselves between the queen’s palace and the government building. The opposition group occupied the government building and before any takeover of the Hawaiian government was completed, the U.S. minister recognized a new provisional government. The Queen was forced to step down, but did so under protest and subject to later review by the U.S. government. The U.S. military later took custody of the government building and raised the U.S. flag.
President Grover Cleveland called for restoration of the monarchy on the basis that the overthrow was done by armed invasion of the U.S., not by the people of Hawaii. This was in opposition to U.S. foreign policy, morality and international law, but President Cleveland left office in 1887. President McKinley stepped in. He favored annexation and convinced Congress to annex Hawaii in 1898.
Most land stayed the same as it had been prior to annexation, but about 1.8 million acres - crown lands and government lands that were remaining from the original 2.5 million acres controlled by King Kamehameha - had been seized by the provisional government and was now passed to the U.S. government. Congress passed the Organic Act of 1900. The act established a government for the territory of Hawaii and gave management of these 1.8 million acres to a territorial legislature.
In the early 1900s, Congress was aware of deteriorating social and economic conditions among Native Hawaiians, so in 1910, an amendment to the Organic Act was passed. The amendment required that all former crown lands be made available when Hawaiian citizens requested them. Native Hawaiians were pressuring Congress for special legislative attention to their needs and at the same time, long term leases received from the Hawaii kingdom for sugar plantations were about to expire. A compromise was reached in 1921 by passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, (HHCA).
By passing the HHCA, the executive branch and congressional leaders apparently planned for the federal government to assume fiduciary responsibilities to Native Hawaiians similar to that of American Indians. In hearings held addressing the legislation, Secretary of Interior Lane told the House of Representatives, “Natives of the islands who are our wards, I should say, and for whom in a sense we are trustees, are falling off rapidly in numbers, and many of them are in poverty.”
Additional congressional comments support this assumption: “Hawaiians were deprived of their land without any say on their part.” “Because we came to this country and took their land away from them…and if we can afford to provide lands in trust for the Indians…why can we not do the same for the Hawaiians?”
The HHCA created a trust of about 200,000 acres of public lands and made these lands available for Native homesteads for Native Hawaiians possessing 50% or more Hawaiian blood. Lands set aside were some of the worst land, lacking water and unsuitable for farming, and the act was poorly carried out.
When Hawaii was admitted to statehood, the state was given the responsibility of holding the 200,000 acres for Hawaiian homesteading plus an additional 1.2 million acres that the government retained, and income from them, as a public trust for support of public schools; betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians; development of farm and homeownership on as widespread basis as possible; public improvements and provision of lands for public use. State acts passed in 1980 require that at least 20% of the income from public lands be appropriated for programs for Native Hawaiians. Failure to use the land for these specific purposes is a breach of trust. There have been several lawsuits to enforce the trust responsibility with limited success. In 1996, the state court found that the state violated its trust responsibility by leasing Hawaiian homelands to non-natives when there was a long list of Hawaiians waiting for homestead assignments
Over the years, Hawaiian voters have accepted 3 constitutional amendments. In 1978, as a result of these amendments, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was established, which is a Hawaiian board of trustees. OHA receives and expends a portion of all income from trust lands that is allocable to Native Hawaiians and controls state appropriations for Hawaiians.
For state purposes, a distinction is made between Native Hawaiians and Hawaiians. Hawaiians are defined as descendants of the aboriginal people of the Hawaiian Islands who inhabited the islands in 1778, and have continued to reside in Hawaii. Native Hawaiians are Hawaiians with at least ½ Hawaiian blood quantum. HHCA required that OHA trustees be Hawaiian and be elected only by Hawaiians. Suit was filed by a Hawaii resident who was non-Hawaiian challenging that portion of the act that excluded non-Hawaiians from the vote. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Rice v. Cayetano. The court said that the exclusion of non-Hawaiians from the vote for OHA trustees violated the equal protection clause of the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (This is the provision that prohibits racial discrimination). The state of Hawaii and the U.S. Dept. of Justice argued that Hawaiians should be considered political entities, the same as American Indians. The court did not accept this argument, primarily because Hawaiians do not have land separate and apart from other residents of Hawaii (due to no fault of their own) and do not have any federally-recognized governments or jurisdiction. The end result of this case is that all residents of Hawaii are now permitted to vote for OHA trustees, even though these trustees only exercise control over Hawaiian assets.
The federal definition of “Native Hawaiian” is all individuals who are lineal descendants of the aboriginal people of the Hawaiian Islands who inhabited the islands in 1778. If the “Federal Recognition Bill” is passed which is summarized in the external links, “Native Hawaiian” will be defined by the new Native Hawaiian government. (A virtually identical bill was introduced in the last legislative session and died when the legislature adjourned).
Until the 2000 census, the census never included a racial category for Native Hawaiians. There are no native Hawaiian governments to collect statistics of their own people, so how can anyone determine if someone is Native Hawaiian, with ½ blood quantum – or Hawaiian, with less than ½ blood quantum? OHA has been given this task, to operate much as the Bureau of Indian Affairs does with American Indians.
Native Hawaiians are worse off economically than any other ethnic group in the state of Hawaii. Much like many Indian tribes, their ancient culture was land-centered. This has been strained by tourism. Native Hawaiians have been squeezed out of the economy, and denied access to aboriginal lands, where only the very wealthy can afford to own property. They have problems gaining access to sacred sites, access to water for taro crops (a native vegetable) and to beaches where fish and other goods can be gathered.
As you can see, the plight of Native Hawaiians is much the same as the plight of American Indians, and as was previously stated, Native Hawaiians are included in most legislation affecting American Indians with the exception of the receipt of federal services, which may change if Native Hawaiians gain federal recognition.