Long-Ago Collapse of Hawaiian Monarchy Described As U.S.-Assisted ‘Regime Change’
August 7, 2009 - 10:11 AMA Senate bill establishing a Native Hawaiian government is now working its way through the Senate. At a Senate hearing last week, some of the bill's supporters accused the United States of fomenting the "regime change" that led to Hawaii becoming a state.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on Aug. 6 on the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 (S. 1011), sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Alaska).
The bill would allow Hawaii's indigenous people to establish a "government-to-government relationship with the United States," similar to the relationship that Alaskan natives and American Indian tribes have, Akaka says. But critics say the bill would establish a “race-based” government for native Hawaiians.
“The United States has not always acted honorably in its treatment of our nation's first people,” Sen. Akaka says on his Web site. “However, I am proud that as a country we have pursued actions acknowledging past wrongs and building a mutual path forward.”
At Thursday’s hearing, supporters of the bill submitted a report on congressional authority for reestablishing a Native Hawaiian governing body.
“The U.S. Congress is now considering legislation establishing a process by which Native Hawaiians would reconstitute the indigenous government they lost to foreign intervention,” the report’s executive summary says. “Foreign intervention” refers to the United States. In 1893, the U.S. Navy, acting on information that Americans who lived in Hawaii were in danger because of political unrest, intervened on behalf of the group that toppled Hawaii’s queen.
On Thursday, one of the report's authors testified that the bill would make good on a 1993 congressional resolution that condemned the “overthrow” of the Hawaiian monarchy and “formally apologized to the Hawaiian people for the U.S. involvement in this regime change.” Then-President Bill Clinton signed that resolution.
The report was authored by Washington attorney H. Christopher Bartolomucci and two Georgetown University Law professors, Viet D. Dinh and Neal K. Katyal. Dinh was a main architect of the USA PATRIOT Act, and Katyal successfully argued a case challenging military trials at Guantanamo Bay before the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to the late author Pat Pitzer, who wrote for more than 20 years for Honolulu Publishing, President Grover Cleveland also apologized just weeks after Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani surrendered her power to a group that sought her overthrow and then formed a provisional government.
“On Dec. 18, 1893, President Cleveland made an eloquent speech to Congress on the Hawaiian situation,” Pitzer wrote in a 1995 article in Aloha magazine entitled, “The Overthrow of the Monarchy.”
Pitzer noted that Cleveland had “harsh words” about the landing of American troops in Hawaii, going so far as to suggest it was “an act of war,” since the U.S. Navy landed without the consent of the queen’s government – at a time when “the city of Honolulu was in its customary orderly and peaceful condition."
Cleveland said U.S. forces had landed on “false pretexts.”
"... [I]f a feeble but friendly state is in danger of being robbed of its independence and its sovereignty by a misuse of the name and power of the United States, the United States cannot fail to vindicate its honor and its sense of justice by an earnest effort to make all possible reparation," Cleveland wrote.
When Hawaii was annexed on Aug. 12, 1898 Cleveland wrote: “I am ashamed of the whole affair.”
The Native American Government Reorganization Act of 2009, and a companion bill in the House, House Resolution 2314, will be taken up some time after Congress returns from its summer break, according to committee staff.
Despite critics’ claims to the contrary, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the bill’s sponsor, says the legislation will not allow private property to be seized, permit Hawaii to secede from the United States, authorize gambling in the state or set up a reservation system like the one used for Native Americans tribes in the United States.
Obama administration supports the bill
At Thursday’s hearing, witness Robin Puanani Danner, a native Hawaiian, said she hopes the legislation will become law before the end of the year.
“The Act is intended to facilitate the Native Hawaiian people’s efforts to reorganize our native government to promote our best interests,” Danner said. “This legislation has been before Congress for almost 10 years, and it is particularly appropriate that Congress enact this legislation in 2009, the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood.”
The Obama administration made it clear on Thursday that it also supports the bill: "The Department of Justice strongly supports the core policy goals of this bill, and I am pleased to testify on this historic legislation," said Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch in his prepared testimony.
"In recognizing a Native Hawaiian sovereign entity, Congress would in effect determine that Native Hawaiians constitute a distinct community as it has done with Indian tribes.” Hirsch mentioned the history of Native Hawaiian sovereignty and the extent to which Native Hawaiians “continue to function as an organized community -- engaging in collective action and preserving traditional community and culture.”
The conservative Heritage Foundation has described the bill as a “terrible idea” and “unconstitutional” to boot.
“Hawaiian history, in fact, rejects the idea of race-based rule,” Heritage analysts wrote two years ago. “In 1959, Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly to approve statehood without “native” Hawaiian enclaves, showing by their numbers and their actions that they were all American citizens, the same as any other. In other words, regardless of what really happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, the people of Hawaii knew their history in 1959 and they did not want separatist enclaves in their future state. Thus, the creation of a sovereign, race-based government would contravene this political understanding.”
Hawaii’s statehood referendum passed with 94.3 percent of the vote, the Heritage paper noted.
The people of Hawaii could have raised the issue of separate rights for Native Hawaiians in 1959, but they did not: In fact, “they went to great lengths to convey that Hawaii did not and would not divide its people by race. That was the understanding of those in Congress and Hawaii who voted to bring Hawaii into these United States.”
The Heritage paper says even many Hawaiians with aboriginal ancestry understand that the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act “will change their state from a ‘microcosm of America’ to an environment that pits race against race.”