POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 5:45 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
Today, July 31, hundreds of sovereign Hawaiians gather at Thomas Square in Honolulu to celebrate Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea — Sovereignty Restoration Day.
In February 1843, Lord George Paulet forced King Kamehameha III to cede Hawaii to Great Britain, but on July 31, 1843, Adm. Richard Thomas restored Hawaii's independence.
On bended knee, he apologized to King Kamehameha III, took down the British flag and raised the Hawaiian flag at what thereafter became known as Thomas Square.
Then, in an afternoon service of thanksgiving at Kawaiahao Church, the king proclaimed the slogan that continues to guide the state of Hawaii, "Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono." (The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.)
Under the Kingdom of Hawaii, July 31 was an annual holiday.
On this day, it is timely to reflect upon Act 195, the Native Hawaiian Recognition Law passed by the 2011 Legislature and signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie on July 6.
What does it mean for the Hawaiian nation? What does it mean for the people of Hawaii?
Act 195 states, "The Native Hawaiian people are hereby recognized as the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawaii."
For the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, this is the principal significance of the law.
In 1978, the people of Hawaii took bold steps in support of Native Hawaiian rights when they voted in support of several amendments to the Hawaii State Constitution.
» Hawaiian was acknowledged as an official language of Hawaii together with English.
» Native Hawaiians were acknowledged as a beneficiary of the ceded public lands trust together with the general public.
» The state reaffirmed its responsibility to uphold and protect all rights customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes by Native Hawaiians.
» The state made a commitment to provide education in the Hawaiian language, culture and history in the public schools.
» OHA was created.
In 2000, in the Rice v. Cayetano case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the election of all-Hawaiian OHA trustees by Native Hawaiian voters violated the 15th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The court remained silent on whether OHA's programs and services violated the 14th amendment, and the state took a step back from full support of Native Hawaiian rights, entitlements and self-governance.
Act 195 now reaffirms and provides a solid foundation for the state of Hawaii to define its position on any future challenges to Native Hawaiian rights and entitlements.
It states, "The purpose of this chapter is to provide for and to implement the recognition of the Native Hawaiian people by means and methods that will facilitate their self-governance, including the establishment of, or the amendment to, programs, entities, and other matters pursuant to law that relate, or affect ownership, possession, or use of lands by the Native Hawaiian people and by further promoting their culture, heritage, entitlements, health, education and welfare."
At the national level, this law sends a clear message to the federal government to endorse the recognition of Native Hawaiians as the indigenous people of Hawaii and to support Native Hawaiian self-governance.
The appointment of a Roll Commission by the governor of Hawaii opens a pathway toward the re-establishment of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
OHA stands ready to work with the governor's office and the Legislature as we continue on the journey toward self-governance.