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Editorial | Island Voices

Resolution of claims is the only way forward

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    Hawaiian flags are flown upside-down during a peaceful demonstration on the Iolani Palace grounds in 2008.

AS I TRIED to introduce the 28 essays assembled in the new collection, "The Value of Hawai’i," I noticed that a few themes appeared almost anywhere I looked. I summed up one of them this way: "Hawaii will remain economically, socially and ethically troubled as long as we refuse to come fully to terms with Hawaiian claims to land and sovereignty."

This statement is about Hawaii, not just Hawaiians, and "coming fully to terms" is the most important part, because for almost 150 years, inaction has been an aggressive but failed strategy. So here are two reasons why everyone should desire some form of resolution—and especially those who don’t believe we should be drawing any distinctions between Hawaiians and the rest of us, and those who tend to remain indifferent.

Economically, there’s the issue of land. A very substantial portion of state lands are the so-called ceded lands, and in the past couple of years, debates over what Hawaii can or cannot do with these lands have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The all-too-familiar negotiated settlement has been to delay resolving the issue, rather than letting the Hawaii Supreme Court make a determination.

The result? The status of everyone’s property remains volatile. What would happen to real estate values if the state decides to start selling off land each year to balance the budget? (A bill proposing this was introduced in the last legislative session.) And uncertainties about property are not confined to government. What would happen if Kamehameha Schools, the largest private land holder in Hawaii, could no longer legally restrict its revenues to Hawaiian beneficiaries?

Socially, there’s a similar volatility. Everyone knows that Hawaiians suffer disproportionately from health, education, and social problems. As long as Hawaiian claims to land and sovereignty remain unresolved, Hawaii as a whole must take on the entire responsibility for dealing with these issues, since without knowing the full extent of Hawaiian properties or revenues, or knowing who can actually decide what to do with them, these resources can’t be fully directed at the problems many Hawaiians face.

HAWAIIANS ALWAYS have been, and still are, essential participants in determining Hawaii’s course. This comes through clearly in many of the essays in "The Value of Hawai’i." Melody MacKenzie describes how Hawaii law since statehood has been shaped by Hawaiian practices of justice stretching back to the Kingdom, and before. In his chapter on tourism, Ramsay Taum points out that without Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture, our islands will become just another year-round beach with hotels.

Trisha Kehaulani Watson reminds us that while there may be many houseless Hawaiians, they are never homeless. Whether living on a beach in Waianae, or on a sidewalk in Kapiolani Park, they are home, and how we treat them, and others this misfortunate, needs to be shaped by the ethics of how Hawaiians have traditionally treated their kupuna.

And Carlos Andrade’s visual and poetic tour through Haena directly addresses how Hawaiian history and values remain inseparable from the land and the people, even in the face of profoundly disruptive change.

The word "value" in the title of the new collection refers primarily to ethical matters. But when the issue is Hawaiians, "value" also refers directly to the economic status and health of everyone here. Resolving the claims to land and sovereignty will at the very least make the challenges facing all of us much, much clearer.

Craig Howes is the director of the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is a board member of the Hawaiian Historical Society.


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