Before an overflow crowd at the State Capitol auditorium Monday, U.S. Department of Interior officials heard passionate pleas largely opposed to an Obama administration proposal to establish an official federal relationship with a yet-to-be-formed Native Hawaiian governing entity.
The meeting kicked off a two-week series of statewide public forums to get input on the proposal and how that government-to-government relationship would be set-up if the administration decides to pursue it.
The emotionally charged meeting, attended by several hundred people, lasted about 30 minutes longer than the scheduled three hours. It featured defiant, impassioned testimony mostly rooted in the grievances that have simmered in the Hawaiian community dating back to the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy.
Most of the several dozen attendees who testified Monday said they strongly opposed the Interior Department moving forward with the proposal. Citing various U.S. laws and statutes, they further argued that the agency has no jurisdiction to guide such a government-to-government relationship because the Hawaiian Kingdom remains the islands’ sovereign power.
"We are an independent, neutral kingdom," testifier Kilikina Kekumano told the Interior Department’s panel. "We are still sovereign."
The process "violates the human rights of our people," Hawaiian activist Mililani Trask added. "We are not tribal and we are not continental. … We are not a domestic dependent nation. … We are not Indians."
Several speakers did speak in support of the idea of moving forward, including Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Colette Machado. Her testimony, however, quickly devolved into a shouting match with those who opposed the federal proposal.
At one point, the audience stood for an impromptu singing of "Hawaii Pono’i." Many in the crowd wore traditional garb. One attendee, Po’okelo Pohakuku chanted in Hawaiian a bloodline related to King Kamehameha while his mother, A’o Pohakuku, accused the U.S. of widespread injustices against the Hawaiian people.
The Interior plans three-hour public meetings on all the major islands, as well in several Native American communities on the mainland. The second meeting is scheduled for Monday night at 6 p.m. at Waimanalo Elementary & Intermediate School. ‘Olelo, the public access television service, is broadcasting this week’s Oahu meetings.
If the proposal moves forward after the public meetings, the administration could accomplish what backers of the so-called Akaka Bill in Congress failed to do over more than a decade.
Among the other questions the administration seeks to answer is whether Interior should assist the Hawaiian community in reorganizing its government and whether conditions should be established to pave the way for federal recognition of a new governing entity formed by Hawaiians.