The monthlong Na‘i Aupuni constitutional convention moved into its final two weeks Monday with a consensus to draft formal documents establishing a Native Hawaiian government.
But the landmark convention, or aha, continued to be dogged by controversy as veteran Hawaiian activist Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele quit as a participant.
Kanahele held a news conference at his Nation of Hawai‘i property in Waimanalo on Monday afternoon, declaring the aha “not pono” (unrighteous) and saying the body is being misled by those who support federal recognition — or the nation-within- a-nation model of government.
“It’s being manipulated in ways that the mechanism itself is being manipulating,” he said of the convention. “It was set in place to distort and disarray.”
A number of other participants told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser the convention was making good progress and were hopeful some kind of a governing document will emerge for ratification.
However, much work remains for the more than 100 participants following two weeks of organizing, learning, brainstorming and viewing presentations on constitution writing, Hawaiian history, kingdom law, tribal law and more.
“As I see it, we need to get a constitution completed,” Oahu attorney Keoni Agard implored the assembly Friday afternoon.
The aha spent most of the day Monday forming committees on constitution-writing topics: preamble, rights, executive authorities, legislative authorities, judicial authorities and drafting.
Last week, during the convention’s second of four weeks at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club in Maunawili, the body adopted a purpose statement that calls for drafting governing documents to create a Native Hawaiian government.
The statement calls for taking the aha’s results to the Native Hawaiian people for ratification while “affirming our national identity,” “preserving our rights” and “advancing the hopes of our people around land, language, culture, justice and economic and political identity.”
The convention also elected a leadership team to take over from the moderators originally hired by the Na‘i Aupuni board.
The chairman is Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee, president of the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association’s Oahu Region and the policy and planning chairman for the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. The vice chairman is Anthony Makana Paris, a research analyst from Papakolea.
Meanwhile, critics continue to condemn the gathering as a state-engineered ruse designed to prop up a puppet government, undercut the independence movement and seize title of the state’s 1.8 million acres of ceded lands. Foes on social media have portrayed the participants as traitors, co-conspirators and dupes.
On Saturday a group describing itself as a coalition of 21 community organizations and sovereignty groups tried to steal some of the aha’s thunder by announcing its own “Aha Aloha Aina” meetings on Oahu, Hawaii island and possibly Maui.
The goal of the two-hour meetings Feb. 23-26 is to “reaffirm our independence,” to resist and oppose Na‘i Aupuni’s claims to be the representative voice of the Hawaiian people and to reject the U.S. Department of Interior’s attempt to federally recognize Native Hawaiians as an American Indian tribe, organizers said.
“They keep saying it’s self-determination but it’s not. It’s state-funded,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale, a leader in a group known as Protest Na‘i Aupuni. “They’re nonelected, self-appointed delegates making decisions on behalf of Hawaiians. It’s scary.”
Veteran Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte, who previously renounced his Na‘i Aupuni candidacy, unsuccessfully tried to attend the closed gathering at least three times during the first week. He said he has now decided to preserve his energy to fight whatever emerges from the aha.
“We know what it is. We’ve got to be ready for it,” he said, adding that “everything’s going to plan — we’re going to be Indians.”
Kanahele, who on Monday held up three uncashed per diem checks that he described as bribes, said he suspected the process would be manipulated but was hoping to work against those forces from inside the aha.
During his time in the hall, he urged the body to proclaim the restoration of Hawaiian national sovereignty, Kanahele said, but he ran into resistance even after making a presentation in front of the aha and hosting the participants at a party at the 55-acre Pu‘uhonua o Waimanalo village.
Kanahele said the organizers failed to put forth the best information for the aha’s mission, and it became clear that continuing to participate would legitimize the process and put the Nation of Hawai‘i property in jeopardy. The property’s lease calls for the eventual transfer to a Hawaiian sovereign nation.
The convention, envisioned by a 2011 act of the state Legislature and underwritten through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, was originally planned to take place over eight weeks with 40 delegates elected by nearly 90,000 Native Hawaiians registered by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.
But when litigation threatened to block the proceeding, the Na‘i Aupuni organizers canceled the election and offered all 196 candidates a seat at the aha. The move allowed the group to dodge allegations that the balloting violated constitutional restrictions on public elections.
According to a news release issued by the aha, the convention moves into its third week “with structure, purpose, leadership and an increased knowledge base.”
Hilo participant Katie Kamelamela, who ran as an independence delegate, said she was wary and skeptical going in but has been impressed by the energy and passion of a diverse body.
Concerns about a controlling influence by the Na‘i Aupuni board or OHA have been allayed in her mind. The agenda clearly is being determined by the participants, she said.
Both sides are working together, listening to dissenting points of view and identifying creative solutions, she said, while pro-federal recognition participants who were vilified by friends and contemporaries before the aha have turned out to be committed, passionate people with similar goals.
“There’s a lot of knowledge in that room. It’s super-inspiring,” said Amy Kalili, an Oahu participant who is executive director of the nonprofit Makauila as a host with OiwiTV.
Kalili said she doesn’t think the aha’s outcome is predetermined or that federal recognition rules out the possibility of eventual independence.
Mililani participant Zuri Aki said he’s more optimistic now than he was prior to the convention.
The first week was practically in disarray, despite having a set agenda, Aki said, but once the aha adopted the Robert’s Rules of Order meeting rules, it allowed the process to cut through often lengthy and sometimes circular arguments and discussion.
“There was a learning curve involved, but at this time most of the group has the hang of it,” he said.
During Week Two the convention began gavel-to-gavel television coverage and live streaming. The body also established a communication committee to issue a daily digital bulletin. It also created a website — aha2016.com — where daily reports are archived along with a gallery of images.
Week Two featured a series of short presentations from some of the convention’s own participants, including Hawaiian sovereignty activist Poka Laenui, law professor Williamson Chang, Hawaiian homesteader Jade Danner, Hawaiian-studies professor Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa and Kanahele.
Caucuses and focus groups explored nation- building issues, from citizenship to individual and collective rights, while governing documents from around the world were also examined.
Aki said the purpose statement was key to keeping the convention focused. He said it was drafted by a committee with differing viewpoints, yet it was able to embody a broad scope of interests, from federal recognition to independence.
Aki said initially he was doubtful federal recognition supporters and independence advocates could find common ground on critical issues, “but this group is doing just that. It’s incredibly encouraging,” he said. “I believe we’ll get this work done and have something worthwhile to present to the people.”
The convention’s plenary sessions are being broadcast on Olelo television as well as live-streamed at olelo.org.
For more information on the Aha Aloha Aina meetings, go to ahaalohaaina.com.