A plan with a timeline to raise $2 million and bring the newly created Native Hawaiian constitution to a ratification vote by the end of the year might have been a tad ambitious.
Those involved in the effort say the ratification campaign, while still moving forward on a “grass-roots” level, is progressing at a slower pace than some had originally hoped.
The participants in February’s Na‘i Aupuni convention, or aha, say it’s now looking like a vote won’t be held until the latter part of 2017.
The constitution, approved Feb. 26 by an 88-30 vote at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Course in Maunawili, calls for a government led by executive, legislative and judicial branches and representing only descendants of the indigenous people who lived in the islands before 1778, or Western contact.
In the weeks following the convention, it became clear that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trust fund-supported Na‘i Aupuni nonprofit — hamstrung by a lawsuit accusing it of using public funds for a racially exclusive election — would be unable to underwrite the ratification effort.
So a small group of aha participants, plus former Gov. John Waihee, came together to formulate a pathway to ratification.
With talk of seizing the momentum created by the historic convention, the group developed a plan for raising $2 million to educate Native Hawaiians about the new constitution, register new voters and stage a ratification vote by the end of the year.
If the document were to be ratified, the funds would also pay for another election to choose officers for the new nation, including a president, vice president and 43 members of a unicameral legislature.
The group figured at least a quarter of the donations would come from small individual donors. The funds would be held in coordination with the Tides, a California foundation dedicated to social change and which has worked with the Protect Kahoolawe ‘Ohana and other Hawaii groups.
Despite the creation of a couple of fundraising and informational websites and the collection of a quick $70,000, there has been little buzz about the effort over the past several months. The silence has left some to speculate that the governing document was doomed to collect dust in the file cabinet of history.
But participants insist they remain committed to seeing the process through.
“The status quo is no
longer working for our people,” declared Rebecca Soon, an East Honolulu community and economic development consultant and aha participant.
Soon said the fundraising continues in earnest while a low-key “grass-roots” educational campaign is being carried out by individuals making presentations to civic clubs, community groups, homesteader associations and families and friends.
She said no formal organization is overseeing the ratification campaign — at least not yet.
“So much has to be done before a (voting) date can be set,” she said. “Our goal is as much participation as possible. And the community needs to understand why we recommended what we did.”
Waihee and other participants tied to the fundraising effort could not be reached for comment. While Soon and others said they don’t know the amount of the funds raised so far, Soon said none of the money has been spent.
Aha participant Jade Danner, who was not among the early campaign planners, said grass-roots campaigning is a good thing for becoming connected to the community, but it is ultimately a slower process.
“The message is getting across,” she said. “As people understand the nuances of the issues and learn that it can improve lives in practical and achievable ways, we are finding support.”
Aha participant Zuri Aki said he didn’t think the delay in the vote would cause the effort to lose any steam.
“I think the process to acquire greater political authority and to exercise self-determination and sovereignty has been one that Native Hawaiians have been patiently waiting for for quite some time — and with greater interest than ever before,” he said.
Aki, who is running for a state House seat representing Mililani, said all eyes are focused on the presidential race because the next president will ultimately determine the strategies employed in exercising the right to Native Hawaiian self-determination.
“When the dust settles, I’m certain we’ll see a lot more activity with regard to educational initiatives and campaigns,” he said.
Meanwhile, those opposed to the Native Hawaiian constitution continue to pound away on social media and in a series of community meetings.
The Protest Na‘i Aupuni group and the ‘Aha Aloha ‘Aina coalition claims the constitution is part of a controlled and predetermined effort to meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed rule to set up a federally recognized Native Hawaiian nation.
In doing so, the Hawaiian nation will be reduced to an Indian tribe, members of those groups say, adding that any claims to true sovereignty or to nearly 2 million acres of Hawaiian lands, or ceded lands, will be lost in the process.
They are encouraging people to back out of their Native Hawaiian voter registration or, at the least, vote no in the ratification election.
But Soon and others from the aha insist that the governing document, as written, is open to any path, having been influenced by all different voices at the convention.
They say that if the constitution is ratified, it will be up to the newly elected leaders to decide whether to pursue federal recognition, independence or anything else.
“Ultimately, we all want the same thing: a better quality of life, greater political and economic sovereignty, and control of our resources,” Soon said.
Danner, former majority policy director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs under former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, said the downside to federal recognition is that it’s not the sexiest option.
While those who push independence make promises of greater political and economic control and a better life, the problem is that they can’t deliver, she said.
The campaign’s aloha
lahui.com website implores Hawaiians to join hands and help raise a nation by offering a donation, while its sister Hawaiiannation.com website explains the nation-
building process and includes a copy of the constitution.
The latter website urges readers to return for more information about what’s next in the ratification effort. But the page has yet to be updated.
Despite few new developments four months after the aha, participant Rowena Akana, an OHA trustee, said she remains optimistic that a ratification vote will be held.
“One hundred thousand-
plus people are interested in this. We have an obligation to look for some way to ratify it,” Akana said.