[News] Whose independence? Why some Native Hawaiians don’t celebrate on July 4

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Mon Jul 5 14:01:42 EDT 2021


csmonitor.com
<https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2019/0702/Whose-independence-Why-some-Native-Hawaiians-don-t-celebrate-on-July-4>
Whose
independence? Why some Native Hawaiians don’t celebrate on July 4.
July 2, 2021
------------------------------

“‘This is when they stole all of our land,’” Konia Freitas recalls her
mother seething, during a film depicting the early arrival of Americans on
Hawaiian shores. Throughout her childhood, Dr. Freitas heard this refrain
with little explanation. It wasn’t until later that she pieced together the
full history of her homeland.

Prior to becoming the 50th U.S. state in 1959, Hawaii was a sovereign
territory. In 1893, American businessmen and plantation owners overthrew
the constitutional monarchy. For Dr. Freitas, July Fourth is a reminder of
cultural loss. In the century following the overthrow, many Native
Hawaiians lost touch with their cultural roots. Now director of Hawaiian
studies at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Dr. Freitas is heartened to
see a revival of Native Hawaiian scholarship. A quiet but emphatic current
of activism, ranging from environmental advocacy to a push for Hawaiian
sovereignty, runs throughout the Native Hawaiian community.

Former state Rep. Hermina Morita sees hope in that activism, particularly
the resurgence in environmental advocacy. “We belong to the land,” she
says. “That’s the most significant part of being Hawaiian; we are a part of
this place.”
Why We Wrote This

What does American liberty mean? It depends on whom you ask. While
Independence Day is a joyful celebration for many Americans, for some
Native Hawaiians, it is a painful reminder of the loss of sovereignty.

Honolulu

This July Fourth, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu won’t be celebrating American
freedom from Britain. She’ll be commemorating the loss of her ancestors’
independence at the hands of Americans.

As Americans gather in backyards and public parks around the United States,
Ms. Wong-Kalu will be performing at the ʻIolani Palace, the cultural heart
of Honolulu. There, she will be portraying Hawaii’s Queen Liliʻuokalani,
who was imprisoned in the palace during the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian
Kingdom by American businessmen and plantation owners. Within five years,
the U.S. government annexed the islands, setting the stage for Hawaii to
become the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

But Ms. Wong-Kalu doesn’t feel much like an American. She is first and
foremost a *Kanaka Maoli*, or Native Hawaiian.
Why We Wrote This

What does American liberty mean? It depends on whom you ask. While
Independence Day is a joyful celebration for many Americans, for some
Native Hawaiians, it is a painful reminder of the loss of sovereignty.

“I feel a sense of duty and obligation to Hawaii because Hawaii is my
homeland,” she says. “It is the heart of my existence. This is the part of
my life that is my dominant identity.”

Connecting with that identity has not always been easy for Native
Hawaiians. And for some, America’s Independence Day is a reminder of that
separation from their heritage.

Today, Ms. Wong-Kalu works to inspire young Native Hawaiians to learn about
their cultural roots as a *kumu*, or teacher.

Kumu Hina, as she is known throughout Hawaii, splits her time between
correctional facilities and local schools, where she promotes the Hawaiian
values of *aloha*: love, honor, and respect.
Talking story

“I’m going to tell you a story,” Konia Freitas says with a warm smile, her
neck framed by a pink and red *lei*. “Talking story is important to us
Hawaiians.”

“I was a little girl and my mother and I were watching TV, and a movie with
Hawaiian subject matter was on,” she says. She can no longer recall the
precise film but remembers watching as actors portraying the first American
missionaries to arrive in Hawaii stepped off the ship, Thaddeus, in 1820.

Cory Lum/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Dr. Konia Freitas, director of the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian
Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in Honolulu, has devoted her
work to furthering Native Hawaiian scholarship.

“I was sitting at my mother’s feet and I heard a sniffling behind me. And I
looked up and she was crying,” says Dr. Freitas. “But she wasn’t crying
because she was sad.”

“‘This is when they stole all of our land,’” she recalls her mother
seething through furious tears.

Throughout her childhood, Dr. Freitas heard this refrain with little
explanation. It wasn’t until high school and college when she started
branching her studies beyond the sanctioned curriculum that she began to
understand the context for that sense of loss. Now the director of the
Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at
Mānoa in Honolulu, she has devoted her work to furthering Native Hawaiian
scholarship.

When the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown, the adult literacy rate in the
Hawaiian language was nearly 100%, says historian Jonathan
Osorio. Protestant missionaries had brought the Roman alphabet and the
printing press in the 1820s. Their intent was to spread the study of the
Bible. But the Hawaiian people soon began to devour Hawaiian language
translations
of classics such as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Ivanhoe.”

In the decades that followed, several Hawaiian newspapers sprung up with
news from around the islands and the outside world.

“American Christians brought the written word,” says Dr. Osorio, dean of
Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaiʻi at
Mānoa. “Hawaiians made [scholarship] into a national ethos.”
A cultural renaissance

Dr. Osorio, Ms. Wong-Kalu, and Dr. Freitas all came of age at a time when
many young Native Hawaiians were beginning to reconnect with their history.
After decades of emphasis on assimilation into American culture, they were
rediscovering cultural traditions of hula, canoe building, and taro
cultivation. Interest in learning the native tongue grew, inspired in part
by a series of oral histories
<https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/06/22/452551172/the-hawaiian-language-nearly-died-a-radio-show-sparked-its-revival>
broadcast in Native Hawaiian over the radio by local Hawaiian language
activist Larry Kimura.

Cory Lum/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A popular tourist site, Aliʻiōlani Hale, in downtown Honolulu houses the
Hawaii State Supreme Court. A statue of King Kamehameha, the monarch of the
Kingdom of Hawaii, greets visitors to Aliʻiōlani Hale, which was once the
seat of government of the former kingdom.

Today, children with Native Hawaiian ancestry can enroll in Hawaiian
language immersion programs, though instruction in Hawaiian history remains
limited in public schools. A revived sense of scholarship has emerged as
Native Hawaiian scholars have carved out a home at the University of
Hawaiʻi.

And a quiet but emphatic sovereignty movement persists as a steady
undercurrent throughout the Native Hawaiian community.

Ikaika Hussey supports the idea of Hawaiian sovereignty, but not just for
Native Hawaiians. He imagines independence as a multicultural, inclusive,
and socially democratic nation.

Historically, the Hawaiian Kingdom was an incredibly diverse nation, with
citizens from all over Asia Pacific and the world. Mr. Hussey, like the
majority of Native Hawaiians, is of mixed heritage.

“We’re all mixed race. I’m half Filipino,” says Mr. Hussey, a journalist
and community organizer. “We’re all mixed up – in a good way.”

On the day the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown, a group of farmers of
Chinese descent from the plantations of western Oahu marched in defense of
Hawaii’s constitutional monarchy, Mr. Hussey says. The United States had
just passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 halting immigration of
Chinese laborers. Similar sentiments were pervasive throughout many
European nations. In Hawaii, they had felt a welcome that they feared would
disappear under U.S. control.

On the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy,
then-President Bill Clinton formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian
people for the U.S.’s role in that coup.

“The problem with the apology resolution is that it is aimed at the wrong
people: Native Hawaiians,” says Dr. Osorio. “In actuality it was the
kingdom government, the sovereignty of this multiethnic state that was
wronged.”

Cory Lum/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The King Kamehameha statue stands in downtown Honolulu. It honors the
monarch who founded the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Dr. Freitas saw hope in that apology that a chance for political
independence might soon be in sight.

But for others, like former state Rep. Hermina “Mina” Morita, the idea of
sovereignty has other meanings.
‘We belong to the land’

“The issue of sovereignty and taking back the nation is really hard for me
to grasp,” says Ms. Morita. “What I see as sovereign is how I conduct
myself. It is where I can contribute not only to making a better life for
Hawaiians, but for everybody in general.”

She doesn’t consider herself an activist, but she does see hope in the
willingness of people to come out and not just participate in Native
cultural practices but to defend them.

On the island of Kauai, where Ms. Morita lives, Native Hawaiian salt
farmers have been lobbying the planning commission to block permits for a
helicopter company to operate next to the salt beds on the west side of the
island. The Native community has harvested *pa*ʻ*akai*, or sea salt, from
the Hanapepe Salt Ponds since ancient times.

Throughout the islands, Native communities are waging similar battles to
protect the natural resources that they see as their birthright. A network
of activists across the state is preparing to protest construction
<https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/06/mauna/> of the Thirty Meter Telescope
atop the Big Island’s Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain
<https://www.civilbeat.org/2017/03/our-offshore-podcast-continues-with-season-2-the-sacred-mountain/>
to Native Hawaiians.

Seeing communities come out to help each other protect their natural
resources is heartwarming, Ms. Morita says, because it represents a renewed
embrace of environmental stewardship.

“We belong to the land,” she says. “That’s the most significant part of
being Hawaiian; we are a part of this place.”

*This story was produced with the assistance of local reporters Chad
Blair, Anita Hofschneider, and Blaze Lovell at Honolulu Civil Beat
<https://www.civilbeat.org/> as part of a pilot partnership between the
Monitor and local newsrooms.*
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