Thursday, December 11, 2008
In ceded land battle, Native Hawaiians ultimately hold all the cards
by Larry Geller
A dispute over lands belonging to the Hawaiian government before the illegal overthrow is going to be heard by the US Supreme Court in February. The outcome of this case could end Native Hawaiian claims to so-called ceded lands—or it could result in the end of tourism and the collapse of Hawaii’s civilian economy.
First, please understand that I’m not Native Hawaiian, and so this is not a threat. I am taking the opportunity to mention fears that are expressed mainly over a bunch of beers but which seldom make their way into the mainstream press.
The fear is of WMD—Weapons of Mass Demonstration.
I lack a good historical perspective on this. I don’t know if or when there have been large demonstrations against the treatment that Native Hawaiians have received at the hands of the state government and its predecessors. We do remember the recent incidents at Iolani Palace that delivered a strong message to the state that sovereignty issues remain very much alive.
As workers sit in at a factory in Illinois for the first time since the 1930’s, as students revolt in Greece against police brutality and government inaction, and as the United States is about to inaugurate its first African-American president, it’s clear that revolution is in the air. Why should we believe it can’t happen here?
As the waiting list for Hawaiian homesteads continues to be unacceptable, as healthcare, job opportunity, and almost every other aspect of our treatment of Native Hawaiians continues the oppression, still there has been no revolution here. There is a tacit understanding no doubt, that for cultural reasons, there will be none. Maybe the reality is that the oppression has continued for so long…
Suppose, for a moment, that the beer hall conversations should become reality and protests began, round about now, as the state’s dependence on tourism makes it particularly vulnerable.
All it would take is continuous protests in Waikiki. Nothing more. Nothing illegal. No civil disobedience. In fact, if the state took measures that resulted in noise, violence and arrests, that would only accelerate tourists’ education about the overthrow and the existence of a Hawaiian Nation that wants its country back. Most likely they will tell their friends the truth about Hawaii, but more important, they’ll tell them that their peaceful sojourn in Waikiki was spoiled.
If the ‘ukulele’s were replaced with bullhorns, my suspicion is that the word would get out rapidly. Tourism would nosedive. The governor might call off her lackey Bennett and give up her move on the ceded lands. Why? So as not to risk succeeding with her arguments to the Court.
What are the “ceded lands?”
These lands are of great significance to both sides, as reflected in the amicus briefs filed with the court by 29 other fearful states.
From today’s Advertiser story, an attempt to define ceded lands:
Ceded lands are the 1.2 million acres once owned by the Hawaiian government and subsequently taken over by the U.S. as a result of the 1898 annexation. Those lands were then passed to the state and designated for five purposes, including but not exclusively for, the betterment of Native Hawaiians. They make up a bulk of state-owned lands and 29 percent of the state's land mass.
The phrase “subsequently taken over” is key here. A letter writer finished the job for the reporter:
The state of Hawai'i does not hold clear title to the ceded lands, because it did not obtain clear title from the Republic of Hawai'i. The Republic of Hawai'i did not obtain clear title, because the oligarchy of the republic illegally overthrew the kingdom.
If the US Supreme Court takes these lands away from Native Hawaiians, and yes, it would be a taking, the latest in a series dating at least from the illegal overthrow, then it could trigger the end of the state’s economy.
We’re probably wrong to think that these lands could just be snatched away and that all will remain as it was before.