‘Nation’ Status Sought for Indigenous Hawaiians

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From Associated Press

Gov. John Waihee wants lawmakers to seek federal recognition of a “Hawaiian Nation” that would coexist with the state but allow indigenous Hawaiians to elect their own representatives.

He also proposes giving that nation the island of Kahoolawe, a former military gunnery and bombing range about 10 miles southwest of the island of Maui.

Waihee, Hawaii’s first governor of native ancestry, devoted much of his state-of-the-state address Wednesday to the Hawaiian sovereignty issue. About 20% of Hawaii residents are indigenous.


This month, Hawaiians observed the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani by a group of white business leaders and sugar planters bent on U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian islands. Waihee removed U.S. flags from state buildings in the capital district during the commemoration.

Waihee asked the Legislature to join him in “aggressively seeking political recognition from the federal government for Hawaiians as a native people, just as all other native people throughout America are so recognized.”

He supported a plan by the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs to create a Hawaiian Congress. It would consider establishing a Hawaiian Nation, similar to a mainland Indian reservation, that would have its own elected representatives.

“My friends, we are on a razor’s edge. We are an island community, and it is impossible to turn our backs on the injustices visited to our host culture, who are now one in five among us,” the governor said.

“We are a state, not a national government. We cannot confer sovereignty. But we can embrace self-determination,” he said. “Across America, native governments and states govern side-by-side.”

Waihee proposed giving the nation Kahoolawe, a 28,800-acre island. The Navy says the crater-marred island is not habitable because of unexploded munitions and because it has no fresh water. But indigenous Hawaiians consider the island sacred.


The military used Kahoolawe as a target range for bombers and warships from 1953 until Congress ordered a halt in 1991.

A five-member Kahoolawe Island Conveyance Commission has until March 31 to report to Congress on future use of the island. In a draft report last October, the commission unanimously recommended that the island be returned to the state.

Waihee proposed that once Kahoolawe is returned to the state, it be set aside as a cultural reserve.

The Navy says about half of the island has been cleared of surface ordnance, but said some ordnance is buried up to 20 feet deep.