(Also published at the Hawaii Reporter)
In a January 12th response to a January 9th article I wrote for the Honolulu Advertiser, the leaders of OHA claimed, “Native Hawaiians are the indigenous people of Hawai’i, and have the right to thrive in their ancient homeland.” I find this sentiment frightening in its consequences, contrary to the ideas of freedom, and based on false premises.
What we today call “Native Hawaiians” did not spring from the mountains of Oahu, or the beaches of Maui. As exemplified by the quintessential example of Native Hawaiian culture, the Hokule’a (now voyaging to Micronesia), Hawaiians were voyagers, explorers, and colonists from other islands in the Pacific and beyond. Their “ancient homeland” can be arbitrarily placed anywhere between Hawaii and the path they took from Africa, depending on which date one chooses. As with every people who have ever travelled to Hawaii, “Native Hawaiians” came from somewhere else – we are all immigrants here, separated only by the amount of time since our ancestor’s original arrival. To assert some special, distinct status, based on a single drop of blood before an arbitrary point in time, over all of ones’ peers who have lived together side by side for over 200 years is simply abject racism.
The “right to thrive” envisioned by OHA leaders to apply only to those of their preferred race is also troubling. To adapt a sentiment from the recent film, “Pursuit of Happyness”, it is not thriving that is guaranteed by the government, but the freedom to pursue thriving. To assert that there is a right to an outcome, rather than simply the freedom to pursue that outcome with equal opportunity, is to guarantee a right that is never realized.
The most frightening consequence of the words of OHA’s leadership, though, is the dehumanization of what they see as “non-indigenous” Hawaiians. They have dedicated themselves to an idea of race-based entitlements, and seem to fail to realize that by placing a single race in a position of having the “right to thrive” in Hawaii, one can only conclude they do not feel this is a right shared by those not of the proper race. Perhaps they expect the people of improper ancestry to find their own “ancient homelands”, and would have them thrive there. I suspect, though, they simply haven’t been able to see the dangerous consequences of their basic premises, and the importance of judging people not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
I was born and raised in Hawaii. My parents were born and raised in Hawaii. My grandparents were born and raised in Hawaii. How many more generations must pass in my family before OHA will grant the members of my family without direct bloodline to before 1778 “birthright”? How many more centuries before OHA is willing to treat all Hawaiians of all ancestries equally? Just as other Hawaiians living on the mainland due to economic circumstances, I feel squeezed out of my kulaiwi (ancestral homeland). But unlike those with the proper blood who evoke sympathy from OHA leadership, my birthright is denied.