Monday marked the beginning of a month-long vote in Hawaii to elect 40 delegates for a state convention to be held this coming February to formulate a sovereign governing body for the islands’ native population.
The election and subsequent convention is being overseen by an independent organization named Na’i Aupuni (“The one who conquered created the kingdom”), which seeks to “help establish a path to Hawaiian self-determination.”
Na’i Aupuni attorney Bill Meheula explained that the goal is to fill a void left open since the late 1800’s when Hawaii was annexed by the United States.
“We really don’t have a place where our people can vote in leaders who can come together to debate and come to a consensus on issues that are important to us,” he said. “Instead what you have is a number of different groups advocating things with no way of collectively moving forward.”
Sympathetic to the cause, Hawaiian-born President Obama directed the Department of the Interior to release instructions on how a native Hawaiian government could form an official partnership with the U.S.
Not all in the native community want to continue that partnership however, as public hearings held in Hawaii over the summer by the Interior Department were “dominated” by pro-independence voices, according to BBC News.
Separation from the U.S. would come at a cost however, as social programs which benefit native Hawaiians such as affordable housing, health care, and education subsidies would be cut off.
Although approximately 60 percent of written public comments to the Interior Department on the issue favored a continued partnership, according to University of Hawaii law professor Williamson Chang, many pro-independence supporters point to the ugly history of how the islands became a part of the U.S.
A constitutional monarchy existed in Hawaii until 1893, when U.S. forces overthrew the government. Hawaii officially became a U.S. territory in 1898 through a joint resolution of Congress, which was then signed by President William McKinley.
All other annexations in the U.S. have been accomplished through treaties, where terms are negotiated and a formal agreement is signed by both parties. This includes the Louisiana Purchase, the acquisition of the Republic of Texas, and various land agreements with Native American tribes.
Peter Apo, a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, favors a partnership with the federal government.
“I think if we’re able to get to (a) government-to-government relationship . . . that would cap the 123 years with a good ending to the story and a great future with Hawaiians in being able to maintain their identity as a people,” he said.
Results of the delegate vote will be released Dec. 1, and the eight-week convention to determine the structure of a native government will be held in Honolulu starting in February 2016.
[Al Jazeera] [BBC]