This is a most momentous and important series of Joint Congressional hearings on the Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill. This morning, I would be remiss if I did not express my deep appreciation to you and to the other members of the Hawaiian delegation -- Senator Inouye, Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Congressman Neil Abercrombie.
For the past 18 years, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the legislative process, particularly as it pertains to Native American and territorial issues, and I believe right here, right now, the people of Hawaii are being presented with a wonderful opportunity. For the first time in U.S. History, Native Hawaiians are being given the opportunity to seriously consider and determine their fate.
We have before us for consideration Senate Bill 2899 and H.R. 4904 – two identical bills introduced to express the policy of the United States regarding its relationship with the Native Hawaiian people. Both raise important considerations that could determine and define the fate of the Native Hawaiian people in this state. As we meet to consider these matters, it is my sincere hope that the good people of Hawaii will actively participate in this process. It is also my sincere hope that these hearings will be a force for good in promoting a better understanding of the history and problems that have confronted the Hawaiian people since the establishment of Hawaii’s first United Kingdom under the rule of King Kamehameha I.
There are now some 1.2 million people living in the state of Hawaii. For many who were born and raised here, all have had some understanding of the problems confronting the Native Hawaiian community. However, for the Malihini, or newcomers, who have taken up residence in Hawaii, I make a special plea for you to keep an open mind and try to understand what has happened historically to the Native Hawaiian people. The bottom line is, this is not a new issue. This has been an on-going issue since 1810.
I want to thank you, Senator Akaka, for your leadership in this and many other matters. You and I are the only two members of the Polynesian Congressional Caucus. You are our chair. As your vice-chair, secretary and treasurer, I also want to commend you on behalf of our caucus.
You have been in Congress since 1976. You served first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and now serve as the first U.S. Senator of Polynesian ancestry. You have rendered 24 years of service to the people of Hawaii and in so doing have exemplified your stature as a great leader. I have admired and respected you for all these years. But more than anything, I have respected you most for demonstrating to the people of Hawaii, to the U.S. Congress and to the world the true meaning of the Aloha spirit. When the storms rise and the tribulations come, you are always there to provide the soothing balm of Gilead. You always look to solve problems through peaceful means while many around you look to add fuel to the fire.
I am reminded of a statement in the good book -- Pomaikai ka poe uwao; no ka mea e iia lakou he poe keiki na ke akua, meaning blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of god.
Thank you, Senator Inouye, for your leadership and your tireless service to the indigenous communities throughout the U.S., especially to the Native Americans whose plight in so many instances and in so many ways parallels the plight of Native Hawaiians. I do not believe the people of Hawaii are aware of the fact that you, Senator Inouye, singlehandedly, have been the pivotal force underlying a greater commitment on the part of the U.S. Senate to establish a study commission to specifically address the issues and problems affecting Native Americans.
When you really think about this, members of Congress and U.S. Senators are usually driven to make decisions that reflect the interests of their constituencies and states. I do not know the exact number of Native Americans living in the state of Hawaii, but, I do know and I want the people of Hawaii to know that you, Senator Inouye, are highly revered and honored in every Native American community throughout the United States. You are honored because of your tireless efforts to assist some 2.2 million Native Americans living in the United States today.
I indicated earlier that Senator Akaka and I have established our first Polynesian Congressional Caucus and often times we discuss issues affecting the Polynesian community living in the United States. I serve as a Congressional Delegate for the U.S. Territory of American Samoa, representing about 65,000 Samoans living in American Samoa and approximately 120,000 living in the state of Hawaii and the continental U.S.
It is interesting to note, Mr. Chairman, that my Hawaii cousins refer to me as someone from Hamoa. I am curious to find out more about an ancient settlement on the island of Maui anciently called Hamoa. Even the entire coastline commonly refered to as the Hana coast was known anciently as the Hamoa coast. Mr. Chairman, I believe we share a common ancestry. One of our ancestors is a god known as Tagaloa among Samoans and Tongans, Tangaroa among the Maoris and Rarotongans, Taaroa among the Tahitians, and Kanaloa among the Hawaiians.
Some say Polynesian culture is approximately 3,000 years old. Some say we came from the east. Some say we came from the west. Some say we’re the lost tribes of Israel. Some say we’re from the Red Sea. Some say we’re from India. The latest is, we’re from Taiwan. What is amazing is that the so-called experts of Polynesian origin never bothered to ask Polynesians where they came from.
One noted anthropologist insulted a prominent Samoan chief. Perhaps the chief was not aware that according to some western experts man is a descendant of apes and monkeys. The chief’s response was that maybe the experts descended from apes and monkeys but according to Polynesian tradition, we came from heaven and are descendants of a supreme being.
I share the story with you because fundamentally I believe we are all one people. When we discuss the rights of Native Hawaiians, we in effect discuss the inalienable rights of any people.
More than 100 years ago, ambitious descendants of missionaries, aided by unauthorized and illegal use of U.S. military forces, overthrew the kingdom of Hawaii. There is no debate. Prior to its overthrow, Hawaii was a duly recognized sovereign nation. As a result of the overthrow, Hawaii became a territory of the United States. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. State. It is the only U.S. State that was once a sovereign nation with its own ruling monarch.
Prince Kuhio, a descendant of the Hawaiian royal family, served as Hawaii’s delegate to the U.S. Congress for some 20 years. As a result of his leadership, he caused to be passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act which was enacted in 1920. Prince Kuhio was very mindful and concerned about the economic and social plight of the Native Hawaiian community. His sincere effort and thought was that if Native Hawaiians were provided parcels of land to homestead, they would be able to reap the bounty of their harvests and in so doing would regain their dignity and sense of self-worth. Contrary to all that was intended, the Native Hawaiians were left with the worst land while the best land was given to the descendants of missionaries.
In 1980, Congress created the Native Hawaiian Study Commission to consider its past and present relationship with Native Hawaiians. The Commission consisted of three Hawaiians and five sub-cabinet appointees of President Reagan and a business executive. The Commission found that in 62 years, only 3,100 homesteads had been granted and that 80% of the land set aside for Native Hawaiians in 1921 was still unavailable to them by 1983. The Native Hawaiian study commission then advised Congress against reparations.
I believe it is important to note for the record that the Commission divided on ethnic and geographic grounds. The mainland members appointed by Reagan voted against the three Hawaiians. As a result, the Commission issued two reports – a majority and a minority position.
In February of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided another matter. In the case of Rice vs. Cayetano, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Hawaii’s denial of Rice’s right to vote in the office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee elections violates the fifteenth amendment. As a result of this ruling and the 1983 Native Hawaiian Commission Report, members of the Hawaii delegation have now introduced the Native Hawaiian recognition bill to express the policy of the United States regarding its relationship with Native Hawaiians.
Let me say that I fully support this bill. As an aside, let me also say that in the past few months I have received letters from certain Hawaiian elements claiming to be of royal lineage and inquiring about their right to rule. For the record, I respect anybody and everybody’s claim to royal lineage but I do not believe that this is the forum to consider such matters. If this issue is to be discussed at all, it ought to be discussed and deliberated collectively by the Native Hawaiian community.
What is paramount to these hearings is whether or not the Congress, and especially the Native Hawaiian community, will be in agreement in principle and in law to the terms of this act. In short, this act has been introduced for purposes of establishing a process within the framework of federal law for Native Hawaiians to express their rights to self-determination and self-governance. With this said, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing what the people of Hawaii have to say about this issue.