by Andrew Walden
"I've heard a lot of noes so far."
That's the message Sam Hirsch, Esther Kiaaina, Rhea Suh, and other representatives from the US Department of Interior and Department of Justice are hearing loud and clear from angry, tumultuous Hawaiians in the Capitol Auditorium at the first of 15 federal hearings intended to measure acceptance of what the Feds call "Procedures to Reestablish a Government-to-Government Relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community."
One could tell this morning's hearings weren't going to go well for the Akaka Tribe when the first question from the audience was, "Under what authority do you have jurisdiction here?" Followed quickly by: "How can sovereignty be under the federal government? We already have sovereignty" then "Why are you on stage? All of us should be on stage" and "Do we look like Indians to you?"
It went downhill from there. When Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Colette Machado took the microphone, the audience became restive:
Machado: Come on you guys, cut some slack. Be respectful. Come on now. I've been waiting from 8 o'clock. Lets not get into one pissing match right now. My time's up after two minutes. Allow me that opportunity.
Voice from Audience: "American politician."
Machado: "That's true. I am an American politician."
Voices from audience: Laughter
Machado: Attempts to reads OHA statement.... "OK I get one minute."
Voices: "Follow the rules"
Machado: "You follow the rules."
Voices: Shouting from audience.
Machado: "...I strongly urge that the Federal government move forward...."
Voice: "You confused."
Machado: "Thank you Benny. If you confused, you recognize confusion.... You follow the rules too."
Machado then proceeded to heckle subsequent speakers.
As attorney Keoni Agard calmly testified against the Interior Department's involvement, Machado hollered across the packed auditorium, "One minute! One minute!" drawing laughter and scattered shouts for Machado to "shut up."
Machado's outbursts continued until Machado heckled activist Mahealani Kahau who pointed out, "You are a chairman. Act like one."
In the chaos there were moments of lucidity.
Andre Perez explained, "Efforts (towards federal recognition) have been driven by a small Hawaiian oligarchy. For years OHA has pushed the agenda."
Looking to the audience, Perez asked, "How many people in this room were part of a process of consultation in support of the Akaka Bill? How many people were involved in conceiving of Act 195? How many people were involved in the design of the OHA Nation Building plan, raise your hands right now. Just the Trustees. All nation building efforts must come from us, not the Office of Hawaiian Despair."
Grassroot Institute President Kelii Akina pointed out: "The Department of the Interior does not have the authority to recognize a Hawaiian government because the Constitution gives Congress the power to ratify treaties and recognize tribes. Neither the Executive Branch nor the states have the power to create or recognize a tribal government, which thereby makes both the existing nation-building process and any action by the Department of the Interior vulnerable to legal challenge."
Charter school teacher Ethan Porter explained: "There has never been a government-to-government relationship between the United States government and the native Hawaiian community. From the formation of the Hawaiian Kingdom under Kamehameha the Great, it has been a multi-ethnic nation-state...."
The next speaker testified, "You cannot re-establish a government to government relationship with the native Hawaiian community when that relationship was between two independent and multi-ethnic countries.... There should be no closed roll of native Hawaiians. We need genuine education, not the kind of marketing campaigns that the State of Hawaii has...poured millions of dollars into...."
Mililani Trask told the panel: "...Hawaiians have never been referred to as Indians. We are not tribal....
"We also question the discussions that have been ongoing at the White House. This is an inappropriate interpretation and use of the executive power of the Presidency. It has never been utilized in this way and should not be in our peoples case....
"We don't believe the Interior or State Department is capable of assisting us in our expression and exercise of self-determination.... We are looking at a 20 year period of collusion between the Federal and State governments: the Akaka Bill ... Kau Inoa, the Native Hawaiian Convention, the Kanaiolowalu .... None of these initiatives came from the Hawaiian people. All were Federal and State initiatives that have cost our trust and estimated $50M dollars.... And a good example is Kanaiolowalu--a State law passed by the Legislature--we were required to pay $4M of trust dollars for it and registered 30,000 Hawaiians in two years with the largest group being...2,000 inmates from the federal penitentiary in Arizona."
UH professor Jon Osorio testified: "We do not believe the Department of Interior should facilitate. We do not support DoI involvement.... (but) We ask that the DoI find ways to protect our so-called entitlements ... without establishing any kind of government to government relations."
Another speaker said: "We know what happened to the Indians. We don't want their box."
Hawaiian Homelands Commissioner 'Uncle' Joe Tassill told the Feds, "You need to pack you bag and you need to leave."
Hawaiian Roll Commission Chair John Waihee was nowhere to be seen. Roll Commission Vice Chair Naalehu Anthony was one of very few who spoke in favor of the Interior Department proposal. He said, "I look around here and I see all these kids in the room and I think back to this very room about 25 years ago. I was like 12 or 13 years old. Packed with Hawaiians. Packed. Same conversation as today.... The reason I'm here today is I don't want to leave this for my son."
One legislative staffer told this reporter: "This place always seems to loop back on itself."
Waimanalo activist Bumpy Kanahele told the Feds: "I'd like to notify all of you that you can and will be held liable ... if you continue to interfere with our political process.... I'll see you in Waimanalo tonight."
The next hearing is at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School 6pm to 9pm.