Manufacturing Consent for the Living AND the Dead in Hawai'i

Noelani Arista & Randall Akee

As you read this, Naʻi Aupuni (Seizure of Government), the new non-profit agency created and funded by the State of Hawaiʻi, is launching a Native Hawaiian constitutional convention. In order to understand the process it has never been more timely to have a public discussion about the ethics and credibility of the creation of the Native Hawaiian Roll that will be used during upcoming elections. The goal of Naʻi Aupuni is to elect 40 candidates to write a “Hawaiian” constitution in 40 days. Of the five commissioners on the Kanaʻiolowalu roll commission, three, Naʻalehu Anthony, Mahealani Wendt and Lei Kihoi, along with the roll commission’s executive director, Clyde Namuʻo, have chosen to run as candidates for the Naʻi Aupuni convention.

But there’s more to the dialog than having people who certified and created the roll run for election themselves. Unfortunately, the Native Hawaiian roll does not reflect the will of the people, and because the State of Hawaiʻi has backed the institutions and provided the funding that manufactured this roll – the voice of unregistered Native Hawaiians, the majority, remains unheard and uncounted. We must examine how this roll was created, and question the culturally insensitive inclusion of deceased Native Hawaiians on the roll as well.

In 2012, the Hawai'i State Legislature formally approved a process to create a roll of “qualified” Native Hawaiians by forming Kanaʻiolowalu, the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission. Only Native Hawaiians certified by the roll commission would form the electorate to participate in the creation of a Native Hawaiian Governing Entity. Under Act 195, Hawaiʻi State Governor Neil Abercrombie appointed 5 commissioners who were charged with overseeing the creation of this Native Hawaiian roll. Their self-proclaimed objective was to wage “…a campaign to reunify Native Hawaiians in the self-recognition of our unrelinquished sovereignty…”

Enrollees would be qualified on the basis of three criteria: They must be 18 years of age or older; they must satisfy ancestry requirements; and they must consent to participating in the organization of the Native Hawaiian governing entity.

Funded with approximately $2.6 million, the commission began the process of building the Native Hawaiian roll on July 20, 2012 and ultimately collected somewhere between 9,300 and 40,000 names (depending upon the news source), which is between 2 and 8 percent of the roughly 500,000 Native Hawaiians currently living in Hawaiʻi and abroad. The outcome fell far short of Kanaʻiolowalu’s objective to enroll 200,000 Hawaiians.

The state’s next move was to pass Act 77 (2013) an amendment that allowed the commission to take names from three other State of Hawaiʻi-controlled lists of Native Hawaiians: Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Operation ʻOhana (1990s), Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Native Hawaiian registry (2002) and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Kau Inoa list (2004). The inclusion of these additional lists increased the total number of names on the roll to over 100,000, though the roll commission has not disclosed how many names came from each list.

Of the three lists, only the most recent, Kau Inoa, launched 11 years ago, explicitly promoted itself as having political aims: It consists of Native Hawaiians who signed up to be part of a Native Hawaiian nation. The purpose of Operation ʻOhana, however was to identify Native Hawaiians worldwide, while the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) Native Hawaiian Registry was created to supply Native Hawaiians with an I.D. card that would, “allow the applicant to access Native Hawaiian programs without providing birth certificates and other paperwork to prove they are Hawaiian.”

There is no mention of nation-building in the purpose of either ʻOperation ʻOhana or the Native Hawaiian Registry lists. Regarding the people who signed on to the Native Hawaiian Registry in 2002, then OHA Administrator, Clyde Namu'o claimed "It is not the board's intent to use the list as a political tool. The law doesn't allow for it to be anything but confidential." The question arises, how can the passage of a recent State of Hawaiʻi legislative amendment manufacture consent to move names from other registries to the Native Hawaiian roll? How does expressing interest in registering as a “Hawaiian” automatically make you a supporter of the State of Hawaiʻi process to build a Native Hawaiian governing entity? (While there was an option to ‘opt out’ for Native Hawaiians who were added to the Native Hawaiian roll from these other lists, relatively few individuals did so, as an ‘opt out’ is a standard marketing ploy to suppress action.)

As troubling as this fabrication of consent may be for the living, the Kanaʻiolowalu Native Hawaiian roll includes the names of the dead. The commissioners failed to remove the names of deceased Native Hawaiians from the various lists that they incorporated into the new Native Hawaiian roll. As a result, there are deceased individuals on the list – at least 604 by our count. We expect this is probably an undercount of the true amount as we could only search back to 2010 because the online obituaries do not extend further back than that. While all voter rolls may contain at least some names of the deceased, the difference here is that those individuals gave their express consent to be included on those lists while alive. We found almost a hundred names of people who died prior to the start of the Kanaʻiolowalu legislation in 2012.

It is extremely distasteful, embarrassing and frustrating that a commission with millions of dollars of resources was unable to remove the names of deceased Native Hawaiians. It is not clear whether the commission was unable or uninterested in determining who was deceased. However, it was not an onerous task as we completed this analysis in a few days’ time. It is unconscionable that a commission of Native Hawaiians would include the names of deceased kūpuna (grandparents) and other deceased Native Hawaiians on a certified roll without the individuals’ consent or that of their families. It is an embarrassment to them and for the rest of us as well.

The process of organizing a government needs to come from the bottom up, not from the top down. This process should not manufacture consent for the living or the dead. Our process and path to nationhood, whether via Federal recognition or Independence, is ours alone. A critical mass of Native Hawaiians given the opportunity can come together and make a fully-informed decision about self-determination. We believe that free and informed governance is a human right.

Mai kaulaʻi ka ʻiwi ma ka lā.

Do not display the bones (the dead) in the sun.

Noelani Arista (Native Hawaiian) is assistant professor of Hawaiian and American History at University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. Her areas of expertise include translation and research in Hawaiian language archives, governance, colonial and indigenous history and historiography. Her dissertation, "Histories of Unequal Measure: Euro-American Encounters With Hawaiian Governance and Law, 1793-1827,” won the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians for the best dissertation written on an American subject in 2010. In 2013-14, Professor Arista was a post doctoral fellow in English at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Native American Studies at Dartmouth College.

Randall Akee (Native Hawaiian) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy and American Indian Studies at UCLA. Prior to that, Dr. Akee was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Tufts University. Dr. Akee completed his doctorate at Harvard University. He also spent several years working for the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs Economic Development Division. He is a research fellow at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. He has conducted research on several American Indian reservations, Canadian First Nations, and Pacific Island nations in addition to working in various Native Hawaiian communities.

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