HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There has often been an uneasy relationship between the State of Hawaii and Native Hawaiians. But as many residents had the day off from work to mark the anniversary of statehood, a group of Hawaiians met to discuss a new law that increases the possibility of sovereignty.
While the announcement of statehood in 1959 was met with outward celebration, for Native Hawaiians, there were mixed feelings.
"We're the 50th state, but where in Hawaii do we belong as a native people? That was difficult to answer," said Kamaki Kanahele, chair of the executive council of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly.
There are some 200 homeland residents from around the state attending the 24th annual assembly of the Councils. Besides starting on Statehood Day, it also comes at a time when Hawaiians are being given more sovereignty, thanks to Act 195, which basically recognizes Native Hawaiians.
"That's what Act 195 is all about, to say, okay, you natives are the original people, so we'll pass it into a law and make it official," said Kanahele.
It's not a frivolous as it sounds. From a legal standpoint, Hawaiians say it gives them more leverage, and more power than ever to govern themselves. And it comes after years of struggle.
"If we had not taken the role of activism to say, 'by the way, we need to be counted, and you need to be reminded,'" it would not have happened, Kanahele said. "And it took 52 years, up until the act was signed, that allowed that to occur. So it was a difficult time."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who signed the act into law, was the keynote speaker at the assembly.
"I try to explain to my friends on the mainland, yes, they were a kingdom. And then there was a shotgun republic. And then an annexed territory. And now, there's a state," Abercrombie told the gathering.
"Hopefully, the Hawaiian communities will appreciate both the western way and the Hawaiian way," said Kammy Purdy of Molokai, secretary of the SCHHA's executive council. "I grew up as a military brat, so I've always known, and I've lived a lot of my childhood outside of Hawaii."
But the governor cautioned that with more sovereignty will come more responsibility.
"It is for this time and in this place that decisions will be made that will affect the lives of all Hawaiians to come. It's that important," Abercrombie said.
Much of the state law is based on the Akaka Bill, which is stalled once again in Congress. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will fund the organization of a commission that will assemble the names of people who will have voting power in a future native government.
Meantime, the SCHHA meeting will continue through the weekend at the Ala Moana Hotel.