Does the Kingdom of Hawai'i exist today -- and are we all subject to its rules? Those questions have triggered an internal dispute within the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
OHA's Chief Executive Officer created a firestorm Friday when word spread he sent a letter to the Secretary of State asking for an official opinion on whether the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists as an independent sovereign state under international law. Problem is, it appears no one else at OHA knew about or agreed with the letter, stirring an internal controversy that has raised concerns the inquiry could derail or delay Kana'iolowalu nation-building efforts.
Officials confirm the letter was quietly sent out on Monday by OHA CEO Dr. Kamana'opono Crabbe, in which he requested a formal legal opinion from the Justice Department.
"I will be requesting approval from the Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs that we refrain from pursuing a Native Hawaiian governing entity until we can confirm that the Hawaiian Kingdom as an independent sovereign State, does not continue to exist under international law and that we, as individuals, have no incurred any criminal liability in this pursuit," Crabbe wrote.
OHA Chair Colette Machado tells Hawaii News Now she and fellow trustees only learned of the letter Friday afternoon.
"Our whole goal is to establish a Native Hawaiian governing entity and we are very close in achieving that. The Trustees fully support this, that's why we're quite surprised -- how did our Chief Executive Officer not understand this by sending the letter to the state Department especially to the Secretary John Kerry? That's why we had to respond quickly on a unanimous position to rescind that letter, because it is not an official position of OHA," Machado said by phone from Washington, D.C., where she and Crabbe are attending a meeting about the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples at the invitation of the Department of State.
All nine trustees signed off on retracting the letter, which Machado confirms has already been sent to the Department of Justice.
"I want to assure the Hawaiian people that the Board of Trustees has not changed its position towards facilitating a process to reorganize a Native Hawaiian governing entity," Machado said.
Native Hawaiian Roll Commission Chair, former Governor John Waihe'e, says he was also surprised by the letter.
"For all of us that know our history, there's no doubt in our mind that the government of Queen Lili'uokalani was illegally overthrown and that the United States annexation of Hawaii was not done properly, was not done legally. In fact, this was admitted by the United States Congress when they passed the resolution -- the apology resolution -- in 1993. Any of us that know our history, know that we don't need to ask anybody, know whether or not any of these things were proper -- what we need to do is go about organizing ourselves and beginning to assert our own self governance. I don't know what motivated Kamana'opono to do this, but personally I think it's sort of disempowering. It's a disempowering tactic to ask for permission to pursue your own destiny," Waihe'e said.
More than 125,000 people have signed up for Kana'iolowalu to pursue a Native Hawaiian self-governing entity, an effort which OHA is financing.
"That's more people than all the labor unions in Hawai'i combined," said Waihe'e. "As far as we're concerned, the Roll Commission is concerned, we're still proceeding forward."
Hawaii News Now was unable to reach Dr. Crabbe directly Friday. Officials confirm he scheduled a press conference for next week Monday to explain the inquiry, but now that the trustees have rescinded that letter it's unclear if the press conference will still be happening.
To view Dr. Crabbe's request letter, click here: http://www.oha.org/nationbuilding/files/050514_KP_Letter_to_US_State_Dept.pdf