Native Hawaiian constitution lays foundation for future government

Native Hawaiian constitution lays foundation for future government
Published: Mar. 10, 2016 at 12:05 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2016 at 1:44 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's still unclear how and when Native Hawaiians will vote to ratify the constitution drafted in last month's convention.

'Aha Na'i Aupuni participants say the document lays the foundation for a future Native Hawaiian government, but what that will look like still needs to be determined. Experts say the strength and success of whatever is decided will come from the participation of Native Hawaiians themselves.

"The very first step in any pathway to self-determination for our people is the re-establishment of our Hawaiian government. We as a people have to come together and determine how we're going to be governed and what's that government going to look like," said Rebecca 'Iolani Soon, a third year law school student who attended the 'aha.

'Aha participants say self-governance begins with the "Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation", which was adopted by a two-thirds majority in February and is now being shared and discussed in communities across the state to raise awareness for a future ratification election.

The document details the framework of an executive branch -- which would include a president, vice president, and nine-member Moku Council. It calls for the creation of a one-body legislature with two sets of representatives from 43 districts -- one will be determined by population, the other based on land size. It establishes citizenship through the existing federal definition, which is any descendant of indigenous people living in Hawaii prior to 1778 when Captain Cook arrived.

One thing the constitution doesn't do is describe how self-determination for Native Hawaiians will take shape. Those who helped draft it say that can only happen once a government is seated and established.

"This document ensures that every single pathway remains open. Whether that's relationships independently as our own sovereign nation, whether that's relationships with the United States, whether that's relationships with the state of Hawai'i or with local county governments -- whatever political pathways our future government chooses to have, this document ensures that no paths are closed off," described Soon.

Opponents of the convention process say the constitution is instilled with Native Hawaiian values they agree with, but there are too many inconsistencies
and unanswered questions -- including how to determine political territory.

"This gathering that they did was not for nothing. I think in enunciating what they would like to see in the society. It's really the opening ground for a really fine debate, but in terms of being a governing document -- there's really some fundamental disconnects between what they have placed in some of these articles and the political reality that we live with," said Dr. Jon Osorio, a professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

After decades of several failed attempts at self-determination, political analysts say timing is key -- and this may be the best shot for Native Hawaiians, while President Obama is still in office. They say the biggest challenge will be trying to create legitimacy for the process within the Native Hawaiian community, while also operating within existing federal guidelines.

"Self-determination is exactly what we're fighting for. And self-determination means that at some point, we are able to choose the government that represents us as a people. Kanaka maoli and people who are not kanaka living in Hawai'i have been here under the delusion that our destiny is to be Americans. We have a long history of living here without being Americans. We have a history of being a kingdom that was a good kingdom, a good government, taken over by the United States. All we're talking about here is having the opportunity. Give us 10 years, give us 15 years, give us 20 years if that's what's needed -- but we need the opportunity so we can change how people think of this place and their place in it," said Dr. Osorio.

As a legal document, lawyers say the constitiution is solid. Whether it will be supported is now up to Native Hawaiians to decide.

Anyone over 18, who can prove their ancestry, is eligible to vote. They are not required to be enrolled with Kana'iolowalu, though the register remains open to those who would like to be added to the list.

In order to avoid litigation, no state or federal funding can be used -- so the plan is to raise money privately to hold a ratification election. If ratified, the constitution will pave the way for negotiations about how a government-to-government relationship would work.

"We need something different. We're tired of the status quo. Our people cannot handle the status quo any longer. And so it took extraordinary measures in order to ensure that we're now on a pathway to creating a government that can create hope for a future nation and hope for our future people," said Soon.

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