Osorio: ‘These are our lands, our responsibility’

Jon Osorio

The following is the verbatim text of a speech delivered by Jon Osorio, a Hawaiian Studies professor at UH-Manoa and an advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty, at yesterday's rally.

"We may disagree on whether we are partly Americans, we may disagree on what sort of government is appropriate or which is legitimate. But the one thing we agree on is that this land is our kuleana."

I was one of the plaintiffs in the original suit in 1994 before the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was a plaintiff in this case and when there were three of us and attorney Bill Meheula. I believed then that the United States had no legal claim to the lands and had become aware that the republic, territory and state had all used ceded lands to reward and strengthen already wealthy firms and powerful individuals with ridiculously low leases and in some cases, outright sales. Others had published articles and reports condemning the state's mismanagement of Hawaiian Homelands and ceded lands including the 1994 article in the Wall Street Journal by Susan Faludi. Finally, I felt the need to assert that claim in court and to pressure the state to begin a reconciliation with our people.

Over time I became much more interested in reclaiming our independent government and really do believe in the legitimacy of the Hawaiian Kingdom, which was constituted in 1840 and internationally recognized by foreign powers in 1843.

Not every Hawaiian feels that way: We have family members who consider themselves Americans, and Kanaka Maoli are outnumbered here, which not only raises questions about the practical likelihood of restoring our independent government—it raises moral questions as well. Can we take a political path that does not protect and honor those around us who are not native? I believe that we Hawaiians have long since answered that question and that partly because we have aloha for the other nationalities in Hawai`i, we have pursued a path to self-determination that is patient and honorable.

The fate of these lands brings that issue forth quite clearly. The State Supreme Court has admitted that Kanaka Maoli claim to the ceded lands is authentic. The governor's attorney general seeks a federal intervention, which threatens not only the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, but existing state and federal programs like OHA and DHHL and at a time when the economy in these islands could not be in a more precarious state. The AG wants the residents of Hawai`i to believe that it is acting in their best interests by asserting the state's ownership over these lands, but in fact it is not. Our suit and the opinion of the Supreme Court does not take management of the lands away from the State of Hawaii, does not prevent it from drawing revenues from those lands to the state's general fund. All this suit and this opinion does is assert that we Kanaka Maoli have a kuleana in these lands and that no government has the right to self off these lands until either a reconciliation has taken place between the United States and the Kanaka Maoli people or until the government determines that there will be no reconciliation.

Yes, it is possible that the state or the U.S. may eventually choose to take a hard line with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement as politically inadvisable as that course may be. The AG's appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States moves that possibility to the spring of next year. It's like the governor's office is playing chicken with the Hawaiian people and for what purpose? To prove who is in charge? To play to political right-wing in Hawai`i and in the United States? Actually, who gives a damn what their purposes are. We have something far important to assert.

It's as though the state knows only one thing—that it must pursue foreign investments and military spending at the cost of anything else.

The crown and government lands of the Kingdom of Hawai`i are the kuleana of the Hawaiian people. Period. Frankly we are unimpressed with the management of the State of Hawai'i and think that we have the talent and the training to do a better job. How ridiculous that the state cannot afford it's public school system. I really don't believe that anyone ever made that charge against the Kingdom of Hawai'i. How absurd that the state ignores the outrage of Kanaka Maoli over the proliferation of telescopes on Mauna Kea and then charges one dollar per year to these profitable organizations for the privilege. How outrageous that the territory and the state allowed the U.S. military to snatch away Hawaiian homelands without compensation for half a century, this, the richest military in the history of the world.

Really, it's almost as though the state knows only one thing—that it must pursue foreign investments and military spending at the cost of anything else. Even the quality of our environment has neither the will nor the ability to lead these islands into any other kind of economy. And because this is all it now knows how to do, the governor's office becomes desperate when we Kanaka Maoli lay our legal claims to the lands before the courts acting as though we are the threat to the economy.

While they have pursued tourism, real estate and military spending these past 50 years, we have been pursuing a very different kind of infrastructure. We have taken on the task of rescuing our language, history, arts and sciences and have now exposed thousands of people in Hawai`i to the genius of Hawaiian agriculture and aquaculture. Our students have come to the universities and colleges in record numbers, and do you know what fields we tend to gravitate to? Social Work, Medicine, Law, Education, Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian language as though preparing ourselves to serve and to lead a nation. And I believe we have done this because we know exactly what we are doing. We may disagree on whether we are partly Americans, we may disagree on what sort of government is appropriate or which is legitimate. But the one thing we agree on is that this land is our kuleana. We are the 'aina and the 'aina is us. What happens here to the land and sea matters to us regardless of our political affiliations and we are going to continue to assert that kuleana as long as we live.

The great patriot Joseph Nawahi in 1882 gave a speech in the City of Hilo criticizing the king and the kingdom's Legislature for knuckling under to Claus Spreckels in a legal dispute and giving him 24,000 acres of Crown Lands without a fight. "Yes the land, that cherished thing, the place where the feet of the famous conqueror stood and where his weariness was rested; that very valuable land, 24,000 acres of Kama`oma`o has been lost … I tell you now this is a shameless act which the Legislature has granted; and I call those who granted this land traitors to the country."

Gov. Lingle should withdraw this writ. The state should acknowledge once and for all that it owes the Native people and the State of Hawai'i an accounting for its guardianship of our lands, and then we Kanaka Maoli need to get on with the task of managing this place for our benefit and for the benefit of the rest of the population as well. My message today is direct and simple. These are our lands, our responsibility. We have been working and training ourselves for years to make the `aina live again. It's time to get on with it.