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What really happened at the ʻAha, part IV

The international committee struggles to have its alternative documents to the federal-recognition constitution put before the participants for consideration.

First-Hand Report
Ka'iulani Milham

Above: Assisted by Oʻahu participant Leona Kalima (right) Maui participant Natalie Kama (left) presented a scroll several feet long depicting her mo’okuauhau of kupuna on whose behalf she voted against the ‘Aha constitution.

Editor’s note: As one of the 154 kānaka maoli who agreed to participate in the state-sponsored, Naʻi Aupuni-initiated Native Hawaiian ʻAha, Kaʻiulani Milham had a front row seat at the month-long proceedings. What follows is the fourth installment of a multi-part, first-hand account that highlights various and consistent affronts to democratic processes that ruled during the ʻAha proceedings. Read part I, part II, part III and part V

While the federal recognition-friendly constitution was being finalized, independence advocates in the international committee (IC) were also hard at work.

The day before the ʻAha was to conclude, IC members were sequestered in a downstairs meeting room of the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club finalizing their strategy for the adoption of their “report”—a collection of governing documents prepared over the previous week.

Ultimately, the decision was made to bring forward two constitutions based on the ʻAha Hawaiʻi ʻOʻiwi (AHO) Independent Constitution of 1999, a document that had been crafted over 18 months by the elected delegates to the AHO constitutional convention.

Despite the efforts of those elected delegates, that constitution had never been brought to a vote for ratification. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), after learning the convention had determined to pursue independence, declined to fund the process any further.

Several of the AHO delegates, however, had run for election as delegates to the ʻAha and were now among its participants. Three of them—Jimmy Wong (a former Hawaiʻi state legislator) and both Keoni Agard and Poka Laenui (attorneys and long-time sovereignty activists)—now sought to resurrect the AHO constitution.

Seeking continuity with the Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution of 1887, the document they believe to be the last legitimate constitution of Hawaiʻi, Agard and Wong’s revised AHO constitution drew on provisions from the 19th century document to add authority and to bridge the century-wide gap between then and now.

While taking a slightly different approach, Laenui, the AHO chair, had also adapted the AHO constitution. After nearly two decades on the shelf, it was due for an update and Laenui was hopeful to finally have it brought before the lāhui for consideration and possible ratification.

With these two versions of the AHO constitution, the IC sought to submit both for consideration as alternatives to the constitution federal recognition advocates at the ʻAha had tailored to meet the Department of the Interior’s specifications for federal recognition.

In addition to these two constitution alternatives, the IC report included two declarations, titled “Maunawili I and Maunawili II,”  both written by Dr. Williamson Chang, the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Richardson Law School’s senior law professor: long- and short-form essays detailing the illegitimacy of the annexation of Hawaiʻi in 1898.

Although electronic copies had been submitted to the “magical” drafting committee,ʻAha vice chair Karen Awana, an advocate of independence, was uneasy. According to Lunakanawai Hauanio, the chair of the IC, the drafting committee had been giving mixed messages about what submission process they wanted other committees to follow.

To ensure the documents weren’t misplaced, or otherwise tampered with, Awana asked me to hand deliver the packet to the drafting committee for printing. Containing all four documents, the stack of paper was hefty, about 75 pages in all.

When I arrived, the room formerly occupied by the drafting committee was nearly empty. Makana Paris, the other ʻAha vice chair, sat alone at a table. Approaching him, I asked who I should give our report to get copies printed for distribution. Paris, barely looking up from the table, said the documents needed to first be submitted to the drafting committee. Puzzled, I returned to the IC. Awana, the feeling in her naʻau confirmed by Paris’ response, urged me to try again.

Spotting Zuri Aki, the drafting committee’s “chief drafter,” I approached with the documents in hand, explaining what Paris had said. Apparently preoccupied with the ʻAha constitution, Aki said there was no provision for printing on site and suggested we do as the drafting committee had done and take the job to an offsite printer.

With the clock ticking, my thought went to the hired facilitators. Surely, with the stated purpose of the ʻAha being to draft governing documents, they had procured printers? But after seeking out facilitators Peter Adler and Linda Colburn, I was told “no,” they did not have printers available. I went back upstairs to the entry where the staff from the paid PR firm Commpac, were stationed.

Among nebulous other duties, the PR firm had been paid to issue and collect our name tags every day. But did they have a printer? Again, the answer was “no.”

When I got downstairs again, IC members were in the process of taking up a collection to cover the more than $450 it would cost for the copies. Led by Maui participant Carol Lee Kamekona, they set out in four teams to get the documents printed and distributed to the ʻAha members as quickly as possible.

The Paper Chase

During the plenary session that morning, copies of the “final” draft of the ʻAha constitution sat in a box onstage as ʻAha chair Brendon Lee took the podium. Glowing on the screen at his side, the agenda allowed for an hour and a half for the various committees to review the changes that had been made since the previous draft of the day before.

Among those changes, Lee sheepishly explained that, “We forgot to put in an article to call for a special election for the population to ratify our constitution.”

Nevertheless, as he encouraged the participants to come forward and pick up a copy, Lee was jubilant. “Here is our constitution,” he said. An hour and a half later, the plenary resumed. Chair Lee took a moment to bask in the rosy glow of success.

“They all out there said that we would fail, that all we Hawaiians do is fight, that there would be protests … that we’d all never last a month together…. But here we are.”

It was a short-lived moment. Before Lee could begin the process of receiving the reports, Laʻakea Kamauoha, a participant from Orlando who—like the majority of the participants—had rarely stepped to the mic, rose to voice a familiar refrain about the lack of due process and transparency in the Drafting Committee:

“The first of last week we were tasked to go to these different committees,” he began. “We sat there for two and a half days putting something together and tried to present it. On the fourth day, on Thursday afternoon, folks would come over and tell us that it wouldn’t work. And so they tried to change it around. We fought to keep it, as is. And then, when it went to the first draft, it was changed. Second draft, it was changed. And then we hear tell, that this final draft, no changes, no discussions, no nothing; we either accept it or not. And I don’t really understand why you had us go through all of that if you already had an agenda, already out there, that you guys were gonna go with. And that’s the part that baffles me.

Lee wasn’t having it. “Who’s ʻyou guys?’” he demanded. “Your chair had no agenda,” he objected.

“The stuff that we put in there is not there. So, who were they, in this drafting committee, who decides to take out, alter, change and everything like that?” asked Kamauoha, one of 26 participants that flew in from outside Hawaiʻi to be a part of the process.

“The changes were made based on what was submitted from the liaison from the committee,” explained Lee.

“But they didn’t get there,” interjected Kamauoha, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

At this point Lee, clearly annoyed, asked Kamauoha, with more than a touch of sarcasm, “Are you the liaison for the committee?” as Annelle Amaral (the former police woman) ushered him from the mic.

But instead of proceeding to the agenda, Lee was once again interrupted. Rising to the mic, Lunakanawai Hauanio, chair of the IC, also had issues with the process of the drafting committee.

“I was instructed, yesterday, that we were to submit whatever information from the international committee that we wanted the drafting committee to take into consideration,” he said.

He went on to say that he’d been given conflicting information about the drafting committee’s submission process and that his understanding had been that he was to submit the IC documents to the drafting committee, they would review them and then return them for a final approval before printing.

“Today it was different. So I am concerned that, in the middle of the stream, that there appears to have been some changes.”

Having made his point, Hauanio told Lee copies of the international committee report were being printed in Kailua. Given the confusion about the process, Hauanio wanted to confirm the process going forward. Could they be distributed?

“That’s your prerogative,” Lee responded. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to equate the international committee’s governing documents with the box full of copies of the ʻAha constitution on the stage at his feet.

“I don’t believe any other committee has a written report,” he added.

Hauanio remained at the mic. But Lee was adamant, “I’m not going to call you up. I am not going to call you right now.” Hauanio, persisted, explaining that the copies being distributed did not include the documents his committee had submitted the previous day. “That’s what I’m concerned about,” he said.

Lee interrupted, said he was confused and that “the document that the drafting committee was tasked to draft is before this body. Are you saying that—”

“Documents that, obviously, didn’t come out in the print out this morning,” Hauanio offered.

Lee professed ignorance, saying, “So you had different documents that you wanted the drafting committee to draft?”

At length, Hauanio explained that the committee’s documents had been submitted but were nonetheless omitted from the documents the drafting committee printed out for distribution to the ʻAha participants.

Again, Lee played dumb, as if—despite chairing the ʻAha—he was nonetheless unaware the international committee had drafted documents. “So you had different documents that you wanted the drafting committee to draft?” Lee asked again.

“To look at and then send back to us,” Hauanio clarified. “And then it’s not part of the handout that was [distributed] this morning.”

“I’m sorry, the chair is still not following,” Lee repeated. “The task that the drafting committee was tasked with of drafting this governing document, they completed that task …and that’s what was circulated. So if you submitted … what? Did you submit things?

“Documents …” Hauanio offered.

“So you sent already drafted documents? That’s not the purview of the drafting committee. The drafting committee is to draft, to write. If you already wrote something, then I don’t know why you submitted it to the drafting committee.”

“My understanding is it goes to the drafting committee and then it’s printed out,” Hauanio said.

“Then that is not correct,” concluded Lee, adding that he would like to take the matter up with Hauanio during the recess for lunch since this was “not a matter for the body [to discuss].”

“It is a matter for the body …” insisted Hauanio.

“Then you can still bring that up when you give your report,” said Lee, dismissing Hauanio.

In contrast to Hauanio, standing at the other mic waiting to present the drafting committee’s report on the final draft of the constitution, Aki was elated.

“I love you all,” said Aki. “It’s an amazing thing. It’s the power of our people all in one, right here.”

But the warm-and-fuzzy that had been cast upon the participants was short lived. A half hour later Hauanio was back at the mic, asking Aki for clarification.

“Does the draft include the items that was sent to the drafting committee—that we sent on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—from the independence [international] committee?”

Aki put the responsibility back on the committee:

“Every day for this week, and so long as this committee has been around, I have gone to that committee and asked them if they could submit anything to the drafting committee and provide me with two liaisons to represent that committee and report to me … That committee has never submitted anything to me, other than hard copy documents to me today, this morning, and they have never provided two liaisons.”

Underscoring his point, Hauanio said, “So then the process that was explained to us last Wednesday, so it’s changed this week.”

Lee intervened to say the process was the same as it had been since the drafting committee was formed.

Was all of this simply a misunderstanding? Or was it a deliberate attempt to prevent the international committee’s governing documents from being considered for adoption by the ʻAha?

Out to Lunch

Hauanio’s next attempt to bring forward the international committee documents came just before lunch, when the printed copies of his committee’s report—the two constitutions and the two declarations— were finally in hand. Standing at the mic, awaiting recognition from the chair, he was ready to give his report.

But instead of recognizing Haunio, Lee acknowledged Oʻahu participant John Aeto, who stood at the opposite mic to make a motion for the “order of the day”—an expression in Robert’s Rules-speak meaning “proceed without delay to the next item on the agenda”

When Hauanio persisted at the mic intent on being allowed to speak, Lee talked over him, saying it would be “out of order at this time” and insisting, “We have to take this up. We have to take this up. I’m sorry you’re out of order.”

Holding his ground, Huanio objected again, “I think you’re very unfair because you knew I was going to…”

“You’re out of order … I didn’t make the motion,” interrupted Lee. “All those in favor of moving to the order of the day raise your hands.”

“You’re unfair,” Hauanio muttered, shaking his head in disgust as Kahiolani Papalimu, an outspoken federal recognition advocate, called out for back up: “Sergeant at Arms!”

As the session adjourned, two sets of governing documents, the constitution written by the drafting committee and the packet of documents from the international committee were now printed and available for discussion. But would they both be considered for adoption? The answer was yet to come.