Sovereign Deception: The Events Leading to Hawaii’s Unlawful Annexation

Sovereign Deception: The Events Leading to Hawaii’s Unlawful Annexation

Many Americans today simply view Hawaii as just another, albeit heavenly, state. It was roughly 400 A.D. when the first Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands rested their canoes upon Hawaii’s shores. The history books often paint the annexation of Hawaii as a glorious liberation of her people. Their savagery and authoritarian rulers would have ultimately destroyed the kingdom, White historians argue, had the United States not rescued her in time. Prominent Kanaka Maoli scholar and activist, Haunani-Kay Trask, destroys that misconception in her book titled From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i. Trask’s primary arguments center around the events leading up to the annexation, denouncing most alleged Hawaiian scholars who cannot speak or read the Hawaiian language and refuse to see her people through their documented history. It was a promised land to the first Hawaiians, a virgin land with resources suitable to sustain hundreds of thousands. The Indigenous people of Hawaii, like many native cultures, respected the land and natural resources, believing no one deserved to own it because it was a gift from the Gods. A recent documentary explains that various Chieftains ruled the smaller islands and vicinities, and although there was—as with all nations and peoples throughout history—some tribal warfare, the people flourished and developed unique activities like hula and surfing (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). Hawaii became a recognized sovereign nation with a great quality of life, an authentic government, and (at one time) had one of the highest literacy rates in the world. If it had remained untampered with, Hawaii would undoubtedly be a thriving sovereignty today. When Captain James Cook disrupted the inter-reliant society in 1778, however, he began a ripple effect that would undermine the goals of Hawaiians for years to come.

The first key event unraveling the annexation of Hawaii was the influx of foreign interest. Cook’s entrance marked a new time for Hawaii. While hope and change were evident, the culture clash proved to be too much for both Cook and the Indigenous peoples. The most detrimental effect was the disease that ravaged the Hawaiians, ultimately wiping out ninety percent of their original population. By 1840, less than one hundred thousand Indigenous Hawaiians remained (Trask 4). Since Cook had shared Hawaii with many parts of the world through journals and ambassadors, King Kamehameha I was the first Chieftain to successfully unite the Hawaiian Islands due to fear from other world powers. When Kamehameha I realized how fragile his nation’s way of life was, he began to pour his time into networking with various leaders across the globe. He saw these powerful nations taking advantage of the weaker ones, and he was determined to gain allies by sending ambassadors to sympathize with Hawaiian affairs (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). Kamehameha’s plan was successful at first, and Great Britain agreed to be a part of Hawaii’s first international alliance. White settlers continued to pour into the land, however, bringing with them their ideas of a capitalist and individualist society that clashed with the Hawaiians’ sense of harmony with the Earth. Since the Hawaiians believed the land was to be shared because “people cannot exist without the land, and the land cannot exist without people,” newcomers claimed the land was ripe for the taking and tried to establish ownership on selects parts of the nation (Trask 116). Kamehameha III pleaded to his allies in Europe and won the land back for his people, but he realized that the issue would continue unless something changed. Reluctantly, he established the Mahele in 1848 which allowed for Hawaii’s first-ever ownership of lands, divided into three parts between the King, the Chieftains, and the citizens (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). Few Hawaiians claimed their land, however, and they continued to live off it in harmony. By 1888, “three-quarters of all arable land was controlled by [Whites].” (Trask 5).

The second key event was a boom of the sugar cane industry. It quickly became the key export on all main islands, and it was not long before the demand for labor exceeded the local supply. The sugar industry brought some positive changes such as technological advancement and opening trade with foreign allies. The cons outweighed the pros, however, and the sugar fields began to dominate the land used by Indigenous Hawaiians. People who had lived off the land for hundreds of years were no longer able to sustain themselves due to a lack of natural resource fields (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). This resulted in an increased number of stores and artificial housing to compensate for the natural resource loss. By the mid-1800s, King Kamehameha III struggled to maintain trade due to U.S. sugar tariffs while simultaneously combating increased foreign interest, attempts, and intervention. The U.S. drafted its first annexation treaty during the 1850s, but “the treaty remained unsigned at [Kamehameha III’s] death.” (Trask 5). Kamehameha III’s successor, Liholiho, attempted an alternative treaty in 1854 called the Reciprocity Treaty that would satisfy Hawaii’s independence while still aiding sugar profits. After Liholiho’s sudden death and the end of the U.S. Civil War, U.S. Minister to Hawaii, James McBride, suggested a revision to the proposed Reciprocity Treaty, one that gave the U.S. rights to ports and the ability to station warships (Trask 6). Meanwhile, the White sugar planters on the islands continued to vie for annexation. The Indigenous Hawaiians protested, fearing “virtual enslavement under annexation” due to the racial abuse minorities already faced in the upper forty-eight states (Trask 7). Finally, the invasion of settlers brought upon by the sugar industry significantly changed the dynamic of the population. Whalers and other merchants also increased civil disturbances, and “alcohol and prostitution exuberated the problem.” (Trask 7). This gave the Americans a reason to send in more troops to maintain peace, all in lines with their belief system of Manifest Destiny. A Reciprocity Treaty was finally signed in 1875 under King Kalakaua’s rule. It removed the U.S. tariff on sugar imports and sales thrived (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). This benefit was unbalanced, however, because White settlers owned nearly seventy-five percent of all sugar plantations, and more continued to flock to the islands in hopes of easy profit (Trask 8).

The third and perhaps most crucial event began towards the end of the nineteenth century. The U.S. had removed its sugar tariff with Hawaii, but it had also begun removing them from other countries, creating astounding competition in the sugar marker for the first time (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). The sugar growers in Hawaii, still mostly White settlers, became dissatisfied with the Hawaiian government and strengthened ties with American businessmen. Unbeknownst to the Hawaiian monarchs, they began conniving against the local government and searched for deceitful ways to force the annexation of Hawaii, giving themselves a monopoly on sugar sales.  Meanwhile, the U.S. also pushed for exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor, only to have it refuted repeatedly by the Hawaiian government (Pa’a Ke Aupuni). Things began to take a turn for the worse when the Reciprocity Treaty of 1887—also known as the Bayonet Constitution due to the threats from the sugar cane owners, essentially a gang of White businessmen—because “Pearl River Lagoon was ceded to the United States in exchange for duty-free sugar.” (Trask 9). King Kalakaua continued to face threats and pressure eventually resulting in a legislative takeover by the settlers and sugar cane lords. Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded her brother after his death in 1891 and faced a crumbling sovereignty under settler control. She sought a more democratic constitution, one absolving “the property requirement for voters” and restricting the “franchise subjects of the kingdom.” (Trask 10). Her Ministry, however, was filled with a lust for profit and imposed their imperialistic connections, and began spreading lies about the upheaval in Hawaii due to Lili’uokalani’s proposed constitution. They told the U.S. news that the Hawaiian citizens were sacking stores and threatening the government and each other, and they ultimately devised a Committee of Safety to restore alleged peace to the savage-ridden nation (Pa’a Ke Aupuni).  Lili’uokalani found herself in a position where she had to temporarily cede her authority to the United States to avoid the bloodshed of her people. Minister Stevens moved in swiftly to begin an annexation, but president Grover Cleveland withdrew the pending annexation treaty shortly after his election in 1893 (Trask 11). President Cleveland supported Hawaii’s sovereignty, but he left office without successfully restoring Lili’uokalani’s rule. Since the annexation had merely been stalled, power was handed over to an all-white oligarchy called the Republic of Hawaii which loosely resembled the American form of government (Trask 11). Newly elected President William McKinley pushed for annexation in 1898, filled with imperialist goals, and Lili’uokalani continued to remain peaceful and subdued to best protect the remaining Hawaiians from bloodshed. Although most Hawaiians signed anti-annexation petitions, the settlers in power pursued an alternative approach, albeit an illegitimate one, that made the citizens’ votes irrelevant (Pa’a Ke Aupuni).  As a result, Hawaii was annexed by the United States on July 6, 1898, removing the rights of all Indigenous Hawaiians.

Through deception, America has governed Hawaii for over one hundred years. She is currently overrun by tourism and military bases, her Indigenous people living mainly at poverty level like many American minority groups. Indigenous rights to land have been all but eradicated, and ancient traditions like the hula are no more than a tourist sideshow (Trask 15). Trask argues that resurgence of the Hawaiian culture must first begin with a historical revival: “Our story remains unwritten. It rests within the culture, which is inseparable from the land. To know this is to know our history. To write this is to write of the land and the people who are born from her.” (122). Once the true history of Hawaii is known on a local and Indigenous level, it can then have better odds of spreading throughout America. The path of true justice for Hawaii and her people would consist of restoring their rights as a sovereign nation apart from America. This would be a difficult path and one riddled with legal complexities, but Hawaii has the right to pursue that path if the Indigenous people desire it. If not, at the very least, the U.S. government should seek to amend the damage done by claiming the Hawaiian lands and seek to restore the land ownership rights of the remaining Indigenous peoples. The past cannot be undone, but people can learn from it and strive to make the future a better place. Education is critical to Hawaii’s restoration, and if people remain ignorant, the ancient paradise will forever remain a “whispering spirit” of its former glory (Trask 121).

Works Cited

Pa’a Ke Aupuni. Dir. Cynthia Y.H. Derosier. Pa’a Ke Aupuni. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, 31

July 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i.

Honolulu: U of Hawai’i Press, 1999. Print.

Sharing One Skin: The Okanagan People’s Relationship and Responsibility to Land

Sharing One Skin: The Okanagan People’s Relationship and Responsibility to Land

“Okanagans say that heart is where community and land come into our beings and become part of us because they are as essential to our survival as our own skin,” says Jeanette Armstrong, a Canadian author, educator, artist, and Indigenous activist. One cannot fully thrive without the other, and a peaceful and full life is nonexistent if one does not acknowledge and strive to understand the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual worlds. Heritage is of the utmost importance to Armstrong, her father being of the mountain tribes and her mother indigenous to the river lands. Due to her varying background, Armstrong feels familiarized with the mountains but still accountable for the rivers. Her path and responsibilities are clearly laid out for her because of her bloodline and proximity to those sources: “I cannot be separated from my place or my land,” she explains, “that is who I am and where I take my identity from.” (Armstrong 461). The language, community, traditions, and personal ethics all play a part in the Okanagans’ harmonious connection to the land, these beliefs being ultimately founded on respect for the Earth and all that thrive within it. It is a far cry from mainstream and settler ideologies, and Armstrong believes the Okanagan way of life is the perfect starting place for a reciprocal and restorative relationship with the land and all its inhabitants.

Armstrong’s solid ties to the land are first rooted in the language of her people. In Okanagan, it is nearly impossible to separate the land from the language because important words like people and humanity cannot be spoken or written without the context of the relationship to the land. The word Okanagan is consequently laden with multiple ties to nature, and it “comes from a whole understanding of what we are as human beings.” (Armstrong 461). The meaning of the word (and therefore the language and identities of the people it represents) can be broken down into three main components. The first part of the word implies relation to the physical realm or the tangible world people interact with daily. The second part of the word is best translated through the English word dream, but it essentially means “the unseen part of our existence as human beings,” implying that mankind’s existence is both physical and spiritual (Armstrong 462). Finally, the third part states that people are intrinsically tied to every other person, and likewise, every animal and plant. Every action has a reaction, and every party effects the others, whether indirectly or not. When people lose sight of these essentials of humanity and ties to all living things, argues Armstrong, “we lose our place, and confusion and chaos enter.” (462).

Armstrong believes there are four key differences between Okanagan (or Indigenous) ways of life and mainstream culture that impact one’s relationship with the land and all who reside on it, and the first two are directly related to the understanding self and community. The first is the significance of self. The Okanagan believe people are comprised of the following: physical self, which includes everything tangible and corporeal; emotional self, is loosely translated to heart and it involves all things related to emotions and feelings; intellectual self, which implies the thinking and logistical side of mankind; spirit self, which correlates to all things intangible and the concept that people are undeniably connected to everything this world as well as things that are not of this world (Armstrong 463-464). The last capacity of self is also called the true self, inferring that it is the most important of the four. The second key difference is the definition of community and the role it plays. Every person is born into a family and community, and those relationships are inescapable. Armstrong explains that the Okanagans best describe their word for community and relationship to others through the phrase “our one skin.” (465). This means that people are tied to one another by a bond that is uniquely human. It is unavoidable and dangerous when ignored. “Without community and family,” Armstrong says, “we are truly not human.” (465).

The latter two differences are comprised of the bigger picture: the understanding of the land in both physical and spiritual senses, and how self and community are irrefutably tied to it. The language of the Okanagan people is believed to come from the land, and it consistently reminds its speakers to “experience our humanness in relation to all else and in consequence to know how we affect the world around us.” (Armstrong 465). The Okanagan words for human and land have the same root syllable, showing that one cannot exists without the other for they are comprised of similar materials. The land is, therefore, the larger or collective form of self. The fourth and final difference is the idea that the Earth and man alike are old lifeforms. Much like human and land, spirit and Earth share the same root syllable in Okanagan. Existence of individual spirits and the Earth as a whole share a deep connection, and all people are “keepers of the Earth.” (Armstrong 466). People are lost unless they are connected to the Earth and the intangible spiritual world which is where the meaning of existence is derived from. Without understanding and implicating these four differences, people are indefinitely bound to the lust for materialistic satisfaction and the chaos and void of fulfillment that are associated with it.

Since modern society has stepped away from these ideologies, Armstrong’s Okanagan father believed mankind is currently comprised of “people without hearts.” (467). People have lost sight and understanding of their sense of place by straying away from the Indigenous philosophies. Since people clearly still have their physical hearts and express some forms of love, this statement means that people, in general, have lost respect and the natural bond that should occur between each other and the land (Armstrong 467). This type of ideology that idolizes self-first with little regard to others and nature is predominant in settler cultures across the world. People like this, explains Armstrong, “are blind to self-destruction…emotion is narrowly focused on their individual sense of wellbeing without regard to the well-being of others in the collective.” (467). Indigenous peoples do not thrive well in this type of lifestyle because it destroys bonds with others and the land, ultimately removing the concept of a cooperative world. If people are going to experience life the way it was intended, there must be a return to a reciprocal relationship with the land and all who inhabit it.

Armstrong concludes that the revolution needed to return to this lifestyle lies within the hearts of man. Since fear has not been a viable motivator in the past, she believes that people need to experience connectedness again. Relationships are the answer, and Armstrong believes reciprocal relationships between self, community, land, and spirit cannot exist without changing people’s hearts: “I see the thrust of technology into our daily lives, and I see the ways we subvert emotional ties to people by the use of communications that serve to depersonalize.” (468). Though technology in and of itself is innocent, the side effects of using it excessively and exclusively are almost always detrimental on a relational level. If people and nature are physically out of sight, no amount of technology will keep them from going out of mind. Long-distance relationships are rarely sustained, and therefore it is unrealistic to expect a healthy relationship with those four factors when people continue to detach themselves from real life and relationships. If land continues to be seen as “real estate” and relationships with nature and others remain self-serving, mankind will only further destruction (Armstrong 470). Only when people see the value of relationships primarily will the chaos begin to subside.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Jeannette. “Sharing One Skin: the Okanagan Community.” The Case Against the

Global Economy. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1996. 460-70. Print.

An Honorable Harvest: Rediscovering a Reciprocal Relationship with Resources

An Honorable Harvest: Rediscovering a Reciprocal Relationship with Resources

Contrary to popular belief, resources in this world are limited. Some are irreplaceable, and when misused will be lost forever. Others can suffer a loss of quality due to overuse. Still, some, though seemingly unaffected by mass consumption because of abundance, are simply taken for granted with no thought given to the indefinite future of the resource. Robin Kimmerer, a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, states that there is a hidden problem, too, one that is undetected by the scientific scope of analysis: all the resources in the world are a gift, and treating them as anything less is an atrocity. The connection between dwindling resources and a lack of respect for those resources cannot be ignored, for when you value something, you respect it. “When we rely deeply on other lives,” Kimmerer argues, “there is urgency to protect them.” (177). To get back to a harmonious relationship with the natural world and its resources, people must adopt the mindset of Indigenous peoples of the past. This respectful relationship can only be accomplished if people consume resources with practices of reciprocity and awareness to the longevity of those resources while reflecting on the necessity of using them in the first place.

One such practice to change the mentalities of people from that of entitlement to that of thankfulness. Kimmerer is no stranger to harmonious relationships with nature as she has been taught to respect even the voiceless forms of life: “I explain why I’ve come and ask their permission to harvest, inquiring politely if they would be willing to share.” (175). When the leek bulbs she intended to harvest for dinner with her daughters (a symbol of empowering them with food from their homeland) appear withered and sickly, Kimmerer kindly returned them back to the soil, taking their unsightly conditions as a sign that they were not ready to harvest—a far cry from the common settler mindset which promotes the disposal of any resource that is underperforming. When she returned several weeks later, the leeks yielded an abundant harvest and were ripe for the taking. She believes the left side of the human brain is an analytical tool used to judge the state of the resource, such as its health and abundance, while the right side of the brain is used intuitively to sense whether it is the right time to harvest based on spiritual and emotional messages (Kimmerer 178). Kimmerer uses the story to illustrate that there are enough resources when men are not greedy, and by remaining patient and responsive to the resources and their Creator, people will have enough. Mankind, she argues, must “take only that which is given.” (177).  By simply acknowledging the resource and expressing gratitude for it, one can be inspired to live by needs as opposed to wants.

Another practice revolves around the quantity of resources taken from the land. Kimmerer reflects on the early bounties of Turtle Island, flourishing due to the native practice of never taking more than half of the resources (181). Even the half rule subsided when necessary, specifically in instances when the resource was growing sparse. It was better to go without for a short time than to have that resource lost forever. When colonists settled there, they balked at the alleged laziness of Indigenous people for wasting the resources and under-harvesting. What they did not realize is that the natives better understood the ecosystem and how the resources fit into place. To modernize the concept, Kimmerer also shares a story of an Ojibwe family who harvested rice from their canoes while allowing half of it to fall into the water below. When a well-meaning guest offered to reconstruct the harvesting method to guarantee a more successful harvest, the family declined, explaining that the rice fell into the water to provide seed for the following year while simultaneously providing sustenance for the ducks and other creatures in that region (Kimmerer 182). What the guest and many settlers do not realize is that there is mutual benefit in only taking what one needs. Not only do the breathing creatures survive from the same resources, they land and plants themselves require some of the resources to remain intact to prepare the bounty for the next season. Stripping the land of resources may provide short-term benefits, but it is hardly a sustainable or humane solution. Convenience is not always the answer.

Many Indigenous people derive their resource consumption practices from an aural set of loosely defined rules called the Honorable Harvest. The phrasing and ideas vary from culture to culture, but they revolve around the idea that one should understand nature and resources, have a reciprocal relationship with those resources, take only what one needs and use every bit of it wisely and not wastefully, and to continuously give thanks for the resources (Kimmerer 183). By following these rules, Indigenous people of the past believed the Earth would be sustained indeterminately. Where many environmental regulations today are based solely on the biophysical realm, Indigenous peoples designed their guidelines using both logic from the physical world and intuition from the metaphysical world (Kimmerer 183). Colonist cultures have taken drastic measures, intentional or not, to undermine this relationship and, consequently, the Earth has grown barren in many regions, negatively affecting numerous peoples and ecosystems throughout the world. It seems a simple enough practice, taking only what one needs. But people often give into selfish desires, especially when they regard the land and its resources as ill-worthy of life and longevity. There is also a problem surrounding the definition of enough and what it means to everyone, especially when one’s needs get tangled up in one’s wants (Kimmerer 184).

How much does any one person need? Cleary, the suggested concept of taking no more than half is to be combined with some cognitive conclusions about personal sustainability and the amalgamation of resources that are nearby. Kimmerer suggests that knowing how much to take may be easier than one thinks. She illustrates this concept by explaining how people are taught at a young age to take just enough interpersonally. “If you are visiting your sweet grandma,” Kimmerer says, “and she offers you homemade cookies on her favorite china plate, you know what to do.” (184). The average person would take one, express much gratitude, and take just enough to be respectful of the grandmother while leaving some for others who may wish to partake. Why, then, would people see fit to treat the Earth and its and resources any different? These resources are gifts from the Creator, intricately woven in a complex system that would yield gifts indefinitely if respected and treated with care and gratitude. If one barged in and took all the cookies unsuspectingly, and the china plate for good measure, the grandma would not only be heartbroken but also uninclined to bake cookies in the future. Natural resources react in kind. Once pillaged and depleted, resources are likely to straggle in quantity and quality at best and vanish altogether at worst.

It is easy and common for today’s North American people, founded on settler entitlement, to shrug off any environmental concern as tree-hugging hallucinations conjured up by those fearful of technology and success. Mankind is the top of the food change, they argue, and it is their ordained right to steal and pillage whatever they desire. It is Darwin’s survival of the fittest united with colonial conquest, all wrapped up in a package that promises never-ending luxury for all people. The problem is that luxury and convenience, at the levels promised by first-world propaganda, will sustain few people for a short amount of time. The effects of these lifestyles are already taking a toll on the resources, and it is a despicable thing that the less-fortunate feel the adverse effects first. Still, no one is safe from natural resource depletion, be it food, water, or energy. If people are going to restore the remaining resources for daily essential needs and a small handful of wants, they must return to the Honorable Harvesting methods encouraged by Indigenous peoples. These ideas do not need to be replaced by better technology for most of the answers are already known. Respect and renewal, not obliviousness and artificiality, are the correct responses.

Even though many people are removed from the harvesting and production processes, they can still make sustainable choices by what they shop for and who benefits from their purchases. Was that pound of beef locally sourced from a grass-fed cow, or was it an abused animal with a poor and chemical-based diet where all proceeds support a mega-industry? Was that shirt manufactured by synthetic fibers at a toxic plant in a foreign country, or was it comprised of organic materials in abundance and produced by a small family business downtown? Was that water consumed through multiple plastic bottles, tossed in the trash while they remained half-full, or was it consumed in its entirety through a reusable container? These daily decisions matter, and if more people took them seriously there would be a significant renewal of resources. Still, it is not enough to simply be mindful of purchases. If people remain fully removed from the natural world, their resolves will weaken closely followed by their votes made with their purchases. The artificial lighting and walls, the convenience of the shopping system, the detachment from the source—it is enough to distract even those with the best intentions. There must be interaction with the land, even if it is in the simplest of ways like hikes and small gardens; how can one respect something he or she does not know or understand? Then, the resources will be enough to sustain multitudes of people, all the while returning people to the mutually beneficial relationships with the Creator and land. Only through this mindset will people be truly nourished physically, mentally, and spiritually.


Works Cited

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the

Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2016. Print.