by ʻUmi Perkins, Ph.D.
What has been called a “war of consciousness” is being waged in Hawaiʻi, and it has been rightly pointed out that at its root are debates over Hawaiʻi’s history. Conflict is not merely between Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, but, as Trustee Apo recently pointed out, among Hawaiians in a “divided nation.” But all wars eventually cease. In the end, I’m interested in the concept of reconciliation: “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement,” or of “finding a way to make two different ideas … exist or be true at the same time.”
Many of my non-Hawaiian friends are understandably enthusiastic about reconciliation, but some of my Hawaiian brethren may feel it could let the perpetrator’s beneficiaries off the hook. Reconciliation is a complex process as those involved in efforts in South Africa, Australia and other countries have found. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission pioneered what one could call “tough forgiveness,” using reenactments of Apartheid oppression and even atrocities. These allowed for catharsis without revenge. Hawaiʻi is by no means South Africa, but the dispossession of Native Hawaiians is well-documented.
Ultimately, reconciliation involves the development of a new consciousness, one that includes larger circles in its concept of membership and even of the self. Rather than a strictly political process, this kind of “development,” and therefore reconciliation, is about something we who live in capitalist cultures are really bad at: cultivating the inner life.
It is no coincidence that it has been the churches that have advocated reconciliation. The Interfaith Alliance, among other organizations (including OHA), sponsored the 22nd annual Hoʻokūʻikahi Reconciliation service on January 17th. Speakers encouraged real social justice in Hawaiʻi – a reduction of houselessness, fair treatment for gay citizens, in addition to justice for Hawaiians – as a way of cultivating an inner peace that can manifest as a more just society.
There has rarely been a better moment for reconciliation in the Hawaiian community than now. In my view, it is not merely about “moving on,” i.e., accepting the status quo, but about a true recognition of historical injustices. This must precede any attempt to get past differences. The differences over the direction of nation building, or re-building are real and, it seems, mutually exclusive. So reconciliation will not be an easy matter. Because a sense that certain actions, such as holding the aha for organic documents, is seen to preclude other avenues, perhaps if the sides can at least agree on what is at stake with each path, that can be a starting point. Such a starting point is badly needed in what is essentially a nation at war with itself. At the start conflict may occur – it may even be healthy – but the end point must be some kind of reconciliation.