Hawai‘i’s status as a full-fledged nation was unwillingly plunged into a state of political chaos by the group of American-aligned businessmen known as the Committee of Safety in 1893. Supported by a contingent of United States marines standing at the ready should armed intervention be necessary, they ripped the reins of sovereignty from the hands of Queen Lili‘uokalani, and set Hawai‘i on a slippery slope of an abiding tension and uneasy coexistence for over a century now. The road back has been long, contentious, bitter, and confusing, as the flame of national rebirth continues to burn brightly in the hearts of thousands of Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiians).
As an OHA trustee, I find myself having to generate reference points along the path to nationhood that keep me focused in a logical progression of steps that can be benchmarked as forward progress in the rebuilding of a foundation for nationhood. So I’ve constructed in my own mind a four-legged stool as my model of nationhood. The seat of the stool represents the nation supported by four legs. Each leg represents what I believe is a required condition. For a nation to exist requires all four conditions to exist simultaneously.
The first leg requires that the nation have a citizenry. A nation cannot exist without citizens. The second leg requires a national culture. Every nation shares some semblance of a common culture expressed through values that shape national behavior. This does not preclude subcultures to exist within the larger context of a national culture. The third leg requires an economic base. That is, a nation needs some semblance of a national economy or at least a measurable economic capacity fed by economic institutions that exist to serve the nation’s citizens. The fourth leg requires that the nation achieves political recognition. That is, the nation is recognized as having political standing by other governments. Its sovereignty and right to self-governance are respected by other governing bodies that surround it. This is the framework from which I try and think through my responsibilities as an OHA trustee and support policy development that will strengthen the four legs of the stool.
The good news is that two of the legs are already standing strong. We have come a long ways in retrieving Hawaiian culture, which is experiencing explosive growth with no sign of slowing down. We have also experienced dramatic growth in our economic capacity. In a previous column I cited the combined wealth of the Hawaiian “Big 5” – Kamehameha Schools, OHA, Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust, Queen’s Hospital and Queen Emma Land Co., and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands – institutions that have billions in liquid assets and hundreds of thousands of acres of land in fee title.
Two legs beg a lot more attention. First we need to identify who qualifies to become a citizen of the nation. Today, we look to the Roll Commission (Kana‘iolowalu) as an important step in this process. Second, there is the ever elusive struggle for political recognition through initiatives such as the Akaka bill. So, Citizenry, Economic Capacity, National Culture, and Political Recognition – I mua! (Forward!)