We have come so far and yet have so far to go. We have made joyful progress toward recapturing the customs and traditions of our cultural past and yet struggle to agree on a common vision of our cultural future. We are far better educated but wisdom is elusive and dreams of nationhood have taken flight without a place to land. We disdain the colonizers, and yet the worst of colonizer behavior has been embraced by many of us, including some of our most important institutions. Our politics of self-determination too often finds us disrespectful of each other, and our aloha has to be propped up with bumper stickers to remind us of how we should treat each other. We have become isolated in our dialogue, talking only to other Hawaiians while ignoring the cultural diversity of the communities that surround us. We walk the land having to look over our shoulders ready to duck the slings and arrows coming from our own people. Yes, we are a nation waiting to happen. But waiting for what? Our struggle for self-determination lies more within than without.
I again beat the drum of the staggering economic capacity of our five major institutions – Kamehameha Schools, Queen’s Hospital Systems, Lili‘uokalani Trust, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs – whose combined assets amount to billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of acres of land. But I continue to be frustrated by a pervasive separation between our institutional leaders, albeit perhaps unintentional. The irony is that we all serve the same constituency of beneficiaries. Why is it so hard for us to simply gather and take a shot at sorting out a common path to a Hawaiian future? A path that, while requiring each institution remain true to its specific trust responsibility, links those responsibilities into a laulima initiative (many hands working together) that creates an economic capacity underpinning the nation in waiting.
Then there is the truly rich tapestry of organizations of the citizenry so to speak, that are fundamental to defining ourselves as a people. A nation is largely defined by its institutions and these institutions constitute the very fabric of who we are. They include the Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Royal Societies, canoe clubs, hula schools, historical societies, educational institutions, Aha Moku island councils, health organizations, Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, and many more. This vast network of Hawaiian organizations needs to be supported as a fundamental strategy of empowerment—the kind of empowerment that helps to break the curse of 133 years of government dependency and transgenerational trauma.
Finally, the politics of nation building seems to thwart all attempts at unification. There are three alternatives for nationhood: independence, federal recognition, or status quo (lots of folks financially benefit from the status quo). Democracy, as the process of choice, is assumed to legitimately express the will of the people through the ballot box. A constitution has been put into play and we await the outcome of the financial struggle to fund a Hawaiians-only ratification vote with private money. But the process is continually under attack and resisted.
Sometimes I wonder whether our transgenerational trauma extends to the very concept of democracy. Perhaps, somewhere deep inside our cultural psyche, lies a longing for the chiefly system of rule, a return to the monarchy. For some of us, democracy may be a stand-in for the United States—a government that failed to hear the pleas of our Queen. But no matter the cultural awkwardness of democratic process, what choice do we have?