Restitution as a Precondition of Reconciliation:
Native Hawaiians and Indigenous Human Rights
University of Hawaii
1. As we depart one of the most violent and deadly centuries in
the history of the world, questions of truth, reconciliation, and
restitution have begun to appear in public forums, some with all
the juridical structure of international tribunals. It is as if
some deeply human yearning for peace has spawned an international
quest for justice. In the South African case, a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission brings perpetrators and their victims together where
guilt is established and a resolution in the form of absolution
and escape from punishment is granted to confessed criminals.
2. The stated purpose of these forums is more than the discovery
of truth and securing of amnesty. Disclosure and exposure, in a
public, communal sense, as well as a private, individual sense,
are a part of South Africas goal (and hope) of healing. Unquestionably,
such an experiment is unique, indeed, daring. There is, of course,
no meting out of retributive justice if one bares all. But what
of reconciliation between peoples? As African novelist and Nobel
laureate, Wole Soyinka, has argued in his elegant book, The Burden
of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness,
This risk-free parade of villains, calmly
- and occasionally with ill-concealed relish - recounting their
roles in kidnappings, tortures, murders, and mutilation, at the
end of which absolution is granted without penalty or forfeit, is
either a lesson in human ennoblement, or a glorification of impunity.
(Soyinka 1999: 28-29)
3. Soyinka fears that responsibility and justice are eroded by the
price of truth and reconciliation. For him, and for many of apartheids
victims, neither peace nor justice is served by mere public disclosure.
Soyinka is not alone. Political parties, such as the Inkatha Freedom
Party, have encouraged efforts by whites to redress injustices through
contributions to monetary funds established to assist apartheid
victims. And Pan African Congress Secretary-General Thami Plaatjie
has said, "It is high time that the broader white community
embraced such an initiative. It serves no purpose to confess, if
it is not accompanied by reparations. Mechanisms of atonement should
be implemented." (The Star, 10 December 2000)
4. As might be expected, many Native South Africans support criminal
court proceedings with punishment for the guilty. For them, monetary
reparations are separate from, and thus cannot substitute for, punishment.
It may be that retributive justice, that is, punishment of criminals
by tribunals and courts, is the only possible prerequisite to South
African reconciliation. And perhaps, not even that.5. In terms of
the international community, the right to obtain financial compensation
for a human rights abuse and to have the perpetrator of such an
abuse prosecuted and punished is itself a fundamental human right
that cannot be taken from a victim or waived by a government. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention
on Human Rights, among other international legal instruments confirm
that victims have rights to remedies, including compensation. (Lillich
and Hannum 1995: 17-22)
6. It is apparent that courts appreciate, perhaps more than governments,
that the yearning for justice is not soothed by the granting of
amnesties. This is why Soyinka fears the South African experiment.
He understands how the dangerous moral and political dilemma for
South Africa is that confession with the promise of amnesty is an
injustice to victims, and an impediment to the healing of the nation.
7. In Soyinkas words, "the problem with the South African
choice is therefore its implicit, a priori exclusion of criminality
and, thus, responsibility." (1999: 31) Truth, unfortunately,
is clearly more central to the South African Commission than justice,
which Soyinka astutely judges the first condition of humanity. Murderers
who simply confess, knowing they will not suffer for their deeds,
have no compunction against murdering again. Already the behavior
of freed white supremacists suggests the Truth and Reconciliation
process will not render enduring peace. (The Independent, 17
8. Soyinkas troubled ruminations on the South African experiment
are pertinent to any investigation of the current global move toward
addressing historical injustices. Who will judge which injuries
of war - for example, internment, forced marches, sex slavery -
and which injuries of imperialism - for example, removal, plunder,
and genocide - deserve reparation and restitution? And before there
are any judgments of this magnitude, why are some peoples, in the
words of Noam Chomsky, accorded the status of worthy victims, while
others, say indigenous peoples and sex slaves, are treated as unworthy
victims, whose suffering and historical subjugations are of lesser
stature, and therefore of lesser consequence, than that of state-acknowledged
worthy victims? (Chomsky and Herman 1988: 37-86)
9. Everywhere in the world, human rights violations against indigenous
peoples and women are increasing but national and international
investigations regarding them lag far behind. Even in the category
of "worthy victims," some are more worthy than others
- say, Japanese internment victims over Aleutian internment victims
during World War II - both in the sense of newsworthy and in the
sense of receiving equal treatment.
10. The case of Native Aleuts is particularly grievous. After Japan
attacked the two westernmost Aleutian islands, Kiska and Attu, the
American government ordered military evacuation of the Aleuts. They
were removed to unheated, crowded barracks and vacant buildings,
and left without adequate medical care. As a direct result of their
ordeal, ten percent or more of the Aleuts died in captivity. At
wars end, the Aleuts were only haphazardly and slowly returned
to their islands where their houses had been looted by the Americans.
Some of the stolen materials included irreplaceable sacred objects.11.
To address the issue of both internments, the U.S. Congress passed
the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 in which a formal apology was made
to the interned Japanese and Native Aleuts. But in the Japanese
case, $20,000.00 was awarded to each internee while only $12,000.00
was awarded to each Native Aleut. (Brooks 1999: 206-16) More importantly
for Native Aleuts, public recognition of their injury and American
political acknowledgement of wrongdoing was but a minor sideshow
to that received by the Japanese, including a monument on the mall
in Washington, D.C.
12. The Aleutian and Japanese internment cases reveal how discussions
of reparation, restitution, and apology are framed more by political
than ethical or moral considerations. Certainly, the successful
reparation effort by interned Japanese is a testament to the dedicated
and intelligent political organizing done by Japanese Americans.
But such success is also a result of the colonial reality of Japanese
Americans as settlers rather than indigenous peoples. Ideologically
as well as politically, it is far easier for the United States government
to address, in a public and official manner, the forcible internment
of one of the most successful settler groups in America than it
is for the same government to render equal acknowledgement of mistreatment
of an indigenous nation. It is telling that partially repairing
injury to Japanese Americans reinscribes the American ideology of
equality among settlers while recognition of harm done to indigenous
peoples not only contradicts the dominant "immigrant"
paradigm but raises prior issues of responsibility for genocide
against Native peoples.
13. As conquered nations, indigenous peoples were forced to become
Americans. Our national status, then, is a result of subjugation,
not choice. This indisputable history is critical because, as universally
acknowledged, citizenship must be freely chosen or it is meaningless
in terms of representing the interests and binding the loyalty of
citizens. And while our lands of origin have been collectively renamed
the United States of America, indigenous peoples are now classified
by the Federal American government as "Native Americans,"
a nonsensical category which tells worlds about our contradictory
14. Given the primacy of homeland, of the place where Native people
understand an ancestral sense of belonging, identification as "American"
has no correspondence to any cultural, familial, or tribal origins.
The Lakota, for example, are Native to the Black Hills; the Anishnabe,
are Native to the Northern woodlands of Minnesota; and my people,
the Hawaiians, are Native to the Pacific archipelago of Hawaii.
We are not Native to a recent creation called the United States
of America. Rather, we are aboriginal to a specific land base which
defines us linguistically, geographically, and historically. As
indigenous peoples and nations, our ancestral attachments are prior
to colonial categorization as "Americans."
15. To assert national differences between Native peoples of the
Americas is no more contradictory than the assertion that Tahitians
are not French, and Okinawans are not Japanese. If language is taken
as but one marker of peoples, then it is telling to learn that some
2,000 languages once characterized the Americas where, by conservative
estimate, some 75 million to a hundred million Natives lived at
contact. (Stannard 1992: 11) In the same way that the French are
both a people and a political entity defined by a particular land
base, language, and culture, so too, Native nations are identified
by different languages, lands, and cultural distinctiveness. In
international human rights terms, indigenous peoples have claims
to self-government, then, because we are the first nations of the
16. Given this aboriginal as opposed to settler history of Native
peoples, it should be obvious that no reconciliation between the
American government and indigenous peoples can be achieved without
a return to nationhood. Restitution, in other words, must be a precondition
for reconciliation. And that restitution process must surely begin
with self-government, then move on to land and water, and finally
proceed to the repatriation of Native artifacts, and compensatory
educational, health, and other programs.
17. For Native nations, the paramount issue is the return of Native
people to their Native place. Unlike Japanese internment victims,
land is the key to reconciliation - if there is to be any reconciliation
- between Native peoples, colonial governments, and the larger settler
Indigenous Human Rights
18. When in conflict with colonizing powers, such as the governments
of North and South America, Native peoples have increasingly come
to argue in the language of indigenous human rights. Individual
civil rights - the kind common to modern constitutions - are inadequate
to enunciate indigenous claims to land, language, self-government,
and religious practices such as protection of sacred sites. But
these do appear as protected human rights in the United Nations
Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
19. Framed by, and for indigenous peoples, the Draft Declaration
is the embodiment of the values and goals of Native peoples. A product
of twenty years work in the international arena by indigenous
peoples themselves, the Draft Declaration illustrates the widest
scope of indigenous human rights. (Venne 1998)
20. Most critically, indigenous peoples are defined in terms of
collective aboriginal occupation prior to colonial settlement. Here,
indigenous peoples are not to be confused with minorities or ethnic
groups within states. Thus "indigenous rights" are strictly
distinguished from "minority rights." The numbers of indigenous
peoples, therefore, does not constitute a criterion in their definition.
21. The difference between indigenous peoples and minorities turns,
in part, on the critical identification of historical continuity
such as occupation of ancestral lands; common ancestry with original
occupants of these lands; culture, including such things as dress,
religion, and membership in traditional communities; and finally,
language. These distinctions are of first order importance because,
under international law, minorities, unlike indigenous peoples,
do not have the right to self-determination.
22. Political self-determination is tied to land rights and restitution.
The doctrine of "discovery" by which the Americas, the
Pacific and so many other parts of the world were allegedly "discovered"
is repudiated. And the companion doctrine of "terra nullius"
is identified as legally unacceptable
23. A cursory overview of the Draft Declaration reveals the following:
In Article 1: "Indigenous peoples have the right to the full
and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms
recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
In Article 3: "Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination
In Article 5: "Every indigenous individual has the right to
In Article 6: "Indigenous peoples have the right to live in
freedom, peace, and security
In Article 7: "Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual
right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide
In Article 8: "Indigenous peoples have
the right to identify
themselves as indigenous and to be recognized as such."
In Part V, Articles 21 and 23: "Indigenous peoples have the
right to maintain and develop their political, economic, and social
systems, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence
and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and
other economic activities."
Part VI of the declaration is often thought to be the most controversial
to existing nation-states because land rights and restitution are
addressed. The doctrine of Terra Nullius, i.e. the "vacant
land" argument used by Europeans who colonized the Americas,
Australia, and other lands, is repudiated as an unacceptable legal
doctrine. It is in this part of the Declaration that aboriginal
peoples find a strong basis from which to argue that traditional
lands should be restored to them.
In Article 26: "Indigenous peoples have the right to own, develop,
control and use the lands and territories
they have traditionally
In Article 27: "Indigenous peoples have the right to restitution
of the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally
owned, or otherwise occupied or use, and which have been confiscated,
occupied, used or damaged without their informed consent"
In Part VII, Article 31, the Declaration states: "Indigenous
peoples, as a specific form of exercising their right to self-determination,
have the right to autonomy and self-government."
Tellingly, these rights, and others, are considered in Part IX to
"constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity,
and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world."
Dominant Ideologies and Reparations
24. The codification of human rights is part of a growing move to
frame restitution issues in terms of an international morality.
Human rights, and not simply civil rights, are becoming the standard
for considerations of global justice. South Africa is but the most
recent and best known example of this evolution.
25. Regarding indigenous peoples, however, justice lags far behind
legal codification. Another way to understand this, at least in
the American context, is to ask why, beyond questions of effective
organization and public relations, restitution appears more defensible
and therefore much more likely when the injured are non-Natives.
26. If we return to the issue of public morality, it becomes increasingly
obvious that political systems move to compensate for injustices
only when they are framed within a countrys national ideology.
Regarding the United States, that dominant ideology is a settler
ideology: "we are all immigrants." The notable exceptions
to the "immigrant" paradigm are Native peoples and African-Americans.
The latter did not voluntarily migrate but were forcibly transported
from Africa to become slaves in the United States. Indigenous peoples
became Americans through relentless, genocidal conquest. The historical
and contemporary realities of both African Americans and Native
peoples, then, undercut the official ideology that the United States
is a nation of immigrants. This explains, in part, increasing political
resistance in the United States to Black reparations. Among other
problems, acknowledging the "debt" owed to African Americans
contradicts and therefore undermines the official ideology of the
United States as a "nation of immigrants."
27. In the case of reparations by Germany to the state of Israel
for the Nazi Holocaust, the operative ideology is that modern Germany
is once again an accepted member of Western civilization in good
standing. This standing was bought, in part, through the reparation
process. Israel is now, like the United States, a settler state
and a member of Western civilization in the non-Western Middle East.
From this perspective, payment to Israel ensures, in part, the return
of Germany to the Western family of nations.
28. The Roma people, by contrast, are not considered by established
Western governments to be family members in good standing. They
are, in truth, a stateless people in a world of competing nation
states. As the much maligned "vagabond, thieving Gypsies"
of Europe, the Roma are "unworthy victims," in Chomskys
words. (Chomsky and Herman 1988: 31)
29. Given their little known history, it is instructive to learn
how similar to the Jews was the horrific suffering of the Romani
during the Holocaust. In 1941, Reinhardt Heydrichs directive
which, according to scholar Ian Hancock, "set the machinery
of the Holocaust in motion," ordered the eradication of "all
Jews, Gypsies, and mental patients." (Hancock 1999: 68)
30. The German effort to eradicate Gypsies began in 1721, 220 years
before Hitler. In 1835, German scholar Teodor Tetzner described
the Roma as the "excrement of humanity." In 1886, according
to Hancock, Otto von Bismarck called for "especially severe"
treatment of Roma, and by 1905 a Gypsy Book complied by the Germans
listed all known Roma throughout Germany. Referred to as "pests"
and a "plague," the Roma were forbidden to enter public
facilities such as parks, were required to be photographed and fingerprinted,
and were incarcerated whenever the state deemed it necessary. (Hancock
31. From 1934 on, Roma were selected for sterilization by injection
or castration and sent to death camps at Dachau and elsewhere. According
to Hancock "the first mass genocidal action of the Holocaust
took place at Buchenwald, where 250 Romani children were used as
guinea pigs to test the Zyklon-B crystals later used in the gas
chambers at Aushwitz-Birkenau." By 1945, Hancock reveals, between
a million and 1.5 million Roma, perhaps half of all Roma in Nazi-controlled
Europe, had perished in the Porrajmos, i.e. the Devouring, as the
Holocaust is called in Romani. (1999: 70)
32. If the magnitude of Gypsy suffering reveals that they, like
the Jews, were part of the "final solution," they have
not been part of the effort at reparation, either by the Swiss or
the Germans. This condition of non-recognition undoubtedly stems
from the relatively small number and lack of statehood of the Romani.
Jews, by contrast, not only number in the millions but are well-organized
and well-funded. Perhaps most importantly, in terms of ideology,
Jews are perceived as "worthy victims" who, as testament
to their worthiness, are no longer stateless, unlike the Romani.
33. The Romani case illustrates how political ideology - that thick
layer of beliefs and justifications which bind citizens to nations
- frames legitimacy. If, for example, the United States is a nation
of immigrants, as the national ideology dictates, then an injury
to one group of immigrants, say interned Japanese, must be compensated.
This compensation is not so much to repair damage to the injured
but to reiterate the legitimacy of Americas national existence.
Restitution, however meager, protects and reinforces the ideology
of a democratic republic. For the victims, restitution is the pittance
which keeps them obedient and loyal. This explains what appears
to be inexplicable, namely that apology and reparation make victims
proud to be Americans.
34. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, are not proud to be American
since they are not, in truth, of America. Indeed, the very existence
of Native nations contradicts the dominant ideology of the United
States as an immigrant nation founded in a vacant land. Restitution
to indigenous peoples, not only in the United States, but in the
Americas, focuses on issues of conquest, of dispossession, of genocide.
These historical realities make a mockery of the ideology that Native
people should be proud to be American.
35. Given the history of indigenous peoples, then, no monetary compensation,
no apology, no effort to "put the past behind us," is
acceptable. The only acceptable reality is return of Native lands
and waters, a monetary indemnity, and recognition of Native sovereignty.
The Hawaiian Case
36. Our human rights movement is now over three decades old. Beginning
in the 1970s, our struggle evolved from anti-eviction actions and
occupations of military reserves, including entire islands used
as bombing targets, to civil and legal rights struggles, to the
current demand for sovereignty. For twenty of these thirty years,
I have been an advocate of my peoples human right to self-determination,
37. Our focus has been on the injury our Native Hawaiian people
continue to suffer at the hands of the American government. This
injury began with those familiar American practices in the international
arena: invasion, occupation, and takeover.
38. On January 17, 1893, the U.S. Minister to Hawaii ordered
the landing of American Marines in support of an all-white, all-male
"Committee of Safety" which had seized political power.
Fearing the American military, our Queen, Liliuokalani, ceded
her authority, not to the committee, but to the United States minister.
39. She wrote to Sanford B. Dole, descendant of white American missionaries
and newly chosen head of the provisional government:
I yield to the superior force of the United
Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps
the loss of life, I do under this protest, and impelled by said
force, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the
United States shall
undo the action of its representatives
and reinstate me
as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian
Islands. (Lili`oukalani 1895: 866)
40. On February 1, 1893, Minister Stevens proclaimed a U.S. protectorate
and raised the American flag over Hawaii. But his dream for
swift annexation was short-lived. President Cleveland, a mere five
days after his inauguration on March 4, 1893, withdrew the pending
Hawaii annexation treaty from Congress.
41. On March 29, Commissioner James Blount, Clevelands emissary,
arrived in Hawaii. After four months of investigation, Blount
concluded that the overthrow, the landing of Marines, and the subsequent
recognition of the provisional government pointed to clear conspiracy
between Minister Stevens and the alleged "Committee of Safety."
42. After reading Blounts report, Cleveland explained to
the Senate why he would never again submit the annexation treaty
for ratification. In his concluding statement, he wrote:
By an act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic
representative of the United States and without authority of Congress,
the government of a friendly and confiding people has been overthrown.
A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our
national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires
we should endeavor to repair. (Cleveland 1895: 456)
43. Thus was the issue of reparation - of undoing the harm and the
injury to the Hawaiian people - first brought to the attention of
the American government. It was an exquisite irony of history that
an American president would be the first to argue the Hawaiian case
for restitution and restoration.
44. In 1897, a protest petition against annexation to the United
States was sent to Washington D.C. Over 21,000 Natives, representing
the overwhelming majority of adult Hawaiians, had signed anti-annexation
petitions. (Silva 1998: 61)
45. Because Cleveland stalled annexation, the all-white oligarchy
renamed themselves the Republic of Hawaii. Our Queen, meanwhile,
was imprisoned in her own Palace after a failed Native counter-revolution.
Final annexation in 1898 had to wait for a real imperialist, President
46. Union with the United States meant the transfer of 1,800,000
acres of Hawaiian Government lands, that is, nearly half the archipelago,
to the all-white planter oligarchy. The Hawaiian language was officially
banned from all public instruction, government business, and commerce.
Hawaiian Human Rights Claims
47. In terms of international law, the American military invasion
of our archipelago, overthrow of our Native government, imprisonment
of our Queen, and immediate American diplomatic recognition of the
hastily-constructed, all-white, all-male Provisional Government,
resulted in undeniable human rights violations, including our claim,
as a Native nation and people, to self-determination.
48. Under international law, these violations constitute:
an arbitrary deprivation of our nationality, and of our citizenship
in an independent country;
an arbitrary deprivation of our national territory, including lands,
waters, and other natural resources;
a denial of our human right to self-government as both an indigenous
people and as a formerly independent country.
49. These deprivations, as a whole, comprise violations of Articles
15, 17, and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In
addition, they are also violations of the American Convention on
Human Rights. The fact that the overthrow and annexation occurred
before international covenants went into effect does not invalidate
the Hawaiian case.
50. We must all remember that the ideal of universal self-determination
is a settled principle of peremptory international law, superseding
customary rules and bilateral treaties. This means that the principle
of self-determination is of sufficient importance to be applied
retroactively to relationships among states and peoples before the
adoption of the 1948 United Nations Charter.
51. After a brief, five-year period as a Republic, Hawaii
was annexed by Congressional resolution, which required a mere majority
vote rather than by treaty, which required a two-thirds vote. No
popular vote was allowed in Hawaii since Hawaiians were a
majority of the population. Following annexation, Hawaii became
an American Territory with all governors appointed by the American
52. At the creation of the United Nations in 1946, Hawaii
was listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory under U.S. Administration.
Such status was considered a "trust" relationship. Pursuant
to Chapter XI of the U.N. Charter, the United States had a trust
obligation to promote the political aspirations of the people of
the Territory, including self-government. But in 1959, when the
United States allowed all citizens of Hawaii, Native and non-Native,
to vote, only two options were presented: Territorial status and
Statehood. Neither Commonwealth nor Independence appeared as choices
on the ballot.
53. Following the statehood vote, the United Nations, without inquiry
or investigation, removed Hawaii from the United Nations list
of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
54. Today, the colonial policy of the United States toward Native
Hawaiians continues to be one of State and Federal wardship. Defined
and divided by blood quantum, our Native people are denied the following:
Our collective right to self-government;
Legal control over our lands and waters;
Economic and political power to develop our lands, fisheries, and
The ability to preserve and protect our entitlements for our lahui,
or nation, including future generations.
55. Because of the colonial American policy of non-recognition,
Hawaiians are not allowed the civil or human rights due indigenous
peoples. These include rights to control our trust assets, including
nearly two million acres of lands and waters, and to sue the state
and federal governments for land and water recovery.
56. The policies of the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations
have been, generally, one of abandonment. The Department of the
Interior under both Bush and Clinton administrations disavowed any
trust responsibilities to Hawaiians either before or after statehood.
Despite the presence of two Federal trusts for Hawaiians, the Federal
government negotiates with the State of Hawaii rather than
with Hawaiians regarding our trust lands. (Trask 1999: 27-41; MacKenzie
57. In 1993, on the centenary of the American military invasion
and occupation of Hawaii, and the subsequent overthrow of
our Constitutional Native government, the U.S. Congress passed Public
Law 103-150, signed by President Clinton, and known as the Apology
Bill. The Bill states, in part, "the indigenous Hawaiian people
never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty
as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either
through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum."
In paragraph 4, Section 1, the Congress "expresses its commitment
to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom
of Hawaii, in order to provide a proper foundation for reconciliation
between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people."
And in paragraph 5, the Congress, "urges the President of the
United States to also acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow
of the Kingdom of Hawaii and to support the reconciliation
efforts between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people."
(U.S. Public Law 103-150, S.J. Res. 19, 103d Congress, 1st Session,
107 Stat 1510, November 23, 1993)
58. As an act of our collective right to self-determination and
to self-governance, many Hawaiian sovereignty groups have proposed
the following process for reconciliation as enunciated in the Apology
Bill.59. Final resolution of our historic claims relating to the
overthrow, and to continued State and Federal misuse of our resources,
totaling nearly two million acres of land and close to a billion
dollars in trust assets. This resolution could come through negotiation,
litigation, or some form of general settlement.
60. Express termination of the present U.S. policy of non-recognition
of Native Hawaiian self-determination. This would entail a repudiation
of the continuing policy of wardship whereby the State of Hawaii
controls many of our entitlements against our interests and without
61. Recognition of our claim as a Native nation to be included
in the Federal policy on recognized Native nations, including American
Indian nations. Once our claims our settled, lands and waters would
be transferred to our control. Elected Native leaders would then
assume leadership. The manner and terms of their election and service
would be formulated by our own Native people.
62. As someone who has been working and organizing for twenty years
for inclusion of our people in the Federal policy on recognized
Native nations, I can say that at no time since the United States
overthrew our government in 1893 has our nation been in greater
danger. Every ameliorative Federal program from educational grants,
to diabetes treatment programs, to early childhood training systems
is now in doubt.
63. For us, as Native people, the return of Native self-government
is the only answer to total dispossession. In the context of the
global move toward restitution and reparations, the guiding concern
in every case, including that of my own Hawaiian nation, must be
injury and human suffering. Apologies - no matter how authentically
intended, carefully written, or legally encoded - can never, ever
substitute for restitution or reparations. The reasons are obvious.
In the first place, apologies are no more than official statements.
Costing nothing, they achieve what Christian theology calls "cheap
grace." It is the repairing of damage, of harm, which must
be attempted even if, as in the case of Native peoples, millions
of Native human beings will never be restored to life. Nevertheless,
return of some lands, entitlements, and other negotiated rights
go a long way toward helping Natives to survive as peoples and nations,
not only as individuals.
64. Here, the primary consideration guiding the reparations/reconciliation
discussion must be the human relationship between victim and victimizer.
Now that the South African case has given the world an example,
a new kind of moral sensitivity is slowly appearing in discussions
around the globe. The so-called North-South dialogue is part of
this. Without doubt, Northern nations have benefited enormously
from exploitation of the Southern nations. Therefore, one argument
maintains, huge debts owed by nations of the South should be cancelled
as partial reparations for centuries of plunder by nations of the
65. Questions about who is individually responsible and who is
individually injured are secondary. In the case of American slavery,
for example, it is true that no Black American alive today was a
slave, and no white American alive today was a slaveholder. But
these obvious statements miss the mark. The legacies of slavery
continue through racial discrimination, ghettoization, exploitation,
and a host of other evils such as high infant mortality and early
death. (Hacker 1995) The legacies of white supremacy, meanwhile,
continue through white socioeconomic and political dominance, widespread
institutional racism, and increasing white violence such as the
burning of Black churches and vicious hate crimes, including murder,
against Black individuals. And these American legacies are separate
from the monumental crippling and underdevelopment of Africa as
66. The question, then, is one of national injury and national responsibility.
If we, as a community, and the United States as a country, are concerned
about suffering, about citizenship, and about the larger context
of international relations - including human rights - then justice
must be rendered before reconciliation can be considered. For it
is justice, rather than specific amounts of money or carefully crafted
apologies, which constitutes the first and primary obligation of
nations and peoples.
Haunani-Kay Trask is professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University
of Hawai'i-Manoa, and an indigenous nationalist, political organizer
and poet. She is the author of the books Light In The Crevice
Never Seen and From A Native Daughter: Colonialism And Sovereignty
In Hawai'i, and co-produced the award-winning documentary, Act
Of War: The Overthrow Of The Hawaiian Nation. She is a member
of Ka Lahui Hawai'i, the largest sovereignty initiative in the state
of Hawai'i, and has represented the Hawai'ian Nation at the United
Nations and at various gatherings throughout the Pacific Ocean and
the Americas. Email: email@example.com
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