Climate Connection

Sustainability & Social Justice

On Hawaiian Lands and the Movement for Sovereignty

“I’m for the kingdom, but not the monarchy,” someone once said to me in regards to Hawaiian sovereignty activism. It’s funny that to some of us these words would mean the same thing, but I knew what she implied. In Hawai’i, many of us know that the U.S. should not necessarily govern life here, and yet the old system isn’t exactly what we seek either. We seek independence without igniting old political inequities, moral dilemmas and family feuds. We seek Hawaiian sovereignty, but not necessarily as a kingdom.

Recently I came upon an apology over a post from a young man in a forum for We Are Maunakea, assuring everyone his relation to the Kamehameha’s (and his representing himself as kin to them) was no bid to rule, but simple pride of culture and history. His feeling the need to express this illustrates our communities continued acknowledgement of the kapu and ali’i systems, and the nervousness that can ensue between representing ha’aha’a (humility) and Hawaiian pride– and avoiding political feud and scandal, was interesting. In a culture where 97% of our ancestors were recently annihilated by disease and foreign intervention, where the ali’i lines are best remembered in our mo’okuauhau (genealogy chants), indeed most of us feel and are related, and countless remaining indigenous people trace their linage back to such lines. “Who will lead?” for most of us is a detraction from true Hawaiian sovereignty, rather than a legitimate political starting point.

There are rumors and jokes of individuals and families who would like to hold power, and yet this is not what our culture is necessarily about or what it wholly means in my opinion to be a sovereignty activist. For myself, knowing Hawaiians are disproportionately displaced on our own land, that landholdings are illegitimate and available for Hawaiian occupancy, and that massive profits are being made from the disenfranchisement of native people and culture still today, these reasons alone make a case to consider the sovereignty movement as a solid trajectory. We may not know what such a place would look like, it likely would not resemble the past, but it would hopefully be designed by our influence to be better than the present, for our people, and for all people seeking humble land sustainability and ecologic harmony.


In Hawaii specifically -and really the continental US as a whole- all or a majority of land owned was stolen, and any acknowledgement of the legitimacy of that land further disenfranchises still living and displaced indigenous people (this is true all over the world). Beyond what a family or individual uses to subsistence farm or have a home office, people should probably never own land exceeding their own needs, especially while refugees still wander the earth.

One way to address land ownership in Hawai’i for example, would be nullifying ownership while allowing for stewardship (bids for settlement of those already here) and providing restitutions for indigenous people, by mediating land changeovers for certain previous holdings. Make all highly desirable, fertile land public property, while ensuring all people have moderate land parcels to sustain themselves and their families, or that those who decide to leave can recover some of the costs for resettlement elsewhere. Many people move here from mainland America with all they have, and should have enough to return home if they would like to.

Legal actions for those companies that profited from land theft, or state and federal restitutions could help to provide modest resettlement assistance for those who were not born here but currently reside. The land would still be divided in ways that those who came could remain, and additionally land would be democratized enough to also accept refugees (due to future wars or climate change). This I believe would be the policy of aloha, to take care of our “guests” with respect to those already born here, and to host when we feasibly can those who are in need. However, indigenous peoples restitution and settlement would accept first priority in a changeover to sovereignty, especially where public undeveloped lands could be provided to people immediately. Large landowners with parcels beyond their means in previously public areas would go into a period of review, new delegation and reimbursement if appropriate would be voted on for such parcels by the people. Hawaiians and those born or naturalized here with Hawaiian citizenship would have more concrete say in elections regarding Hawaii’s land distribution.

Hawaii could perhaps implement a socialist-democratic system which would better fit sustainable humanitarian ideals modeled after a blend of old society and other modern countries, while also spearheading much needed international sustainability and climate change reversal guidelines promoted as an island nation. Outside of U.S. intervention Hawaii could reenter it’s status within the current UN, supported by the 144 treaties already signed with countries internationally; and additionally support and advance the Paris Climate Agreement. A new government could be formed through assistance and review with existing sovereignty leaders and previous local administrations dedicated to indigenous empowerment, food and energy independence.

Hawaii would then have the opportunity to also clean and protect areas previously harmed by military testing, and it would be advisable for America to fund such cleanups of Kaho’olawe island and Pohakuloa/Mauna Kea on the Big Island specifically. In addition international assistance could be provided for addressing other foreign industry pollutants, for example supporting in cleanups of the internationally fed Great Pacific Garbage Patch by the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

For income/economic stability, Hawaii could support eco tourism, green engineering and technology for climate reversal, chemical cleanups and higher native crop yields and native plant restoration work; research in ecology, marine science, climate science, vocalology, and some -limited- astronomy and navigation would continue, in additional to massive cultural revival courses in sustainable living and language.

Independent of American domestic and foreign policy, Hawai’i could better protect itself from rising tides due to climate change and potential wars through better international diplomacy. Hawaii’s most profound and significant contributions to the world – diverse environmental habitats, and a culture of aloha – are best offered when controlled and defined by the Hawaiian people. Unchecked and unsustainable industries generally come from foreign interests, and it is our hope those with a deeper vested interest in a restored Hawai’i supporting many generations, would better support more effective land stewardship.

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