Noelani Goodyear Ka'opua: The ongoing journey of Hawai'i sovereignty

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Dr. Noelani Goodyear Ka'opua from the Indigenous Politics Faculty within the department of political science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa speaks about the particulars of handling the issue of soverignty in Hawai’i. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Kaopua, Noelani Goodyear "Noelani Goodyear Kaopua: The ongoing journey of Hawaii sovereignty," Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, January 08, 2015

Verónica Hirsch:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Verónica Hirsch. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us Dr. Noelani Goodyear Kaopua, who’s genealogy connects her ohana, family, to the Hawai'i and Māori islands as well as Southern China and the British Midlands. Dr. Goodyear Kaopua joined the Indigenous Politics Faculty within the department of political science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 2007, where she teaches courses in indigenous and Hawaiian politics. Dr. Goodyear Kaopua, aloha and welcome.

Noelani Kaopua:

Aloha.

Verónica Hirsch:

And mahalo, thank you for joining us today. I’ve shared a little bit about who you are but why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about yourself.

Noelani Kaopua:

Sure, so I was born and raised on the island of Oahu and I was born to parents who were students at the time at the University of Hawai’i. They were student activists and I was born into a time in the 1970’s where a lot of social movement that was growing around protecting land and people’s connection to land. That really influenced me throughout my years growing up. When I went into the university to get my bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies and political science it was also a really ripe time for the growth of Hawaiian movements. It was the early 1990’s and it had some amazing faculty members who really taught me about how doing academic work was directly tied to living the political struggles that we’re thinking and talking about. I got my bachelor’s degree in political science and Hawaiian studies. I got my PhD at the University of California in Santa Cruz in history of consciousness and then came back to teach at the University of Hawai’i in 2007. Along the way, I also was really fortunate to be a part of a movement to establish Hawaiian-focused schools, so Hawaiian culture based schools. I was one of the people who got to be involved with establishing Hālau Ku Mana Public Charter School, where my daughter’s now a student and my husband works. Our family is very connected to the life of that community.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you, thank you for providing the story of your family and explaining how that grounds your professional work and also your personal commitment to promoting the efforts of kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian people, and their work to define themselves and define the future. Thank you.

I’d like to begin by asking some general questions. My first question is this: How do you define kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian sovereignty and nation building?

Noelani Kaopua:

What I’ve been fortunate to learn from many teachers about sovereignty and the way that our people understand it is through the concept that we have in our language, ea. Ea, as my teachers have taught me, Ea means breath, it means life, to rise up. It has a number of meanings that are all active, that all require continuous movement; they’re not possessions. They’re not things that you hold; they’re things that you do. Ea comes from our chance from – you know that have been passed down over generations and generations and generations and generations; Ea mai hawaiinuiakea, that the islands themselves rose from the sea. In the 1840’s that term became associated with political sovereignty with the formation of a constitutional monarchy, an internationally recognized, independent state. When that sovereignty had been threatened by Great Britain, by a representative of Great Britain, there were…to make a long story short, there were efforts to contact the rightful leaders in Great Britain and have them actually recognize and undo the wrong of their representative in the islands. That day when the Hawaiian flag was raised again in the islands and the British flag was taken down was called Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, the day sovereignty is returned. So Hawaiian Sovereignty Restoration Day, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, was celebrated as a national holiday from 1843 onward for the next 50 years. There’s a really neat article in the 1870’s where a man named David Kahalemaile was answering this rhetorical question of what does this mean, ea, that we talk about when we talk about Ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea? What is this thing? He lists several different ways of understanding that. He says – and this is all in Hawaiian, I’m just translating to English – but he says, the ea of fish for example, is water. The ea of the earth is the winds, the ea of a canoe is the steering blade, the hoe uli. He ends this list of several things with ‘the ea of for us, the Lā Hoʻihoʻi Hawai’i is independent government, the aupuni; to live as independently governed people.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. What aspects define traditional kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian government with some of these concepts you’ve mentioned, ea. Particularly, some of the timeframe you’ve alluded to…the Day Sovereignty Returned 1843?

Noelani Kaopua:

I guess one place that I want to start with addressing that question is that there’s no single traditional kānaka ʻōiwi governance. Kānaka ʻōiwi have been in the islands in Hawaii for what our genealogy tells us, hundreds of generations. Over that length of time, governance has changed over time so there’s no single moment of traditional governance. There are some long-standing institutions that developed and that persisted over time even through the introduction of western forms of government through private property and to a certain extent even through the beginning and continuation of the U.S. occupation. I’ll talk a little bit about those things.

Over time what is consistent is that our governance practices are directly related to our relationship to lands. Governance was always and continues to be in many ways deeply tied to the that we divide or organize land and think about access to land and the access that people should to the resources that on the land and in the ocean. One of the enduring developments that developed in terms of governance is the ahupua’a system, which our genealogies tell us developed I would estimate probably about 400 years or so prior to the moment of intensive contact with Europeans. The ahupua’a system that develops is really part of a much more complex land division system. It’s just one of the ways of diving land or thinking about land. It’s not just a geographical division but it’s also a social and economic and political system in all of the ways that people relate to each other and the resources of ʻĀina. One of the basic ideas of the ahupua’a system is that people who are living within a particular area should have access to all of the basic resources for life. Within that system, those who are near the ocean and specialize in fishing and gathering from the ocean resources can freely gift and trade with people who are able to gather in other parts, like the uplands for example. What we know is that ahupua’a system develops at a particular moment in the history of our people where there was a growing population and there was really a need to innovate and think about more complex systems for how we could maintain a large population on a series of islands. I think another things that’s really important about this system is that people who are close to their resource and who are users of their resource and have intimate relationships with their – we use that term in English ‘resource’, but for us they’re kupuna, you know elders. There are many ways in which we are relating in a familiar way with all these beings.

Verónica Hirsch:

This is a system that helps define social, economic and political access to all basic life resources, as you mentioned the ahupua’a system. How that relates to this form of governance, of self-governance, of popular terms and certain disciplines, adaptive resource management, land-use management, land-use planning. You were mentioning how this is arising from a context that is very dynamic, where people at the time are realizing with population growth, with the possibility for political unrest over access to resources we must innovate according to values that support our philosophy.

Noelani Kaopua:

Yeah, now I remember where I was picking up is that I think one of the important things is that decisions were made by people who were close to, who were practitioners, who had a direct relationship with these places with the resources within those. That’s really important. There did develop overtime a more hierarchal, kind of chiefly system. That idea that Nō ka ‘oi ʻĀina kama’aina, the land is for the one who lives on it. It’s a very different kind of system than what we live on with private property today and particularly with the amount of foreign investment that takes place as well as all of the settler takings of land in the islands, that the land is for the people who live on it. Another saying we have is, He ali‘i nō ka ‘āina, ke kauwā wale ke kānaka, the land is the chief and the people are the servant. Even within our creation stories, like so many other indigenous people, the creation of the entire world and the universe, kānaka come fairly late on in the creation of things and thus we’re younger sibling so it’s really up to us to pay respect and love and care for our elder siblings rather than to sort of exercise dominion and subject those relations to our needs only.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. So in this system that you described, I’d like to ask what aspects of ahupua’a, this system of relating responsibility and commitment to upholding these important relationships that you’ve mentioned and to see and so on. What aspects still persist into the contemporary context?

Noelani Kaopua:

That’s a good question. It’s been very difficult for that system to persist under private property for a number of reasons. Access isn’t thought of in the same way, the way that the settler government carves up geographic boundaries doesn’t think in the same way from mountains to ocean whereas in a system that’s truly respecting the ahupua’a, you’re thinking about how what happens in the upland affects everything down the watershed all the way into the ocean. Decisions are made with that in mind. The people who are planting upstream have to think about and be accountable that there’s enough water for those who are further downstream. That kind of thinking and daily recognition of the inter connection of how our actions in our particular place impact others is not the same in part because of the way the settler state breaks up jurisdiction on lands and also just doesn’t operate – it wasn’t based on that kind of island thinking. Despite that, I would say that there were many communities after the introduction of private property who really tried to maintain that kind of collective relationship to land. Large-scale extended families and beyond would sometimes form hui, which are groups that would claim title to land as individuals but then collectivize that basically. We call that the hui movement and many of those hui lasted throughout the kingdom time. Private property was introduced during the kingdom era but many of the hui lasted up until the 20th century. It has been increasingly difficult, I would definitely say, for that kind of collective work to happen just simply because of the onslaught of foreign investment and the rising cost of land in the islands.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you. I’d like to transition now to some questions and discussion regarding kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian leadership. My first question is this: How are kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian, leaders selected and held accountable in contemporary contexts?

Noelani Kaopua:

Well, we have very different kinds of leaders today because beginning with the U.S. occupation, the formal government had been basically crushed or usurped –I guess would be a better word –  by sugar plantation owners and their associates. Kānaka control of our kingdom government was usurped from us and then the U.S. takes over happens. Political leaders today, there are kānaka who are political leaders in settler-state electoral politics but they’re voted in by anyone who lives in Hawai’i. I think the true…I don’t know if I should use that word. The leaders who have the highest regard in the community among the kānaka are often people who are leaders in cultural senses and who are doing direct kinds of service in our community. Cultural leaders, for example, in the hula practice among the hālau hula, which are our schools for hula practice, there is a very specific and structured way that they learn and gain the knowledge and kuleana to become graduated as a master, a kumu hula, and then even beyond that continue to accrue the mana and the ‘ike, the knowledge and the power that allows them to rise to leadership beyond just their hālau but also among a larger community. Many hula practitioners, kumu hula, at least in my lifetime have also participated in political leadership. There have been really important movements among hula practitioners to politicize and understand the politics of what they do, what we do. Maintaining that relationship, for example with our mountain resources and the ability to gather when that’s threatened by the settler state, it’s important to organize. There are a number of kumu hula who came together in the 1990’s to form a coalition called ‘Īlio‘ulaokalani that was sort of a blending of their cultural and political leadership. Similarly, in other realms of cultural knowledge, there are very specific ways in which people achieve leadership and mastery that usually involve years and years and years of apprenticeship and being confirmed by your teachers and a wider community. I would say that there are also a number of people who gain positions of leadership simply through the work that they do, through the service that they provide to others and showing that they’re not just self-interested; that they’re working to build programs or other efforts for our people. They gain the respect of others but because we don’t have formal governing institutions, those are really the main ways that leaders emerge.

Verónica Hirsch:

You referenced an organization of traditional teachers and practitioners, kumu hula teachers, and how in previous eras there was an effort organize politically around topics that were considered pertinent at the time. I’d like to ask, from your experience and from conversations you’ve had with friends and family who might’ve been a part of that effort directly, are you aware how decisions might’ve been made in those types of context?

Noelani Kaopua:

I’m not sure how decisions were made within ‘Īlio‘ulaokalani but what I am more familiar with is how decisions have been made in various aspects or various organizations or segments of the Hawaiian movement that had to do with land struggles. For example, organizations like the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana certainly have always relied on the advice and council of elders but then also made decisions really through council of consensus and not necessarily through elected leadership but really through a collective participatory process. Similarly, with organizations that have emerged to try to protect certain sacred sites or to protect kānaka to other particular places. In the community, at a local level, decisions are often made through that process of talking story and consensus. There are, of course, formal, non-profit organizations among kānaka that have boards that make decisions with bylaws and all those kinds of things but I would say our general sort of practice is participatory and talking and trying to build as much consensus as possible.

Verónica Hirsch:

Realizing that the general practice is more so participatory and the intent is to achieve consensus, what challenges kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiians, face with the current government structure?

Noelani Kaopua:

There are a ton of challenges that we face with the current government structure because for one, it’s not ours. We are living under the U.S. occupation, the settler-state government that was imposed upon us. There are certainly kānaka who participate in that system; there are plenty who don’t. It doesn’t fit us for a number of reasons, it doesn’t represent us for a number of reasons. At the same time, it controls our resources; lands that are a part of the corpus of lands that comprise the Hawaiian national lands, our crowning government lands. Of course, the settler-state government makes decisions about things like education and health and all the things that impact our people. We have to engage with it. The question was what are some of the challenges we face with it? One of the major challenges is that kānaka don’t represent large – basically in the settler system, kānaka are not in power. For example, in the public education system, we comprise the largest group of the public school students but a tiny fraction of the administrators and none of the upper level governance currently. There’s a single board of education in Hawai’i that’s governor appointed so we have no structural say in an institution that has huge impacts on our youth. That’s a major problem, just that we don’t have that power. Similarly, with the criminal justice system, our people comprise the largest group within the prisons yet we’re not in power within those systems as well. Those are what I would say are the biggest challenges. We’re not in those system and those systems were not built with our culture in mind; they were built with a different set of cultural values in mind.

Verónica Hirsch:

Thank you for sharing that and explaining the context of the difficulty that kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiians, have with being able to address the needs, the desires and the imagined future of their own families, their own children. On that note, I’d like to transition to a question about any efforts – local efforts, governance efforts – that have transpired to contest this governance system that does not adequately or appropriately address the needs of kānaka ʻōiwi, Native Hawaiian people in their own homeland, and ask you, what types of governance reform efforts, whether that involves drafting or revising a written constitution, as an example? What efforts have kānaka ʻōiwi pursued over time to create a government system that is by them and for them?

Noelani Kaopua:

I guess I would want to divide this into two or three different categories. There have been efforts to work within the settler-state system to carve out certain spaces of limited authority within that system. For example, I’ve been involved with the movement to start Hawaiian charter schools; that came out directly of the problem of governance with public education that I mentioned, we had no control over the schools in which our children were being educated. Throughout the various islands, there were multiple communities who took on the responsibility of creating schools that could be locally run under local school boards. It was a huge governance question because public education has been so centralized in the state of Hawai’i and it really was about returning power over schools to communities, to a community level. That effort really was really spearheaded by Dr. Kū Kahakalau, who was one of the founders of Kanu o ka ‘Āina Charter School. She then took that out to a number of different communities and other communities took that up. There’s efforts in specific areas like education but then there’s also recently been an effort to try to establish a native Hawaiian government entity that has been advocated by a particular segment of kānaka who are interested in creating an entity within the state system that’s state recognized. That’s ongoing right now. There are also efforts to rebuild the kingdom government structure outside of the structure of the settler-state government. There are a number of different kingdoms that have their own ideas about which constitution we should use or have had their own constitution conventions. Those efforts have really been about restoring what our kahuna built in the kingdom era in the 19th century. We’ve also had efforts to completely, from the grassroots, to create new governance structure. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a tremendous amount of effort, thousands of kānaka coming together to build an organization called Ka Lahui Hawai’i. They created their own constitution that was aware of previous constitutions in the kingdom era but not simply adopting it, so they convened constitutional convention. All of these various efforts at that sort of national level or Lahui level, as we would say, our people level, represent different parts of our community.

Verónica Hirsch:

I’d like to ask, to what extent does kuleana, or this concept of authority, rights, and responsibility, inform or influence these discussions that transpire in the various venues you’ve mentioned?

Noelani Kaopua:

I think one of the things that’s important about kuleana, which first means authority, right responsibility, is that an equally important question to ‘What is your kuleana?’ is ‘What is not your kuleana?’ Knowing at that level of practice that people who are practitioners in the ocean, who are fisherman, who are voyagers, who have a particular relationship with a certain area who often will have, but not always now-a-days, have a direct genealogical connection to that. The reason I say not always is that there’s been so much movement of kānaka from one island to another and displacement that sometimes you’re living on land that your family didn’t always live on. Someone who has a direct kuleana relationship will have the authority to make decisions in that particular area or about what takes place on a certain reef or near a certain watershed area. You also know it’s not your kuleana to go to another island and make decisions for them. That’s been one of the issues in terms of formulating a national that people come out of this perspective of like ‘I know my kuleana, I’m not going to try to speak for others’ We also have this tradition that Kumu John Ka'imikaua, who was a kumu hula from Moloka’i, described that particularly came out of their island of `aha kiole that represented councils of practitioners that would come together and make decisions knowing that one will have better knowledge about this particular area in the ahupua’a or this particular resource and another will have other kinds of knowledge about other resources. That’s one of the other sort of governing structures that I would say that have existed that are different from the state, not just the settler-state but even the Hawaiian state. One of the things that our people think a lot about in terms of that is how you can support the struggle of one community but also recognize your position, your kuleana in relation to that. It’s not exactly the same. I think it’s a really exciting time for us as kānaka because we’re coming out of 30-40 years of really conscious efforts to educate young people in our history and our culture, to live those practices, to understand our genealogical connection to Hawai’i; for particular families, their genealogical connections to specific places within the islands. To practice our ceremonies and protocols, those are the things that really have only become seen in the public again, you know, practiced in a way that people feel confident about doing that within my lifetime. Whereas for my parents’ generation, for my mom, it was still seen as being shame in some ways to be Hawaiian, to practice anything Hawaiian. By the time she came into adulthood that was certainly shifting. I’m of the first generation in the 20th century to be born into a time where people have actively cultivated pride in being kānaka and then I would say from a little bit after me, not just pride, but what is that pride founded on? What are the pillars or as we would say the Ni’ihau stones, the foundational rocks, that provide the structure that we can build upon? Our language, our ceremonies, our genealogies, our mo’olelo, our stories; we’re just seeing now…so in my children’s generation, the children are raised with that knowledge from birth. I think it’s an exciting time for us in terms of what can be built from the generations that grow up knowing that and just being immersed in it from the time that they’re young. One of the instances that we’ve seen that really powerfully in the last couple of years has been in the uprising of the Kū Kiaʻi around Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is our highest mountain; it is also known as Mauna a Wakea, the mountain of Wakea, the broad expanse our Sky Father. Mauna a Wakea has been threatened over the last several decades with industrial astronomy development even though within the settler-state government it’s a conservation district. The University of Hawai’i was able to get a special use permit to develop an astronomy park there and has over the last few decades really expanded the footprint of that. The mountain has been threatened with the construction of what would we be the largest building on the whole island of Hawai’i; several stories high and several stories deep into the ground blocking view plains, destroying a sacred site that is what we consider a piko, a convergence point. Piko is also the word we use for your belly button and there are other piko in your body as well. There’s been a massive uprising against the construction of that telescope and what we’ve seen is that there are really key elders who have been involved in the legal challenges of that construction but the youth has been key in the blockade, the on the ground…that’s not to say there haven’t been elders, kupunas, who’ve participated in that as well. The leadership of the movement to just simply put our bodies in the street and block construction buildings coming up have been young people. What we’ve heard are that kupuna who were – in the 70’s they were those guys. They were in the streets or in the waters blocking the destruction of our sacred lands. For them, it’s really encouraging to see this generation because this generation is not only willing to do that and have the courage but they also have the ability to speak the language and perform the ceremony and embrace that political action from a very strong cultural foundation. I think that is a really exciting signal of where governance can go as we take what we’re learning from how that leadership is unfolding is social movements like the blockade of the 30-meter telescope on Mauna a Wakea and then apply that to how we would make decisions on a day-to-day basis. One of the really powerful and beautiful things that has come out of that movement is this practice of kapu aloha, which is a way of entering any confrontation and any sort of exchange with the idea that you have to have love which means not that you would shy away or that you just try to placate the other but that you recognize your opponent and you come face-to-face with them with respect and you stand your ground and that you speak your truth but that it’s not in an attacking, aggressive way. You know, I’m doing this motivated out of the love I have for my place. I guess I should say that kapu aloha didn’t originate in the movement around Mauna Kea but it has become popularly known and more widely practiced through that movement.

I think it’s also a sign of the influence that educational movements have had. For example, I know that one of the leaders of that movement, Lanakila, was a student of Kanu o ka ‘Āina, the school I mentioned earlier, and I know that was something important that they practiced at that school, kapu aloha. To see how that then comes to fruition in the context of a movement of people and how that helps to organize people in really contentious and potentially chaotic times is, I think, a powerful instance of Hawaiian forms of governance.

Verónica Hirsch:

And with that, thank you. Mahalo Noelani. We so appreciate your time. That’s all the time we have on today’s episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations please visit NNI’s Indigenous Governance Database website, which can be found at www.IGovDatabase.com. Thank you for joining us.

Noelani Kaopua:

Mahalo.

Related Resources

Image
Federal Recognition Process: A Culture of Neglect

The Shinnecock Indian Nation was petitioner number 4 on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ list of tribes seeking federal recognition in 1978 soon after the agency established the seven criteria for recognition. Thirty-two years and $33 million later in June 2010, the BIA acknowledged the Shinnecock…

Image
Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Agroforestry

Communities around the world have practiced diverse and evolving forms of agroforestry for centuries. While both indigenous and non-indigenous practitioners have developed agroforestry practices of great value, in this publication, we focus on the role of indigenous, traditional ecological…

Image
Federalism and the State Recognition of Native American Tribes: A Survey of State-Recognized Tribes and State Recognition Processes Across the United States

In the last few years, states and tribes have increasingly realized that state recognition can serve as an important, albeit limited, alternative to federal recognition. This realization is evidenced by the many states that have recently codified their state recognition processes or are planning to…