WAILUKU - As Hawaii observes a half century of statehood Friday, some Maui County Native Hawaiian activists remained steadfast that the achievement only cemented the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
It is an irritating reminder, they say, that statehood further fortified existing government- and business-created ramparts against native sovereignty. With statehood, Native Hawaiians lost property ownership rights as well as native control of natural resources, such as unfettered access to shorelines, fishing and hunting, and fresh water.
In their view, the 50th state had already been transformed by pineapple and sugar plantations and later became an overwhelmed and kitschy tourist mecca.
Leslie Kuloloio served in the U.S. Army from July 11, 1959, to July 11, 1962. This photo was taken in 1960 while he was stationed in Vicenza, Italy. Kuloloio, a Native Hawaiian, said he was not allowed to use the “whites-only” washrooms in the South during the segregation era. He ended his three-year stint in the Army as a specialist 4. Now, Kuloloio is a Hawaiian cultural expert and activist who decries Hawaii’s inclusion as the 50th state.
To many other Native Hawaiians, the timing of statehood's 50th anniversary is impeccable. After a decade of toil, this very likely could be the year a bill before Congress by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka establishing sovereignty - in some form - will become a reality.
Hawaii-born President Barack Obama has said he'd support the Akaka Bill, which would give Native Hawaiians self-determination rights similar to those possessed by Native American and Alaskan tribes.
Sovereignty would not be possible without statehood, said retired 2nd Circuit Judge and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Boyd Mossman.
Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., 72, an outspoken kahu and cultural consultant to developers, the government and Native Hawaiians alike, said Hawaii's admission into the union was a sad day. He was at his father's house in Kula when statehood was declared Aug. 21, 1959.
"He cried," Maxwell recalled. "I said, 'What's the matter, Papa?' He said, 'Hawaii will not be the same any more.' He said the native people would be pushed further and further back."
At the time, Maxwell said, he was surprised and puzzled by his father's reaction to statehood. But over the years, his point of view changed. Now, Maxwell said he believes many of the Native Hawaiians' struggles were worsened by statehood.
"Our people generally have turned off to society. They're with drugs, the education is the worst, their standards of living are the worst. They make up all the social ills of Hawaii," he said. "You gotta ask yourself, 'What good did statehood do for the Native Hawaiians?' Although, some have assimilated into Western Hawaii, lost their Hawaiianness and become coconuts - dark on the outside and white on the inside."
By design, the state's party will be subdued. In consideration of the convictions shared by Maxwell and numerous others, the state ordered a "commemoration" and Honolulu conference rather than a celebration with parades and fireworks, event organizers said. Regardless, Hawaiian sovereignty groups are planning protests from 3 to 6 p.m. today at the State Building in Wailuku and from noon to 1 p.m. Friday on Keolani Place near Kahului Airport. Protests also are set Friday in Honolulu.
To many, statehood allowed mostly Mainland white and foreign business interests to exploit the native culture over the past 50 years, providing a luau of profits for themselves while Native Hawaiians were left, often literally, with the leftovers.
However, to other Native Hawaiians the day is worthy of a celebration.
Many older Native Hawaiians fondly reminisce about Aug. 21, 1959, when they officially became American citizens with American rights and privileges.
Lanai activist, publisher and farmer Alberta de Jetley, 64, recalls the emergency sirens going off during the school lunch hour to mark the achievement of statehood.
"We all thought it was a good thing," said de Jetley, whose mother is half Native Hawaiian. "In those days, we didn't even think of sovereignty. I was excited that we were going to become 100 percent Americans."
Mossman, 66, was a sophomore at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu when statehood was declared. He also heard the sirens and was given the rest of the day off. Mossman said he went surfing to celebrate.
De Jetley said that today Native Hawaiians have more political leaders than ever before, including her sister, state Rep. Hermina Morita of Kauai, as well as Akaka and state Rep. Mele Carroll and Sen. J. Kalani English, whose legislative districts encompass Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe and East Maui.
Prior to 1959, the territory of Hawaii had only one congressional delegate with little power. Statehood gave Hawaii residents four members of Congress - two U.S. senators and two members of the House of Representatives, Mossman said.
"Statehood gave Hawaiians a voice in their government, which became a national voice," he said. "Sovereignty is the next logical step.
"I don't think that sovereignty could have benefited any more without statehood," Mossman said, arguing that statehood gave Hawaii voting representatives in Congress with power to lobby for reform. "In 1893, the Hawaiian people lost their kingdom, and when they lost their kingdom, sovereignty was forcibly removed. But it did not end. It was not extinguished and will never die as long as the people are there."
The Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in 1893 when a group of white businessmen forced Queen Lili'uokalani to abdicate her throne. Meanwhile, U.S. Marines came ashore. Until Congress declared it a U.S. territory in 1898, Hawaii was a republic, a political status many activists would like to see reinstated.
When 94 percent of the archipelago's voters supported statehood about 50 years ago, the choices on the ballot were to either become a state or remain a territory. The people were not given the opportunity to vote for independence.
The Akaka Bill recognizes Native Hawaiians as a unique indigenous people with whom the federal government has a political and legal relationship; that Native Hawaiians never relinquished their claims to sovereignty or their lands; and that Native Hawaiians have an inherent right to self-governance.
A Native Hawaiian government would be formed and a constitution written, which would then be voted upon by referendum - all by Native Hawaiians. The Native Hawaiian Governing Council described in the legislation will then have the authority to hold elections and finally negotiate with federal, state and local governments, proponents said.
Leslie Kuloloio, 68, a Hawaiian cultural expert and activist, said he was an 18-year-old U.S. Army recruit at Fort Gor-
don, Ga., when Hawaii was made the 50th state. His memory still stings from having to register on his military forms as Caucasian because there was no other fitting option, and then not being allowed to use the "whites-only" washrooms in the South, he said.
"No one approached us before about what would be the impact of statehood," he said. "No one asked us about our manao, our thoughts."
It was not until the Hawaiian Renaissance movement of the 1960s and 1970s where the concepts of sovereignty, native rights and authentic religion and culture took root, Kuloloio said. The more he learned about real Hawaiian history, the more it hurt, he said.
Meanwhile, the push for statehood, which was fueled by the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, proved much more prosperous for those outside the host culture, he said.
"After 50 years, we are still struggling to be recognized by Congress," Kuloloio said. "How much better has it gotten for us since 1959? I say complete zero. And I don't see the Akaka Bill benefiting my grandchildren or great-grandchildren."
Over the years, some lawsuits have succeeded in overturning special programs for Native Hawaiians because the plaintiffs argued the programs were race-based - and therefore unconstitutional. Mossman said the Akaka Bill would help dismantle those decisions.
The Akaka Bill is "one of the most important pieces of federal legislation for Hawaii in the last 50 years since statehood," said Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Chief Executive Officer Robin Puanani Danner. "For 50 years since statehood, we've been in purgatory as a people."
Still, many said they wonder what the bill's passage will really mean for Native Hawaiians and the rest of the state's residents.
There is much debate that the bill does not go far enough to create an internationally recognizable republic and that those without enough Native Hawaiian blood will be left out, critics have maintained. In 1921, Congress approved the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which set aside almost 200,000 acres of former monarchy lands in a trust for people of at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian blood.
Maxwell estimated it will take another 20 years to sort out lineage questions.
"People have got to look around and ask themselves who really owns this land," Maxwell said. "That's what the question is, and statehood did not recognize the native people of this land and did not improve our lot. And that's not being disloyal. That's just being realistic. It is not about patriotism."
The Akaka Bill also does not directly resolve contentious issues such as who will control the 1.8 million acres of former monarchy property, or ceded lands. Mossman, however, said he believes that some of the first acts of the newly organized Hawaiian government will be to settle the land and racial issues.
* Maui News staff writer Ilima Loomis and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton @mauinews.com.