Why does the concept of Sovereignty divide us?

By Trustee Rowena Akana

November 2002

SOVEREIGNTY—The word hangs in the air like an uncertain new friend to all who attempt to understand its encircling arms.

Why does the concept of sovereignty, that which should unite our people, divide us into fragmented shards? It has been a goal of mine to use the issue of sovereignty to bring together the many grassroots groups in the community over the past several months. Yet, like a delicate spider’s web, the unity is fragile and unsure as the elements that affect it. It’s easy enough to get the many people I’ve worked with to agree, in concept, to the need for the study, education and understanding of sovereignty. The State Legislature is considering six separate bills dealing with sovereignty this session alone It’s easy enough to get many people to admit sovereignty is a necessary first step toward the Hawaiian nation. But the unity and understanding seems to stop there.

Perhaps, we need to start at the beginning again and again…as many times as it takes to grasp the elementary foundation of the very word. To define “sovereignty” is to place the concept in a known variable category. One of the best definitions I have come across comes from the group, Ka Lahui Hawaii:

“Three key elements of nationhood are sovereignty, self-determination and self sufficiency.

—SOVEREIGNTY—is the ability of a people who share a common culture, religion, language, value system and land base, to exercise control over their lands and lives, independent of other nations. In order to do this, they must be self-determining.

—SELF-DETERMINATION—is realized when the native people organize a mechanism for self-governance. Only when the Native Hawaiian people create a government which provides for democratic representation of their members and begin to interrelate with the State and Federal Trustees who control their lands will they be able to gain control over their trust assets and their future.

—SELF-SUFFICIENCY–is the goal of nationhood. Self-sufficiency means the people are able to be self-supporting, capable of feeding, clothing and sheltering themselves.”

I like this definition. It seems to be all encompassing and obtainable too. Perhaps, once this tangibility has been created, we can begin to dissect the various components that make up the whole.

One thing I have definitely found to be true, the study of sovereignty must be carried out by an impartial, independent agency. I have recently presented testimony at several Senate hearings to voice this exact concern. It is important for the study group to be able to feel free to research the issue of sovereignty without undo pressure from any state agency.

Currently, there are three different proposals in the Legislature attempting to create some form of group to study the issue of sovereignty. Senate bill 3444 and companion House bill 3513 attempt to amend existing Act 301, which created the Sovereignty Advisory Council (SAC). The amendments basically clarify the independence of the group by transferring the funding for the group into the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS). Senate Bill 2407 attempts to create a commission outside of SAC, to be appointed by the Governor, to study the sovereignty issue. House Bill 3662 proposes to create a sovereignty task force with sixteen members to be appointed by the legislature, including four non-Hawaiians.

In summary, I support the idea of an independent group whether it be the SAC, the commission or the task force. I believe that this group must be independent of any state agency so that the group’s findings and ultimate report to the Legislature will be unbiased and will encompass input from all sectors of the community.