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Honolulu Advertiser statehood series

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

March 15, 2009

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The 50th anniversary of Hawai'i's admission to the United States will be marked not with fireworks and parades, but with a series of thought-provoking commemorations to both emphasize the state's cultural diversity and encourage the conversations necessary to move forward as one.

That's the plan, at least.

Since it first convened in August 2008, the Hawai'i Statehood Commission has carefully formulated what it considers to be the proper approach to acknowledging this milestone year in Hawai'i history while at the same time trying to avoid the inevitable tripwires of cultural and political sensitivity.

"We're trying to do this very responsibly," said Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of 'Iolani Palace and chairman of the statehood commission. "It's about education and understanding. We are aware of all the other things going on, but our message is that we want this to be peaceful."

The commission is planning at least three major events — a joint session of the Hawai'i state Legislature on Wednesday, the arrival of the USS Hawaii this summer, and a daylong conference on Statehood Day — as well as cooperative presentations of more than 40 existing events statewide that will bear the official Hawai'i Statehood logo.

(The statehood commemoration actually began in November with the release of the Hawai'i quarter.)

The commission is also working with the Department of Education and private schools on educational initiatives, including a statehood-themed essay contest, a time-capsule project and multimedia statehood materials, such as the "50 Voices" series of public service announcements currently being aired on commercial and cable television.

As part of a much broader educational initiative, the commission plans to distribute 100,000 walking maps of the Downtown area to encourage locals and tourists to visit historically significant sites such as 'Iolani Palace, the state Capitol and Kawaiaha'o church. It will also establish mobile kiosks with historical photos and explanatory text on each of the major islands.
'IOLANI palace low-profile

'Iolani Palace will not be among the scores of venues hosting official statehood activities this time around. Chu said this is because the palace did not play an official role in any of the original statehood transactions or celebrations other than the March 12 call from territorial delegate John Burns in Washington to territorial Speaker of the House Elmer Cravalho conveying Congress' passage of the Hawaii Admission Act.

Chu said that while the territorial Legislature was housed in 'Iolani Palace then, it is more appropriate that current statehood observances take place at the state Legislature's permanent home at the state Capitol.

Chu acknowledged that potential demonstrations or confrontations, like the palace grounds takeovers executed by two separate Hawaiian sovereignty groups last year (the Hawaiian Kingdom Government last April and the Kingdom of Hawai'i last August) were also considerations.

"Whenever there's a big demonstration and it generates a threat of disturbance, law enforcement always forces ... (the palace) to close down, which is a problem because the palace is our No. 1 source of income," Chu said.

Beyond that, Chu said, the goal of the commemorative events is to encourage discussion and to educate, not incite conflict.

In brainstorming possible commemorative activities early in the process, the commission did consider using the palace to stage a re-enactment of the call from Territory of Hawai'i delegate John Burns to the Territorial House of Representatives informing them of Congress' approval of the Hawaii Admission Act, which then led to Hawai'i's own ballot on statehood.

However, commission member Donald Cataluna, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, was firmly opposed to the idea.

"No way," Cataluna said. "I put my foot down. I felt that it would hurt an awful lot of Hawaiians, and others, too. You saw what happened when two small groups took over. There are more than 30 sovereignty groups out there with 30,000 members. I didn't want any blood to spill, so I fought it."

Cataluna was a senior at the University of Hawai'i when the Hawaii Admission Act was passed.

He said he was aware of resistance to statehood — initially by the Big Five oligarchy that sought to protect its economic and political hold over Hawai'i, and in quieter fashion by some Native Hawaiians who believed the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 to be illegal — but he said that opposition to the measure was "a dangerous stance" given the collective will of a population weary of the limits of territorial status, particularly in light of the distinguished service of Island sons during World War II.

The palace issue resolved, Cataluna said he is "very satisfied" with the tone and direction of the commission's planned activities.

Still, there are others who clearly are not.

A group calling itself the Anti-Statehood Hui is calling for a peaceful protest at Wednesday's joint session of the Legislature. A flier distributed online and by hand asks that protesters dress in black but carry no signs.

According to the group's Web site, the hui's mission is "to educate the public about the fraudulence of the State of Hawai'i as projected by the USA and to explain and advance the independent nation of Hawai'i."

Kenneth Conklin, who identifies himself as a civil rights activist and independent scholar, has a decidedly different take, but is also dissatisfied with the commission's plans for observing the statehood anniversary.

Conklin, author of "Hawaiian Apartheid: Racial Separatism and Ethnic Nationalism in the Aloha State" and an outspoken and controversial critic of race-based programs, was one of 13 plaintiffs who in 2000 successfully challenged a requirement that OHA trustees be of Hawaiian descent.

Conklin argued that statehood celebrations are patriotic by definition, and should be celebrated — not just "commemorated" — as such.

He said an appropriate celebration might include a parade through the Downtown area with a military marching band, the Royal Hawaiian Band, and lots of American flags.

And, he said, the route should include 'Iolani Palace.

"In deciding not to use the palace, they're trying to avoid worries with sovereignty activists," he said, "but how far are we going to go with this (politically correct) stuff?

"We're either the 50th state or we're not. If so, we should be proud and we should celebrate in a place where the legislature met and where all governmental activities were conducted."

Conklin cited photos and other archival material to challenge the commission's stance that the palace was not involved in the march to statehood or the subsequent celebrations.

He also dismissed the commission's focus on education as an opportunity to spread pro-sovereignty propaganda.
balancing act

Chu and his fellow commission members find an odd sort of comfort in receiving equal measures of criticism from seemingly opposing interests. It means, in essence, that they've arrived at a reasonable middle ground.

Lenny Klompus, senior adviser for communications for Gov. Linda Lingle and vice chairman of the statehood commission, said the ultimate aims of the statehood commemorations are to educate people about the myriad issues surrounding statehood, highlight the state's racial and cultural diversity, and inspire a sense of unity heading into the next 50 years of statehood.

He said a key component of the commemoration is the "50 Voices" project, a series of 60-second commercials (produced in conjunction with Wai'anae High School's Searider Productions) in which prominent residents who were around when Hawai'i became a state reflect on their personal experiences with statehood and its aftermath.

Klompus said the 32 spots filmed so far are remarkable in what they have in common, most notably emphasis on the values that unify diverse backgrounds and beliefs into a common purpose.

Included in the 50 is Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, whose expressed opposition to statehood surprised viewers who expected the series to be unanimously positive.

"My position hasn't changed," Blaisdell said. "We have to change their position. As Hawaiians, we're still at the bottom. We have the highest rates of mortality and morbidity, drug abuse, incarceration, homelessness and dropouts.

"The causes go way back. There was depopulation because of Western and Asian epidemics, the 1893 invasion and overthrow, and the military occupation by the U.S. The illegal act (of the overthrow) has been followed by subsequent illegal acts. Our kanaka maoli struggle over statehood. We don't want it."

Blaisdell said he had mixed feelings about participating in the commercial, but felt it was a good way to share his beliefs.

"I feel very strongly that our opposition has to be known," he said. "I'm grateful to be part of the 50, but I'm only one of 50."

For Chu, Blaisdell's contribution was in keeping with the intent of the series itself.

"We rely on people who lived through it to provide the commentary," Chu said. "Some were surprised at ... (Blaisdell's) segment, but it was one perspective."

Klompus said he expects the closing conference to provide a good venue for a productive exchange of ideas on topics ranging from economics to culture and Hawaiian self-determination.

"We're a democracy, and we want people to express themselves," he said. "I don't see how we can discuss where we're going if we don't know where we're coming from."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.


©2008 Statehood Hawaii