Statehood commemoration launches

Statehood commemoration starts leading up to Hawaii’s 50th year “Yearlong observances of state’s 50th anniversary to give all sides of story” Gordon Y.K. Pang Advertiser Staff Writer

Tomorrow’s holiday marking the 49th anniversary of Hawai’i’s statehood also will launch a year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of admission into the Union.
The Hawai’i 50th Anniversary of Statehood Commission began yesterday to roll out the schedule of events planned for the coming year, including the issuing of a Hawai’i quarter in November, a ceremony at the state Capitol, a public conference and a “50 Voices of Statehood” project to be aired on TV and radio. The commemoration also will “be sensitive” to those in Hawai’i who have opposed statehood. The 25-member commission, for instance, has tried to avoid the use of the word “celebration,” opting instead for the more neutral “commemoration.” It has also promised to present all sides of the statehood story in its activities. “We’re giving the historical context to the whole (issue) of statehood and what it means to the indigenous people of Hawai’i,” said commission member Ah Quon McElrath, a long-time union leader. “To celebrate statehood without recognizing that those indigenous people still have many problems means that we are thinking only of the rest us, presumably, who did well under statehood.” Admission Day, a state and city holiday, has become an increasingly controversial subject. In 2006, a group of Admission Day celebrants at ‘Iolani Palace were confronted by a group of Native Hawaiian activists who said it was disrespectful to hold the celebration at the palace. Kippen de Alba Chu, the 50th Anniversary commission’s director and executive director of Friends of ‘Iolani Palace, has made it clear that no 50th anniversary activities will take place at ‘Iolani Palace because none took place there in 1959. The commission, comprised of Hawai’i leaders from the political, financial and civic communities, said on its Web site: “We are tasked with accurately and sensitively depicting a historic event with controversial beginnings.”

Hawai’i voices

Hawai’i became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959. The commission’s first initiative is the 50 Voices of Statehood program which features one-minute vignettes on what statehood means for 50 Hawai’i residents. Among the first of the series will be retired state Appellate Judge James Burns, son of the late Gov. John A. Burns who played a critical role in Hawai’i’s path to statehood as a delegate to Congress. Others include former state Land Board Chairman and longtime sugar plantation executive Bill Paty and Dody Brown, a city employee who was 6 when her father, an Associated Press photographer, photographed her holding a newspaper proclaiming statehood. At least 60 radio and nine television stations across the Islands have agreed to run the interviews as public-service announcements at no charge to the commission. The series is expected to begin hitting the airwaves next week and will feature a different individual each week. Other activities include traveling interactive exhibits, time capsules, essay and calendar contests, all geared toward educating high school students. The programs have the endorsement of the state Department of Education and private institutions belonging to the Hawai’i Association of Independent Schools.

Conference planned

A series of events will culminate with an all-day conference on Aug. 21, 2009, where people will discuss Hawai’i’s past, present and future. A breakout session will look at “Native Hawaiians: Cultural Navigation in a Sea of Change.” The state Legislature has appropriated $600,000 to the commission, but the panel must raise $250,000 more from private donors to be able to use $500,000 of the taxpayer money. The commission hopes to raise an additional $250,000 beyond that, giving it about $1.1 million to use. Lenny Klompus, the commission’s vice chairman of events and senior communications advisor to Gov. Linda Lingle, said members of the panel decided the focus should be on educating people, youths in particular. “I’ve been here 20-something years. I’m still learning,” Klompus said. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at

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