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November 15, 2019

No Escape Even in Hawaii

Ken Kellar

I walked over the soft sand of Ukumehame beach in Maui, Hawaii. There was only a light breeze and the ocean was glassy. I gently entered the ocean knowing there were volcanic rocks at the water’s edge making walking a bit hazardous.


I slid onto my 9-foot stand-up-paddle board. I stood up and started paddling out to the surf line. I looked down into the crystal clear water and watched the coral and sand flow under my board. Out about 200 yards I caught my first wave. It was going to be another awesome surf session.


While maneuvering on the outside, I passed a Hawaiian man who had just paddled out on a long surfboard. He was in his 20s or 30s. As we passed I said, “Hi.” He didn’t respond, which was a little off-putting, but after a couple seconds he said something like, “The United Nations are going to be here.” “What? “ I asked. He said something about the land and a lease expiring.


On Maui and the other islands, lots of vehicles are driving around with flags flying. The flags are the Hawaiian state flag and a somewhat Jamaican looking flag. The state flag is usually upside down, a sign of distress. The flags represent a cessation/sovereignty movement.


I asked the surfer if he was talking about the sovereignty debate. He said something like, “It’s not a debate; it’s a fact. The people who stole the land had a lease and it expired. The land needs to return to the native people.”


Trying to wrap up the conversation and catch the next juicy wave, I said, “Well. I’m just a tourist and no matter what happens I hope people still offer places for rent so I can visit.”


He responded: “You’ll need a passport next time you come.”


I told him, “I’ll get a passport and hope to return.” He said, “The Hawaiians will rent but won’t shake you upside down and take all your money like the current owners do.”


He suggested I participate in the next protest, I think he used the word “riot” somewhere in there. I said that sounded scary. He said it was fun. I reminded him of my tourist status and we exchanged pleasantries and resumed surfing.


As I waited for the next pulse of energy to propel me over the coral, I pondered the movement for which the man showed so much passion. Could Hawaii actually become a sovereign nation?


 In theory, yes. I don’t think Abraham Lincoln had a very strong legal foundation to kill southerners until they rejoined.


What would sovereignty bring? According to my surfing discussion, it would be a race-based land grab by the native Hawaiians that now make up about 10% of the population.


Our Congress fueled the fire by passing a bill in1993 apologizing for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani. The events around 1893 are complicated with contradictory claims. My take looks like the USA and Britain both had strong interest in the islands and posturing both politically and militarily resulted in the USA gaining the upper hand. Ultimately 93% of voters chose statehood, which was finalized in 1959. Many of the voters were not natives.


One positive angle of secession would be the Senate losing two Democrat senators. Not bad! But a race-based redistribution of property ownership is indefensible.


As recent as 1810, the Hawaiian Islands were subjected to the military conquest of King Kamehameha. His 15-year military campaign resulted in the islands falling under his rule. As far as I know, there are no native Hawaiians demanding their individual island sovereignty to be restored. Somehow, Kamehameha’s unification conquest by force is viewed as legitimate while other acquisitions are viewed as illegitimate.


One recent change that may bring a sense of hope to those seeking sovereignty is the cessation of sugar cane production on the islands. The ancient company (circa 1870) of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) stopped sugar cane production in 2016. Much of the 36,000 acres lies fallow and brown since the irrigation ceased.


A&B indicated they will retain land ownership with plans to lease the land to farmers with preference going to the approximate 650 workers who lost their jobs when the sugar production stopped.


With the cessation of sugar cane production, and the leasing of land, there is massive agricultural business opportunity on the islands. Anyone who rents the land will be motivated by necessity to make productive use of it. That’s capitalism.


If the land is taken in a sovereignty movement and handed out based on DNA, the incentive to prosper is diminished. That’s socialism.


I can imagine a compromise in which the land is grabbed and handed out by DNA initially, but the land is taxed at a rate that requires good use be made of the land. Those not producing would lose ownership and the free market would ensure productive use of the land.


These are exciting times in Hawaii.

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