Monday, August 17, 2009

Hawai'i observing muted 50th

According to this article by Mark Niesse at the Associated Press, Hawai'i isn't celebrating its 50th anniversary of statehood, it is observing it in a muted fashion.

Organizers of the observation are not even willing to call it a party. It is simply a "commemoration," one that is sensitive to a painful history of the Hawaiian monarchy's overthrow and unresolved claims of Native Hawaiians.

The main event is a low-key daylong conference reflecting on Hawaii's place in the world. Behind the tourist-friendly tropical images of beaches and sunshine, many remain uncomfortable with the U.S. takeover of the islands and the idea that businesses have exploited Hawaiians' culture.

This is in contrast to Alaska, which celebrated its 50th earlier this year with fireworks, concerts, and displays of native culture. Both states entered the Union as the result of flawed referenda, which offered the residents only two choices: statehood or continuing as a territory; in defiance of the United Nations Trusteeship agreement (to which the United States was a signatory), stating that such elections should have four choices: statehood, territory, commonwealth (like Puerto Rico), or independence. The referenda were further flawed by the fact that all military -- resident and non-resident -- stationed in the two states were permitted to vote, and were pressured to vote in favor of statehood. The Alasks Independence Party and several Hawai'ian groups note this in their arguments for independence.

"This newfangled idea of celebrating statehood shows that people don't understand Hawaii's history, or if they do understand, then they're celebrating a lie, a theft, that essentially stole a people's right of self-determination," said Poka Laenui, a Hawaiian and attorney who has worked for independence for more than 30 years.

Don't be too surprised if Hawai'i ends up being the first state out. Like Vermont and Texas, Hawai'i was established as an independent nation prior to statehood. It has a distinct culture, and is perfectly capable of making it on its own. In fact, an independent Hawai'i could become something of a regional power in the Pacific, by becoming the largest of several Polynesian nations in the region.

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