Native Hawaiians from across the islands gathered on the lawn of Iolani Palace to celebrate their recognition on January 20. The Huli-A-Mahi Celebration hosted by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission included music, hula, poetry and cultural exhibits in honor of the first Native Hawaii registry acknowledged by the Hawaii Legislature. The day was also a reminder to the world that Native Hawaiians are still here.
“It was just three days and 120 years ago that our queen was illegally overthrown right here on this ground,” said John Waihee, commission chairman and former governor of Hawaii. “We are here to remember that… It’s our kuleana [responsibility] to make sure that we never ever forget Kupaa. Kupaa [steadfast] we are standing firm.”
On January 16, which marked the 120th anniversary of the United States taking possession of the Hawaiian Islands, thousands of Native Hawaiians and their supporters marched on the state building in an Idle No More-style protest. They carried signs calling for the U.S. to grant sovereignty to Native Hawaiians and many other issues facing the states Native and non-Native residents. This protest laid the grounds for the Roll Commission event, an opportunity for Native Hawaiians to be counted. And if they are all counted, it could make them the largest Native American tribal nation in the U.S.
“Imagine if every Native Hawaiian in the state registered on these rolls, the United States would have to give us federal recognition, which could open the doors to reclaiming some of our ceded ancestral lands back,” said Dave Kaialau, who traveled from Kona on the Big Island to be a part of the festivities and register.
At the event there was a booth where people who identify as Native Hawaiians could register either online or fill out a paper form. “I am proud of my heritage, I feel that adding my name to these rolls says to the world we are still here, we are proud and making our voices heard,” said Malia Mahi Badis, a hula dancer and flight attendant from Ewa Beach who speaks her Hawaiian language.
“It is important to remember this 120th anniversary, but we must also look around and say, ‘hey we're still here and that is worthy of celebration in itself.’ We are still here, still persisting, trying to move forward and looking for unity,” said Naalehu Anthony, vice chairman of the commission.
Anthony also said the application is available online because there are more than 200,000 Native Hawaiians not just on the islands, but the continent that the commission wants to engage, begin conversations and perpetuate ongoing conversations with.
But what does Anthony hope this roll will accomplish for Native Hawaiians? “Hopefully in the future we will be in negotiations to get our ceded lands back, hopefully we will be in a very long negotiation that allows us to get back the resources that were vested to us by our Ali’i [Hawaiian Royalty].”
As many Native nations have experienced in the past the road to sovereignty is a long one, but these Natives are armed with a sense of unity and pride that will be hard to stop. Most of all they have a deep love for their homeland—something they call “Aloha Aina.”