The Hawaiian Independence Movement Explained
Flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii, later adopted by the State of Hawaii

Flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii, later adopted by the State of Hawaii

Let me start off by saying that most Hawaiians are in agreement on many key issues surrounding the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.  Most of the basic facts of the coup are not disputed.  In 1893 a group of Western white (“haole”) businessmen conspired to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani and established a Republic which was more conducive to their personal business interests.  The conspirators took the government and Iolani Palace by force in a virtually bloodless coup and quickly established a provisional government which later became the Republic of Hawaii.  The Queen was forced to abdicate and swear allegiance to the new Republic after a royalist counter-revolution failed to muster even 1000 men to restore the monarchy.

There are still questions surrounding the United States government’s involvement in the coup.  While it is well documented that U.S. Marines and sailors marched through Honolulu during the revolution (ostensibly in order to “protect” American lives and businesses), the degree to which they “actively” participated is a matter of historical debate.  The Blount Report commissioned by President Grover Cleveland admitted U.S. involvement, and subsequent documents demonstrate the complicity of U.S. Minister Stevens in the conspiracy.  However, the Blount Report was later disputed by a more thorough (and probably biased) Congressional investigation known as the Morgan Report.  In any case, the United States Congress apologized for their involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in a 1993 Apology Resolution.

This is usually where facts end and imagination begins for most separatists.  According to one of the more popular theories promoted by people such as Keanu Sai, PhD. (who claims himself to be the “Acting Regent” of the “Kingdom of Hawaii,” a mostly self-appointed position), the Hawaiian Kingdom “still exists” because it was never “lawfully” or “legally” overthrown.  They reason that the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom (there were many) did not allow for revolution or a coup, which therefore makes it “illegal” and “unlawful.”  Ignoring the fact that no revolution in history has ever been “legal” or “lawful” (including the French Revolution where King Louis XVI was executed, the Communist Revolution where the Czar and his entire family were executed, and the American Revolution where the rule of King George was supplanted by the US Constitution), he reasons that the only “legitimate” government of Hawaii is the Kingdom of Hawaii, of which he is conveniently both the “head of state” of this “nation” and the head of government,  Needless to say, neither the United States government nor any real country on Earth recognize the legitimacy of his claims.

This of course has not prevented Dr. Sai from filing several frivolous lawsuits, declarations, and assertions which have been summarily dismissed or ignored by those who have been troubled by his international escapades.  His most well known adventure was to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in The Netherlands.  People might recognize The Hague (a city) as being home to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and for those not familiar with any of this, it gives the appearance of legitimacy to an otherwise frivolous lawsuit which of course was dismissed by the court (which handles disputes between private parties).  Sai asserts that because this private arbitration panel agreed to hear the case (because he paid the $10,000 fee), this therefore means that they recognize the existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom, even though the court itself clearly stated that they do not have jurisdiction to decide that matter.  The PCA dismissed the case because there was no actual dispute between the two parties.

Other activists aren’t quite as delusional as Keanu Sai and agree that the Hawaiian Kingdom was indeed overthrown over a century ago.  However, they believe that Hawaii is still an independent nation because Hawaii was never “legally” or “lawfully” annexed by the United States of America.  Professor Williamson Chang has written extensively on this issue and maintains that the “State of Hawaii” is merely the “de facto” government of Hawaii.  He asserts that a foreign country cannot be annexed by a joint resolution of Congress.  But if that were true, the Republic of Texas should also be an independent and sovereign nation since it too was annexed via joint resolution.  In reality, there is nothing within the US Constitution that specifically spells out the way in which new territory is to be acquired or annexed into the United States.  Furthermore, Chang’s assertion that it is impossible to annex another country in this way “because otherwise Hawaii could annex the United States” ignores the political reality of international relations of the time which accepted force as a legitimate means of acquiring territory.  The Hawaiian Kingdom certainly could have passed a bill through the Kingdom legislature annexing California, but unless they had an army to back up that claim, nobody else would recognize it.  Everyone recognizes America’s claim to Hawaii, and even if they didn’t, nobody has the power to challenge it.

Some even more reasonable separatists reject the annexation and “kingdom” arguments and simply assert that Hawaiians have the right to independence based upon the principle of self-determination.  Whether or not the annexation was legal/legitimate is immaterial to whether or not Hawaiians living today may decide to seek independence.  The biggest problem with this view is that Hawaiians no longer make up a majority of the population in Hawaii, and it isn’t clear (in fact, highly unlikely) that a majority of Hawaii residents would prefer independence over statehood.  Furthermore, the United States government does not recognize the right of any State of the Union to secede under any circumstances, whether based upon historical wrongs or not.

For some separatists this isn’t a problem, as they believe they can simply use international law or the UN to seek independence.  The problem with this view is that there is no actual venue in which a Hawaiian Nation would be able to take their claims of independence.  The United States does not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of the ICJ to rule on matters concerning the United State’s territorial sovereignty.  The Permanent Court of Arbitration is not a venue because they cannot rule against non-parties, and the US can simply choose not to show up.  The UN is not a real option because the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council which allows them to veto any “substantive resolution” made by the UN (“substantive” meaning whatever they believe to be substantive).  We can’t even be recognized by the UN without permission from the United States, and to demonstrate that I give you the example of Taiwan, whose recognition as a nation-state by the UN has been vetoed 15 times by the People’s Republic of China.  As it stands, Taiwan is not recognized as a nation-state by most countries (and not by the UN) even though they are an actual country with a government, military, and clearly defined borders.

So even assuming that the separatists, “kingdom activists,” independence activists, and “unlawful annexation” advocates were all completely correct, there is simply no venue in which to recognize those claims.  This is the sad reality that many separatists simply choose not to recognize because the facts are very crushing to the hopes and dreams that they’ve been sold.  Many are under the impression that Hawaii is simply one court ruling away from complete and total independence, and the leaders of this movement are all too happy to keep them believing and hoping in this pipe dream.  These unscrupulous individuals prey on the uneducated and vulnerable, the economically disenfranchised, and those who are passionate about their love for Hawaii and our history, all to gain a greater sense of self-importance.  Sadly, many of the leaders themselves are so delusional that they genuinely believe in the dreams that they are selling to others.

In the future I hope to write about each individual issue in greater detail, but this should be considered a primer for those who have just heard about this movement.


I enjoy reading a good book, candlelit dinners, and long walks on the beach.

4 thoughts on “The Hawaiian Independence Movement Explained

  1. I have been thinking about and sometimes agonizing over this issue for more than thirty years. Every economic and political calculation I do leads to the same inescapable conclusion. True political sovereignty will cause a descent into poverty of native Hawaiians.

    The notion of cultural independence is intuitive and all cultures, regardless of ethnicity have this notion to one degree or another. Ultimately, all cultures assimilate into the greater society over time while retaining their core beliefs.

    Political sovereignty, in my humble opinion, is a philosophy being preached by false prophets. The idea is politically improbable and a distraction from the issues that need to be dealt with now and in the near future. Namely:
    • The full and final distribution of Hawaiian Homelands until not one acre remains undistributed. A waiting list of 19,00 plus in unconscionable and a promise broken. The staff of DHHL needs to be quadrupled with a goal of full distribution within 10 years.
    . The immersion program is a failure. It’s like trying to teach someone to play guitar in a year. A more sensible program would be mandatory K-12 Hawaiian language classes for at least one period a week. By high school graduation the Hawaiian language will be as natural as breathing in and out. Want to preserve the culture? The culture is contained within the language.
    . We need an exemption from the Jones Act. It is the single most oppressive piece of legislation affecting Hawaii today.
    . Native Hawaiians need to field more legislators at both the state and national levels. This will give true voice to their grievances. Assimilation and engagement is the key, not separation.
    If these false prophets keep pushing this idea it will erode and eventually destroy the Hawaiian economy.

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