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“APEC’s not listening to us, they’re following their own agenda. But if they give us the ability to organize our people, they’re giving us an opportunity to look for different ways to strengthen our own traditional practices.”

What Should We Know, What Should We Do?

In light of APEC, where do Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians stand?

An international conference takes place Wednesday, Nov. 9, and is designed to bring attention to Pacific Island peoples’ struggle against APEC and globalization. The organizers of the international conference Moana Nui: The Pacific Peoples, their Land and Economies are a mix of cultural practitioners, scholars and activists who feel that they need to provide a voice for Pacific Islanders and set a direction for their economies in the era of APEC, one in which powerful transnational corporations and global industries are expanding, and, as a result, ruling the world.

The Weekly spoke with Jonathan Kamakawiwoole Osorio, an author, scholar and musician, whose investigation of 19th- and 20th-century law and politics in Hawaii, as well as indigenous rights and Native Hawaiian values, have left a mark on tens of thousands of people. We wanted to know how he felt about APEC and why people should seriously consider going to Moana Nui, either as an alternative to APEC or as a supplement.


Why do you think people should pay attention to this conference [Moana Nui], in general?

For one thing, nobody knows what’s really going on at APEC. Our conference is going to provide a substantive discussion on what APEC is and what these trade agreements do. I think it’s important to understand what the history of these kinds of organizations are, specifically APEC. What are the global aspects of this new brand of capitalism?

What’s your definition of globalization?

Basically, if you look at Hawaii, it’s a really good example of how globalization can transform a place. We’re really only talking about 200 years that we’ve been connected to this global expansion idea, before that we took care of ourselves.

According to our best estimates, we took care of 800,000 to a million people. That’s how efficient and effective the system was. Were the people healthy? Yes, they were. Were we living in a sustainable kind of economy? Yes, we were. The story over the last century has been the demolishing of that system. We’ve become laborers; we’ve seen the land system become a property system; we’ve seen tremendous disparities of wealth. So really, Hawaii is a globalization story. It may not be the only one, but it’s a good one.

Is APEC bringing anything good to Hawaii?

What they’re bringing is an infusion of capitalism, but our argument is that they don’t raise the standard of living. What you find is poverty, lack of resources to live comfortably, we see the bringing of bad environmental effects, the bringing of poorer diets. The 800,000 people who lived here over 200 years ago had healthy diets. Today, among other things, Hawaiians lead the population in obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

In general, what globalization brings is the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, with more and more people struggling to survive. The second thing it brings is environmental deterioration; air pollution, water pollution, things like that. Businesses and corporations are basically looking for any kind of resources they can turn into capital.

And that’s why we think that Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians who still practice different kinds of economy really can show the way to a different world, one which is more self-reliant and one which consumes much less.

Have you encountered a single Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander who is for APEC and globalization?

Honestly, I haven’t encountered a single Pacific Islander or Kanaka Maoli who says its good for us, but, generally, they’re saying if they’re [APEC] making deals, we need to make sure they don’t forget us. And I find that really interesting. When we offer this kind of opportunity to do a real critique, and offer the opportunity to create a different kind of economic future, we think that’s a better idea than simply figuring out how to hang on.

How do you feel about APEC coming to Hawaii?

APEC’s going to meet somewhere, and wherever they’re going to meet will have social and political havoc. I’m actually glad that APEC’s presence here will give us a chance to have a concentrated discussion about where we stand as native people. APEC’s not listening to us, they’re following their own agenda. But if they give us the ability to organize our people, they’re giving us an opportunity to look for different ways to strengthen our own traditional practices, and I see that as a positive thing for us.

What about protests? Do you see another Battle for Seattle, or do you think it’s going to be fairly calm around here?

I really don’t know the answer to that. Protests here in Hawaii have always been measured and calm. People in Hawaii tend to be law abiding, which is one of the reasons we’re so upset about the level of security. First of all, the amount of attention and money that’s being put into security–because somehow we’re going to be the unruly ones–is in my opinion completely ridiculous. Whether we were protesting the take-over of the United States or the war, our protests have always been peacefully handled. So spending a lot of money is a waste of time and money, and, honestly, it’s insulting.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the upcoming conference?

We really hope people will come to the events that are open to the entire public. This is really an opportunity to learn how we’ve been struggling to deal with predatory capitalism, a capitalism that really operates for a small group of people in the world. We want people to understand that we have a tough and long struggle ahead of us.

Moana Nui: Pacific Peoples, their Land and Economies:
Calvary by the Sea, Wed., Nov. 9, by invitation only. Those who are Native Hawaiian can e-mail [email: tbaker]
Church of the Crossroads, Thu., Nov. 10, open to the public
Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH–Manoa, Fri., Nov. 11, open to the public