UH Manoa Spalding Auditorium / While there isn’t anything all that new on the complex issue, director Catherine Bauknight’s documentary Hawaii: A Voice for Sovereignty serves as an excellent, concise primer on the question of Hawaiian sovereignty.
Bauknight begins with defining sovereignty as it applies to the Hawaiian people:
“Sovereignty is the legal, political, and moral right to: Live on and care for the land; build and grow a sustainable economy; protect natural resources; practice spiritual & cultural traditions; honor their ancestral past; care for family and community.”
Using this definition to establish the parameters for sovereignty, Bauknight illustrates the beginnings of the movement–we see the state of the state, if you will. Since the United States takeover, political, economic and military oppression has taken away Hawaiians’ freedom and disconnected them from elements of their spirituality, culture and especially their land. One scene shows physical evidence of construction workers literally using a Hawaiian sacred burial site as a commode; we see human feces and toilet paper littering Maui’s Aweoweoluna heiau.
We then get a history lesson. The Big Five planted sugar cane on native lands and basically stole the titles from the Hawaiian people. The Hawaiian kingdom was never technically relinquished. Political control was taken away from the Hawaiian people. Sanford Dole proclaimed himself president of Hawaii and U.S. occupation began. Queen Liliuokalani was removed from her throne by armed forces and she eventually protested all acts and yielded to the force of the United States. Without a treaty of annexation between the Hawaiian islands and the U.S. Senate, Hawaiian studies scholars say that Hawaii’s statehood status represents what’s actually an illegal occupation.
“Since that time,” says Kaleikoa Kaeo, a professor of Hawaiian studies at Maui Community College, “our country has been under illegal occupation.”
After this sobering introduction, Bauknight divides her film into sections: Royal Patents and Ceded Lands, Water, Day to Day Economics, Spirituality, Political Action and Being Sovereign.
Familiar faces make appearances throughout the film. Many viewers will recognize Sen. Kalani English, musicians Willie K. and Henry Kapono and sovereignty-movement leader Haunani-Kay Trask, former director of the Center of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii. Still, some of the lesser known faces make the biggest impressions. A retired schoolteacher named Auntie Aggie Kanahele is a red-bespectacled woman who talks to the camera waving all of her fingers for emphasis and tells us that she speaks the “old” Hawaiian, not the “regular” Hawaiian taught in schools and colleges. She speaks her version briefly, leaving viewers wishing to have heard more.
Much of Hawaii indeed takes place on Maui, where strides toward developmental sensitivity seem to have been made by big corporations. At the forefront, is the Ritz Carlton whose resort uncovered bones of native Hawaiians during construction. After long negotiations with the government and a council of elders, they chose to return the remains to their rightful place and move their construction to another location.
“Development needs to be controlled,” says Hana fisherman Guy Aina. “Development can only take place if it’s gonna benefit the local people… You going pave over paradise.”
Also fascinating is fairly recent footage of the protest against the arrival of the much-discussed Superferry. We see the surfers in the water, blocking the large vessel–which Sen. English refers to as an example of civil disobedience. “We’ve become more like Americans than Pacific Islanders in this instance,” English says.
Of course, a movement this complex can’t be completely covered by a 90-minute documentary. The film asserts that answers may lie in establishing a Hawaiian Constitutional convention to discuss a tax-free economy and the use of sustainable resources mixed with modern technology. Perhaps in a sequel, Bauknight can revisit some of the tantalizing subjects she met along the way to map out the ramifications of and logistics to living in a post-sovereignty Hawaii.