Did kanaka maoli exercise self-determination?
Some sovereignty activists say that kanaka maoli are entitled to self-determination. They argue that although non-kanaka maoli are also entitled to self-determination, the non-kanaka maoli have exercised their self-determination by coming here voluntarily, while kanaka maoli have always been here and have had their right to self-determination stolen. And so, the activists say, kanaka maoli are the only ones who have a right to vote on the question whether Hawai'i should become a sovereign independent nation.
First, kanaka maoli have not always been here. They are settlers here, just like everyone else -- see the section of this website regarding "Indigenous or Immigrant?" It is true that kanaka maoli have been here centuries longer than other groups. But is it true that they have not exercised self-determination?
When Captain Cook arrived here in 1778, he was given a welcome appropriate to a god. From that point on, newcomers and their technology was eagerly welcomed. Kanaka maoli eagerly embraced written language and European customs. The old religion was abolished by Liholiho Kamehameha II in 1819 shortly after he became king, and prior to the arrival of the missionaries in 1820. Christianity was eagerly adopted by the kings, the chiefs, and the commoners.
In 1839 Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III proclaimed a set of fundamental rights possessed inherently by all people. In 1840 he proclaimed the first Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, which provided full and equal voting rights for all subjects of Hawai'i, including non-kanaka maoli.
Kauikeaouli's Mahele of 1848 provided full and equal rights to ownership of private lands for all subjects, kanaka maoli and non-kanaka maoli alike. In addition, the Mahele set aside the government lands, owned by the government as trustee for the collective of all subjects, to be used for public purposes (harbors, parks, schools, government buildings, roads, etc.) benefitting all residents. The Mahele also set aside the crown lands, which belonged to the office of the sovereignty (not to the king personally; when the king died they were passed to the next king, not to the dead king's personal heirs) for the purpose of supporting and maintaining that office. The government and crown lands from the kingdom are nowadays known as the ceded lands.
Under subsequent monarchs and subsequent constitutions, the right to vote was extended also to the denizens of Hawai'i, that is, permanent residents of Hawai'i who had come here from other lands and still retained (dual) citizenship in their nations of origin. And under subsequent monarchs and constitutions, the right to own property was extended not only to denizens but to all residents and even non-resident foreigners.
All the things above happened under the sovereign nation of Hawai'i, long before the "bayonet constitution" of 1887. These equal voting rights and property rights were first set in place by the sovereign King Kauikeaouli, and were maintained and extended to the denizens and residents by subsequent sovereign monarchs and constitutions. During this time, and prior to 1887, there were thousands of non-kanaka maoli subjects, and many more thousands of non-kanaka maoli denizens eligible to vote. Residents and foreigners were eligible to own property, and many non-kanaka maoli were elected to the legislature and served as important appointed officials and cabinet officers. By the time of the overthrow and annexation, 74% of the residents of Hawai'i had no kanaka maoli blood, and half the voting citizens had no kanaka maoli blood.
As clearly shown above, the sovereign, independent nation of Hawai'i that existed prior to 1893 (or prior to 1887 if you prefer) was NOT a nation whose citizens or voters or property owners were exclusively or even primarily kanaka maoli. It was not a nation of indigenous people. It was not a nation whose citizens were of just one race. There were many thousands of non-kanaka maoli. More kept coming every month, and were welcomed and needed for their expertise, and some received by law the right to vote and all could own property. This multiracial nation is the one whose monarch was overthrown, and whose lands were ceded to the United States. If Hawai'i has any claim to restoration of sovereign independence, return of ceded lands, and reparations, it would be this multiracial nation that has such a claim, and not the race of kanaka maoli.
Kauikeaouli wore two hats. As King of a multiracial nation he proclaimed the Constitution of 1840 and he presided over the Mahele of 1848. But in addition, he was also a son of the conqueror Kamehameha the Great. And upon the death of his brother Liholiho, Kauikeaouli became the undisputed leader of the native kanaka maoli people. The decisions he made as king were also made in his capacity as undisputed native leader. He therefore exercised the right of self determination of the natives when he created the constitution and the mahele, enlisting his native people into a constitutional monarchy and binding them to the rule of written law, providing equal voting and property rights to all subjects including non-kanaka maoli. And his successors as monarch, under subsequent constitutions, further exercised the self determination of the native people when voting rights were extended to the denizens and property rights extended to everyone.
In conclusion, I have tried to show that the right to vote and to own property was first given by Kauikeaouli in writing to all subjects, including non-kanaka maoli; and voting rights were extended further under later monarchs to include denizens, while property rights were also extended to residents and foreigners. Kauikeaouli and his successors acted both as sovereign monarchs of a multiracial nation and also as leaders exercising the self-determination of the kanaka maoli natives, in providing such equal rights to non-kanaka maoli, who made up most of the nation and of its leadership. This multiracial nation is the one whose de-facto sovereignty and lands were given up to the United States. This multiracial nation is the one to whom de-facto sovereignty, ceded lands, and reparations might be owed if the overthrow and annexation are considered invalid. In the spirit of the ancestors and monarchs, and under the constitutions and laws they wrote, any restoration of sovereignty is for a nation, not for a race. Modern sovereignty activists like to say that they are not seeking special rights for a race, but are making demands based on national or political status. So if we take them at their word, then any restoration of sovereignty would be for a multiracial nation which was then 74% non-kanaka maoli and is now 80% non-kanaka maoli.