Air Date: September 17, 1996||
Various residents of Hawaii
Gethune Teame, Public Outreach Director, Tesfa
Berhane Gebrehiwet, Director of Research and Education,
National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students
(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)
JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground.
KEALI’I GORA: We have no other choice but to create this particular initiative to insure
that we can govern our own affairs.
MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, Hawaii is a vacationer’s paradise, but
in this paradise many of the native Hawaiians are unhappy, claiming that their land was taken
from them illegally when the United States colonized the islands and later made Hawaii a state.
A sovereignty movement has been established but the advocates of sovereignty are not united.
HAYDEN BURGESS: One organization has said, “Look at me, see me as the representative of
the native Hawaiian people.” And then you have other organizations and individuals wanting to be
MARTIN: And then later in the program, a report on Eritrea, a young African country that
appears to be a success.
GETHUNE TEAME: There is a dedicated leadership in Eritrea. That’s what we believe that
leadership has been dedicated for independence now also is dedicated for national reconstruction.
MARTIN: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin.
In Hawaii, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra has embargoed the results of a vote among the
Kanaka Maoli, a native Hawaiian people. The voting was over the issue of whether or not to
proceed with establishing the Kanaka Maoli’s sovereignty. Voting was completed on August 16 and
the votes have been tallied but Judge Ezra is hearing testimony on two lawsuits that challenge
the vote. As Judith McCray explains in this report, the dispute is an internal one among people
who have a unique and quite profound claim.
GORA: In respect to our ancestors, I’d like to call upon them by doing an ?? or a chant
and basically the chant of greeting and love to dwell with us as we move ahead in this political
movement for justice. (Chant)
JUDITH McCRAY: This is Keali’i Gora, chair of Oahu Island for Kalahui??, Hawaii, a rights
organization. Gora is part of a growing political movement amongst native Hawaiians demanding
rights to their homeland. Kalahui Hawaii is one of more than 50 organizations representing the
various concerns of the approximate 200,000 Kanaka Maoli, the people whose history on the islands
predates the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. In 1893 American businessmen, backed by U.S.
Marines, illegally overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and established a provisional government under
the U.S. flag.
GORA: Now based on that historical fact, we are looking at this sovereignty movement as a
point of justice and a point of freedom.
McCRAY: 1.8 million acres of land were taken over the by the U.S. The Kanaka Maoli were
neither consulted nor compensated. Fifty years later, the newly formed United Nations listed
Hawaii as a colonized territory eligible for restoration of its independence. The United States
had Hawaii removed from the list and blocked further UN investigation by holding a plebiscite or
vote asking the Hawaiian population and the U.S. military personnel stationed on the islands, if
they wanted statehood. The result: in 1959 Hawaii became the 50th of the United States.
The result for the Kanaka Maoli was expulsion from the choicest tracts of land used for pineapple
plantations, military bases and real estate development. A total of two million acres of land
were placed in trust controlled by the state to benefit the social conditions of the native
Hawaiians. Two hundred thousand of those acres were set aside for natives to live on if they
could prove that they had 50% Hawaiian blood. However, few have realized these benefits. Only
seven thousand families have been placed on home land. Overall the Kanaka Maoli have the poorest
health and live in the greatest poverty of any ethnic group in Hawaii. Only 20% of the state’s
population, they make up 75% of the homeless.
In the meantime, the U.S. has used those lands to expand military operations and the state has
built harbors, airports, and schools. Legally classified as wards of the state, the Kanaka Maoli
have few legal avenues open to them. To Keali’i Gora their quest for sovereignty is critical to
GORA: Now when you look at our condition, and you see the problems and the plight of our
people, how do we turn it around when the present government, both on the local level as well as
the national level, is not doing their judiciary obligation as well as their moral, legal, and
ethical obligation to our people? We have no other choice but to create this particular
initiative to insure that we can govern our own affairs.
SHARON VENNE: I think in the late ’70s, early ’80s, they started organizing within Hawaii
to talk about what they could do and as a result of that internal organization, they decided that
the best thing to do was to hold an international tribunal.
McCRAY: Sharon Venne is a lawyer with the Cree Nation in Canada. In 1993 she was one of
nine human rights and legal experts invited by organizations to judge an international
investigation of the United States’ role in Hawaii. Their judgment found that the Kanaka Maoli
had never relinquished their sovereignty nor ceded their land to any territory.
VENNE: The main thrust of it was that we said that the United States was in violation and
that Hawaii should be listed again for decolonization.
McCRAY: Ven says the tribunal’s judgment propelled the U.S. Congress to issue a bill
acknowledging the illegal invasion. In 1993, President Bill Clinton formally apologized for
depriving native Hawaiians of their to self-determination and signed the bill into law.
NALANI MINTON: The apology bill not only recognized our inherent sovereignty and our
rights to transmit our land and culture to future generations, but it also recognized illegal
acts of war by which the U.S. continues to occupy our land.
McCRAY: Melani Minton is a member of the pro-Kanaka Maoli independence working group. She
says that the law invalidates the vote for statehood by its acknowledgment that the Hawaiian
people never relinquished their land to the United States in any plebiscite.
MINTON: We hold them accountable to the invalid plebiscite that was held in 1959, which
extinguished our rights to the decolonization process without our consent and feel that that
practice should be restored.
McCRAY: In response to the apology bill, last year the Hawaiian Legislature passed a law
to hold a new plebiscite for native Hawaiians only. The Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council
was created and members appointed by the Governor to organize and send mail-in ballots to
approximately 85,000 Kanaka Maoli living in Hawaii and the continental United States. All ballots
were due on August 15. The single question read, “Shall the Hawaiian people elect delegates to
propose a native Hawaiian government. Seemingly straightforward, the plebiscite has heightened
confusion and increased friction among native rights groups. For Keali’i Gora the plebiscite is a
move by the state to further undermine Native rights.
GORA: If you say yes, you’re saying that the State of Hawaii will control this process,
but furthermore, there is no provision of land in this legislation. So when you talk about
sovereignty, what is sovereignty without land? It’s absolutely meaningless.
McCRAY: According to Hayden Burgess, member of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council
and a native Hawaiian also known as Poka Laenui, the plebiscite is a legitimate opportunity for
Kanaka Maoli to vote to hold a constitutional convention where delegates can meet to discuss and
determine their collective future.
HAYDEN BURGESS: In that convention, they will explore all of the different possibilities
of the indigenous people, but in the discussion, I anticipate they will also talk about
independence. After the convention concludes, then they will go back to the Hawaiian people and
propose to the Hawaiian people a structural form of government and the Hawaiian people will
either ratify or reject this formation.
McCRAY: Jose Luis Morin disagrees. An attorney with a native rights group, the Kanaka
Maoli tribunal communique, Morin says voting yes voting yes for the right to hold the
constitutional convention is not a choice, but a proscription for continued control by the State
JOSE LUIS MORIN: Why does this have to be done by way of constitutional convention of
elected delegates? Why can’t some other process be chosen by the Kanaka Maoli people? The
importance behind this is to understand that the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council was
appointed by the Governor of the State of Hawaii and the people that have consented to be on the
Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council were never elected by the Kanaka Maoli people.
McCRAY: And it is distrust of the State’s role and history with the Kanaka Maoli that led
activities like Morin, Lelani Minton and Keali’i Gora to advocate a boycott of the vote.
MORIN: Why should the Hawaiian people trust the State of Hawaii and the United States
when they’re evicting our people off of our trust lands? We have 28,000 Hawaiians waiting on the
waiting list to get their land from Hawaiian Home Land which is now currently being managed by
the State of Hawaii. Why should we trust the State of Hawaii?
McCRAY: Hayden Burgess responds, from the State of Hawaii’s point of view, the question
of trust goes both ways.
BURGESS: Native Hawaiians have been going to the State Legislature year after year after
year. One organization has said, look at me, see me as the representative of the native Hawaiian
people because I have 20,000 in my membership. The same organization has said, give me the ceded
lands or the public lands that were stolen from the Hawaiian government because we are voice of
the Hawaiian people. And then you have other organizations and individuals wanting to be
recognized. The State of Hawaii said, no we are not going to recognize any organization. Instead
what we want is the native Hawaiian people themselves to develop a process to make their own
determination as to who is and what is a forum to represent the native Hawaiian people. So those
organizations who are saying that the State of Hawaii is trying to short-circuit the process, are
those very organizations that have gone to the State of Hawaii saying, recognize me.
McCRAY: This past July, an independent human rights organization investigated the
plebiscite. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization or UNPO, heard testimony from
native rights groups, individuals and the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council. The UNPO report
concluded that the plebiscite did not satisfy international standards for a free and informed
choice, and urged that the vote be cancelled. Michael Van Walt, General Secretary of the UNPO,
says the plebiscite is creating conflict instead of reaching the consensus that it was intended
MICHAEL VAN WALT: The Kanaka Maoli want a process; they want to work towards sovereignty.
I don’t think there’s much disagreement on that. The question is really only how it’s being
started, how it’s being implemented and the fear of a number of Hawaiians is that they’re being
locked into a particular type of process and that by choosing the process that is being proposed,
there’s already a sudden predetermination of the outcome. That may be true or it may not be true.
The problem we have with it is that there clearly is a perception among a section of the
population that there’s something gravely wrong with this vote.
McCRAY: The plebiscite was not cancelled; however, five different lawsuits have been
filed against it. A pending court injunction prevents the results from being announced. If the
injunction is upheld, the results will be voided. In the meantime, says Jose Luis Morin, the
Kanaka Maoli have developed their own process for reaching consensus.
MORIN: They have created an alternative process to the state-controlled process and
that’s called Puvalu which is in keeping with their own traditions of consensus building in their
community. That is a process that is now underway and at each gathering there are approximately
100 people from various groups that come together on a regular basis to talk about these hard
questions. That is a process that is true to international law and the right of self
McCRAY: Like this song describing how the people work together to build the large
traditional canoes, arriving at a consensus about their right as a sovereign nation will take
much Puvalu and unity. And it is their right, says Gora, to decide if they want independence.
GORA: When you look at independence, it’s a very scary word and it instills fear in the
colonizer. Now should our people decide we want independence, then so be it. Then the United
States really has to do that because that’s our right, to self determination. The United States
is on our land. They never owned it in the first place. You don’t go onto another sovereign land
and overthrow that kingdom. I mean, it was absolutely immoral.
McCRAY: This is Judith McCray for Common Ground.
MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, a report on Eritrea, a newly independent
country that is off to a promising start.
Printed transcripts and audiocassetes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the
broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a
nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke
thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
KEITH PORTER: Earlier this year, Newsweek magazine said, “From the ruins of war,
Eritreans are transforming their new nation into that rarity on the African continent, a country
GETHUNE TEAME, Public Outreach Director, Tesfa: We have a history. Our history tells
Eritrea people fought for the last 30 years for their independence uniting themselves, helping
each other, feeling each other as one family because we had nobody to back us, to help us and to
recognize our ?? questions and so we finally decided to go on our own and to help each other. So,
we have this kind of culture.
PORTER: This is Gethune Teame. He spent eight years as a freedom fighter on the front
line of Eritrea’s battle for independence from Ethopia. Now he’s Public Outreach Director for a
child protection agency called Hope.
TEAME: We care for each other. For the last five years almost, we never had the police
departments and everything. Everybody was taking care of each other. Everybody was controlling
PORTER: You had no police department for the last five years you say?
TEAME: Yeah, we had no police and now we have a department, of course. We should have but
you don’t see anybody walking around, we have nobody in the prisons like making crime so very
low. Everybody was responsible for anybody. That tells how we have close ?? and how we live like
PORTER: How you’re that close; you live like one family; that you could survive that many
years without a formal police department.
TEAME: I mean, the people had passed through 30 years of oppression and you know, killing
decent blacks and everything and these people were fighting to stop this kind of feelings into
people. So anybody doesn’t want now to see fighting because we experienced more than anybody in
PORTER: So are you hopeful about what’s happening, at least in the political process in
TEAME: We say we are hopeful.
PORTER: And Berhane, are you hopeful?
BERHANE GEBREHIWET, Director of Research and Education, National Union of Eritrean Youth and
Students: Definitely, I am optimistic about the political situation in the country.
PORTER: Berhane Gebrehiwet also spent time fighting the Ethopians and now heads the
Research and Education Department at the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students.
GEBREHIWET: And I want to add something on what Gethune said, as he said, we didn’t have
any law enforcement agencies, departments. I mean only we owned was freedom fighters with full
optimism and a will to work hard. So we are in the process of building all these departments of
law enforcement and for the future we are not going to live without any police department,
without any court. And all is under construction. Secondly, when the constitution is finished
next year, there is a consensus on the draft constitution that there will not be presidential
elections. There will be parliamentary elections and the parliament will elect the president.
That’s the consensus on the draft constitution that we have now.
PORTER: Now I have a couple of other questions for you about current activity in Eritrea.
One is that I read a couple of articles recently about tourism and the ability of Eritrea to
attract tourists. Gethune, what is there in Eritrea that would attract tourists from the rest of
TEAME: In the first place we have a one thousand kilometer long coastline of the Red Sea.
We have a very attractive area in the coastline. And we have the corals and the ?? islands which
are about 350 small islands in one area which are rich of corals and a lot of attractive natural
things in the sea. We see people rushing to that area. And we have also some historical places of
the last 30 years of war, what has been done and all different lines and the fighting areas,
fields and everything. And we have also some historical places which are many, many years—like
the Egyptian mummy. Nobody knows how they did it, but there are people who stayed there for more
than one hundred years. ?? was a kind of a skin with oxen skins and some kind of chemical. Nobody
knows how they did it. We have that kind of thing.
PORTER: Your whole region in East Africa is affected by what’s happening in Sudan. How is
the civil war in Sudan directly affecting the people of Eritrea?
GEBREHIWET: It is affecting us, I mean a country or people can’t live isolated from
neighbors. Although there is political boundaries, you can’t live isolated so we have been living
for so many years with Sudanese people and a good friendship, at least with the people, the
political situation change from region to region in Sudan, but at least with the people. Now the
problem is the ideology of Muslim Fundamentalism in Sudan. And they are trying to spread it to
different countries in the region and this is creating some political disturbances. And our
government was aware of that since the beginning of liberation and it has been trying to improve
the situation, but it was unable and now no diplomatic relations with Sudan. And there is
definitely political support for the opposition in Sudan so that, I mean at least we can help the
people who helped us during our struggle for independence and we have to help them to keep peace
in the country, Sudan. So that’s the way we are trying to improve the situation in our boundaries
PORTER: Gethune, is there anything you want to add about how your country is affected by
the war in Sudan?
TEAME: Sudan is now making problems to all countries around her, like the ??, the
Ugandans, the Eritreans. It also affects us, of course. It can affect us but like for example,
organizing people with Islam Fundamentalists, the Jihads, the Sudanese tries to make some kind of
sabotage in the border lines, tries but it is controlled now of course. But if it is, you know if
you don’t take care of it when it is in the beginning stage of it, it can bring some problems.
PORTER: All right. One last question: two different articles that I read also, the people
used the word, incorruptible, to describe the Eritrean people. Do you understand the word
incorruptible? Why is it that different people from outside Eritrea describing Eritreans would
use the term incorruptible to describe them?
TEAME: I think that is a word used a lot ?? by Eritreans in Eritrea because there is a
dedicated leadership in Eritrea. That’s what we believe that leadership that has been dedicated
for independence now also is dedicated for national reconstruction and that’s why you can see
there is no corruption, there is a lot of improvements in the public service system to make it
very fast and efficient. There has been a streamlining in the civil service in the government and
I can see that now we don’t have problem of leadership, civil service in the country. All we need
is to work hard and we are working hard. Otherwise, in the matter of government and civil service
officials, we have people dedicated to their work which is related to national reconstruction.
PORTER: Gethune, do you believe that the Eritrean people are incorruptible or what do
people mean when they say that at least?
TEAME: As I told you before, these people has their own history, a different history and
these people have created a culture that makes anybody to give his time and himself to his
country instead of himself. That’s why we got the victory; that’s why we one day took ?? who were
backed once by the Americans and then by the Russians, was full of weapons and everything. This
is the reason why we won the war. After the war, everybody now—you know for the last maybe 40-50
years after the Italians were thrown out?? there by the Eritreans, nothing was made or built in
Eritrea. It tries the same as it was in the 1930s and everybody feels this thing. So this time
everybody’s ready to rebuild our country. Everybody is accepting this idea from his heart, not
because it’s an order or a law or something like that. So I think this is one reason why
everybody’s not that much—before we get in Asmara, Eritrea was corrupted when it was ruled by
the ?? military government. Everything was like that. The moment we came here, the fighters had
created their own kind of cultures so they were spread in all of the departments, the departments
were all dominated by the fighters and the people are also of course part of the fighters because
they have the aim of rebuilding the country. Nobody there has time to think about corruption.
PORTER: That is Gethune Teame. He is Public Outreach Director for a child protection and
education agency in Eritrea. Our other guest has been Berhane Gebrehiwet, head of the Research
and Education Department at the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students. Both men are
veterans of the Eritrean war for independence. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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Copyright © 1996,
The Stanley Foundation