Ko`olau pali at Kane`ohe Bay (koolaupokohcc.org)
In its recent decision in State of Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1993 apology by the US Congress for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 does not prevent the State of Hawaii from selling 1.2 million acres of land obtained after that “regime change”. The Court held that “nothing in the resolution was intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States”, and that it provided no legal authority for a return of government-managed land to Native Hawaiians.
Congress issued the Apology Resolution on the 100th anniversary of the removal of Queen Liliuokalani as monarch of the Hawaiian Nation. The apology acknowledged the illegality of the U.S. government’s actions in overthrowing Hawaii’s sovereign government, creating a “provisional government”, and five years later passing the Newlands Resolution, which annexed Hawaii as a U.S. territory. The Apology noted that “the health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to the land.” Congress further apologized “to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination” and recognized that “the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.”
Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, who argued the state’s case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, said he was “very pleased with the nine to nothing ruling by the Supreme Court in our favor. The ruling addressed our two points on appeal. The first, that the apology resolution does not in any way affect the state’s legal rights, and, second, that the state has the same absolute deed title to the public lands that the United States had, and the Supreme court confirmed that very clearly in its opinion. The state owns these lands in fee for the benefit of all of the people of Hawaii.”
Native Hawaiian activists and supporters remain unconvinced. “If the Apology Resolution has no teeth in the court of the conqueror, then how is it that the Newlands Resolution that unilaterally annexed Hawaii does?” said J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.
“This is a legal fiction to cover up the fact that the U.S. government accepted the stolen lands from the Republic of Hawaii government that confiscated these lands after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom." Professor Kauanui stated. "The Republic of Hawaii could not have ceded these lands in “absolute fee” to the United States because they were stolen. The U.S. government accepted the stolen goods and cannot prove title because they were stolen without Hawaiian people’s consent and without compensation.”