By Kori Whittaker
On this day 54 years ago Dwight D Eisenhower declared Hawaii to be the 50th state to join the United States. People celebrated and a new flag was flown across the nation. Unfortunately few people known the real story of how Hawaii came to be a state, and sadly too many people still do not know the history of this sad event.
Before we get to Hawaii becoming a state, first a little history. The first people to set foot on the islands of Hawaii did so over 1500 years ago. These Polynesian sailors came from the Marquesas Islands on small canoe like vessels. From this time until 1778 the Hawaiian people lived in seclusion from the rest of the world; this is the year that Capt. Cook ‘discovered’ the Hawaiian Islands. This was the beginning of the end of life as the Native Hawaiians had known it. Initially Capt. Cook and his crew were treated kindly by the Hawaiians, but these foreigners abused this kindness by taking advantage of the Hawaiians and spreading venereal disease that the Hawaiians had no immunity against. The next time Capt Cook showed up he was killed.
Christian missionaries from Boston arrived in Hawaii the spring of 1820, this arrival changed everything in the islands. When the missionaries arrived they were shocked by the Hawaiians’ ‘heathen’ ways. The part of the Hawaiian culture that seemed to bother these missionaries the most was the manner in which the Hawaiians dressed and the Hula. The Hula was used for celebration, entertainment, and for storytelling. Over time the Hula was banned and so was the teaching of the Hawaiian language. The missionaries essentially took away the Hawaiians past and present, and eventually would take away their future.
For the next 50 years or so more Americans moved to Hawaii, taking over much of the land to plant cash crops like pineapple and sugar cane. By this point ‘ownership’ of the islands was seen as a necessity for both monetary and strategic reasons, and there was no stopping the will of America. This will ed to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokulani in 1893 and imprisoned her within Iolani palace. It was on this act that the Republic of Hawaii was formed. In 1898 Hawaii was annexed by the United States over the opposition of 95% of the Native Hawaiian people who had signed anti-annexation petitions. Yet again the will of the Hawaiian people was ignored.
In 1959 Hawaii finally became a state after a vote that at best was biased and at worst illegal. By this point Native Hawaiians made up only 15% of the population in Hawaii, so the chances of any election representing their views would be very slim. These chances are made even worse when the option most Hawaiians would have voted for was not even on the ballot. There were two choices on the ballot; staying a territory of the United States or becoming a state. Returning to an independent Hawaiian nation was not an option. On top of this, anyone who had lived in the islands for a year were allowed to vote; this included those in the military who were stationed in Hawaii.
So Hawaii has been a state for 54 years, is there anything that can be done now to return the islands to the Native people? In recent years there has been a reemergence of Hawaiian culture; there are now Hawaiian language immersion school programs, the Hula is regaining its meaning, and there is a very active sovereignty movement within the islands. In 1993, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Apology Resolution which stated, “acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum”. Unfortunately this resolution has no legal effect.
I love Hawaii; I have been there many times, each time I have have there I have wanted to stay. I understand the desire to keep Hawaii as part of the United States, but it is not ours to keep.