Music, emotion and the spirit of aloha filled Washington Place on Friday as members of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission began a yearlong effort to register native Hawaiians toward the creation of a future sovereign government.
Known as Kana'iolowalu, the program hopes to register 200,000 or more native Hawaiians before a self-imposed deadline of July 19, 2013.
Former two-term Hawaii Gov. John Waihee is the commissioner at-large and chairman of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.
Waihee said native Hawaiians have become somewhat fearful of the future after decisions that peeled back native Hawaiian rights.
He pointed to a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed non-Hawaiians to vote in Office of Hawaiian Affairs' elections, a 2008 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court that said former Hawaiian monarch lands, known as ceded lands, can be sold once all claims are settled, and continuing challenges to Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiians-only policy as clear examples of native Hawaiian rights under attack.
"They are afraid when they look at the last few years to see what little we have left, maybe threatened," said Waihee. "We don't know what it'll be like 30 or 40 years from now when the state government can sell lands that are part of our heritage any time it desires."
The effort to register native Hawaiians onto an official roll is being funded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which has encumbered close to $4 million in funds, according to OHA chairwoman Colette Machado.
"We provide support for staffing, as well as the office operation and the fiscal oversight for all of the employees," said Machado, who said OHA has already registered 60,000 native Hawaiians
The media campaign for Kana'iolowalu is not limited to Hawaii, but rather, will go nationwide. A website has been created, www.kanaiolowalu.com, allowing Hawaiians to register online.
A native Hawaiian is defined as someone who lived and exercised sovereignty in the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, or a person who is eligible for the programs of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, or, a direct lineal descendant of that person.