Is Hawai’i an occupied state?

The Nation recently published a fairly concise summary of the differences between, and controversy over, federal recognition vs full independence as routes to Hawaiian sovereignty. The article reports a surprising swell in support among Native Hawaiians for a complete break; until recently it was believed that most were willing to settle for the more paternalistic option of recognition by the US government without full autonomy.

The debate hinges on the illegal overthrow in 1893 of Queen Lili‘uokalani of the sovereign Hawaiian nation, and the subsequent illegal occupation by the US. Nothing has changed to make the occupation legal, so the growing independence movement is appealing to international law to help get the US out of Hawai’i.

Over the summer, the US Department of the Interior held a series of hearings inviting Native Hawaiians to comment on the formation of a federally recognized nation. The hearings confirmed what many Hawaiians already knew: opposing camps have formed in the debate over Hawaiian sovereignty. One side views federal recognition as a pragmatic alternative to the status quo. The other side, at first thought to be a marginal segment of the movement, seeks the full independence that Hawai‘i had in the nineteenth century. Surprisingly, after decades in which the federal recognition advocates represented the mainstream, the voices for full independence seized the spotlight. The overwhelming response at the hearings to the question of federal recognition was “a‘ole”: no.


At its root, the debate stems from divergent beliefs about law and power. Independence advocates view international law (and specifically the law of occupation) as safeguards against the continuation of an illegally constituted, and essentially occupying, government—the State of Hawai‘i. They call not for decolonization but deoccupation, as was done in the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. Some federal recognition supporters are beneficiaries of Hawaiian “entitlements” such as the Federal Hawaiian Home Lands homesteading program; others are US military veterans who argue that the United States would never allow a withdrawal regardless of Hawai‘i’s legal status internationally. These views and the paths they imply appear to be mutually exclusive.

The whole article is worth reading for a crash course in Hawaiian history and contemporary resistance: Is Hawai‘i an Occupied State?

Deep Green Resistance supports the independence movement, and efforts by indigenous peoples everywhere to maintain or regain autonomy and control of their lands. Read our Indigenous Solidarity Guidelines to learn how members of settler culture can support indigenous on the front lines of social justice and environmental struggles.

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