By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 12:26AM BST 30/06/2008
The United States is an illegal occupying force that should hand the 132 islands of Hawaii back to the monarchy overthrown more than a century ago, according to members of a Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
For almost two months, the self-proclaimed Hawaiian Kingdom Government has peacefully occupied the grounds of the Iolani Palace, residence of the islands’ last two monarchs, operating a shadow government from a tent erected in its stately grounds.
Her Majesty Mahealani Kahau, a descendant of Hawaii’s last king who was elected “head of state” by the group, and her ministers gather each day to debate how to achieve their goal of restoring Native Hawaiian rule.
“We are here, we are real, we are in business,” declares the group’s website, which outlines its aim to “remove all laws, policies, rules and regulations” of the “occupying power” and “return Hawaii’s independent status”.
The group, which claims 1,000 followers, is demanding the dissolution of the State of Hawaii and the return of land and bank assets totalling billions of dollars.
Hawaii has about 200,000 Native Hawaiians, or kânaka maoli, out of a population of 1.3 million. The Hawaiian Kingdom Government is just one of a number of sovereignty groups, many with similar names, waging independence campaigns.
All aim to “right the wrong” inflicted on Native Hawaiians in 1893 when a small, mostly American group of sugar plantation owners and other businessmen overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy with the support of US troops sent ashore from a Navy warship.
The then monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, gave up her throne “to this superior force of the United States of America” and was imprisoned in the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, built by her brother King Kalakaua. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed by the United States and in 1959 became the 50th US state.
“The Hawaiian kingdom was unlawfully taken over by a coup d’etat and then those that took it over formed an illegal government and then ceded Hawaii to the United States,” said Leon Siu, minister of foreign affairs for the Hawaiian Kingdom, another sovereignty group that shares many of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government’s aims.
“There was never a lawful transfer of either jurisdiction or title, therefore what we are doing is asserting that the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists.” Mr Siu said he was engaged in discussions with several countries as well as the United Nations as part of a bid to achieve “international recognition of our nation”, in part by reviving treaties Hawaii had with other nations, including Britain, in the 19th century.
Sovereignty groups cite the so-called “Apology Resolution” signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 which acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the overthrow and apologised to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the US.
“The legal cause for the restoration of the kingdom is air-tight,” said Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, who has been advising Hawaiian independence groups since 1992.
In addition to devising a draft constitution for one group, the Nation of Hawaii, Professor Boyle sued the US in the US Supreme Court in 1998, demanding the restoration of Hawaiian independence and reparations “for all the harm inflicted on the Kingdom of Hawaii”.
He said rather than dismissing the case as “something totally frivolous” the court met several times to discuss it before determining the kingdom “was a non-recognised sovereign that does not have access to the US courts”.
“Based on this experience I simply told them that we would have to wait until the Kingdom of Hawaii has achieved substantial diplomatic recognition and then I could file something in the international court of justice.”
He described the occupation of Iolani Palace as “a very significant step in terms of their struggle to restore their kingdom their dignity and their land” and remains confident that Hawaii will at some stage achieve independence.
“Native Hawaiians operate in accordance with the Aloha spirit, which is similar to Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha force, and I take the position that if Gandhi can throw the mighty British Empire out of India with Satyagraha, Native Hawaiians can throw the mighty American empire out of Hawaii with Aloha.”
Sovereignty groups reject as divisive and inadequate legislation being pursued by the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs that would grant Native Hawaiians partial self -governance akin to that of American Indian tribes.
The State of Hawaii has so far turned a blind eye to the peaceful gatherings of Hawaiian Kingdom Government. No-one has been arrested and members have been careful not to break any laws. “As long as they comply with the permit conditions, they may continue to request permits to meet,” Deborah Ward, of the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, told the Associated Press.