Law in Contemporary Society

-- MakalikaNaholowaa - 01 Apr 2008

The Discordance Between Hawaiian Traditions and the Modern Racial Rule for Community Recognition

Background: Native Hawaiian Racial and Cultural Preservation

Over the last 150 years, Native Hawaiians have struggled to maintain a distinct cultural heritage while under government and societal pressure to integrate into the American mainstream. In the last century, both private community based organizations and (ironically) government-supported groups have recognized this struggle and responded to the need for active preservation efforts.

The groups’ general mission has been to support and assist the Hawaiian community by identifying Native Hawaiians and providing them with tangible benefits calculated to reverse the trend of cultural decline. One way to measure the effectiveness of these efforts is to question the process used to identify Hawaiians. The following examination discusses the criteria for determining Native Hawaiian status, how that criteria was developed, the ways in which the criteria is discordant with traditional Hawaiian values, and how the overall effectiveness of revitalization efforts may be jeopardized by this discordance.

I. Recognition by Race: The Preference System & the Criteria for Native-ness

A. An Illustration: The HHCA

In 1920, Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act for homesteads to help “revitalize the Hawaiian people.” Congress provided that a Native Hawaiian could be eligible for leases to reserved homestead lands, but only if the person could prove that he or she was at least one-half racially Hawaiian. Lessees could designate children as successors to their lease, but the children would also have to meet the one-half blood quantum rule.

B. The Rule Today: Blood Quantum Required

The one-half rule outlined in the HHCA is one of the harsher blood quantum requirements of any benefit program. It is used by a handful of organizations and illustrates the method of defining what it means to be Hawaiian by measuring some amount of Hawaiian ancestry. Today, without known exception, programs specifically aimed at providing benefits to Native Hawaiians require that a benefitee have a minimum of one documented racially Native Hawaiian ancestor. This rule applies both to government and privately-run Hawaiian programs.

C. The Effects of the Blood Quantum Rule

The dilemma in using the blood-quantum rule, when seeking to provide benefits to the entire Hawaiian community, is that this form of identification precludes many persons who identify as Hawaiian. For example, adopted persons do not qualify for participation in these programs although their entire cultural identity may be learned from Hawaiian adoptive parents and developed through life-long participation in Hawaiian communities. To the extent that minimum blood percentages are required, children of Hawaiian parents may be barred as well from access to programs due to the spousal choices made by their Hawaiian ancestors.

Using the HHCA illustration, a family may develop and create roots on a piece of land for decades, only to have it re-possessed by the government when a parent with adopted-only children passes away or if a Hawaiian who chose a non-Hawaiian spouse is survived by heirs who are less than 50% Hawaiian.

These are harsh ramifications affecting a large quantity of Hawaiian family members. It is important to explore in what traditions this rule is grounded and how consistent it is with Hawaiian values and conceptions of identity.

II. The Blood Quantum Method: Comparisons to American and Hawaiian Traditions

Federal Indian law reveals the US tradition of identifying members of indigenous groups by race. For example, US v. Rogers (an 1846 case binding on criminal cases but often referenced in civil disputes) created a two-prong test for determining whether someone was Indian – first, through blood quantum and second, a non-racial link to tribal life. Therefore the practice of recognizing native-ness in Hawaiians only when racial ties exist is entirely consistent with American customs.

In contrast, Hawaiians have traditionally been unconcerned with blood quantum measurements and more affable to the notion of assimilating racial “outsiders.” Hawaiian communities were built on extended families and close friends specializing in tasks (fishing, farming, canoe building, etc) and living communally to meet everyone’s needs. The pecking order of this structure was not based on a measurement of Hawaiian blood. Rather, a community member meant being a recognized member of a family and contributing to that family. Through that immediate kinship relationship, recognition by the broader community would follow. It seems unlikely that three hundred years ago, Hawaiians would debate the “Hawaiian-ness” of a person raised on the land and taking part in the community because of the origin of his ancestors (as compared to hanai /adoption cases today). Even more difficult to conceive of is the idea that the children of Hawaiian parents would be demoted to some inferior class of Hawaiians once interracial breeding caused a descendant’s blood quantum to fall below some arbitrarily chosen level (like fifty percent in the case of HHCA’s successor rules).

But today’s Hawaiian community is having these debates. Kamehameha Schools, a private institution founded at the bequest of a past Hawaiian princess, strictly adheres to racial preference when admitting students with no recognition for hanai children of Hawaiian families. Hou Lahuiohana, a band of Hawaiians fighting for self governance rights, does so on behalf of “native Hawaiians of the blood,” meaning those at least one half racially Hawaiian, and stating that those of smaller levels have lesser entitlements to Hawaiian rights. These are but two of many examples.

The blood quantum method introduced by Americans has created a de facto standard for what it means to be Hawaiian. This standard has not simply drawn the line between whom the government will and will not assist in the name of Hawaiian revitalization, but it has bled into the fabric of internal Hawaiian relations. Under American influence, modern Hawaiians have taken up a system of recognition that seems in serious discord with the conceptions of family and community held by their ancestors.

III. Conclusion – Open Questions

Identification of this discordance then begs the question: how effective have the last century’s efforts at revitalization been when they undermine the core values of the culture they seek to preserve? For programs using the blood quantum method (and its variances that include minimum percentage rules), is the social justice achieved for the Hawaiian community outweighed by the injustice suffered by Hawaiian family members denied recognition?

These questions are impossible to answer with any quantitative data available today, but nevertheless they are critical for policy makers to consider at both the private and governmental levels, in order for sustainable restoration of the Hawaiian community to be achieved.



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r9 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:55:42 - IanSullivan
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