Vote under way to select Native Hawaiian self-government convention

Elected delegates to meet from February 2016, could decide to "create Constitution for nation" · Vote in line with US government procedure · Pro-independence sectors say election is a trap, boycott it

Hawaii satellite image.
Hawaii satellite image. Author: NASA
Almost 100,000 people are called to polls throughout November to elect 40 delegates to the Aha, or constitutional convention, which will be commissioned to determine whether Native Hawaiians should be exercising their right to self-determination, and what outcome do they expect as a result.

Aha delegates will meet in Oahu from February to April 2016 for eight consecutive weeks to decide "whether or not to create a document or constitution for a nation and its governance." The decision may be put to the vote of Native Hawaiians by June 2016.

The election is being organized by nonprofit organization Nai Aupuni. Native Hawaiians being able to prove they are descendants of the islands' original  population are eligible to vote. More than 90,000 people have registered to do so, out of more than 122,000 who in recent years have self-recognized as Native Hawaiians wishing to exercise the right to self-determination.

Hawaii's total population is 1.4 million. Some 40% are Asians, 25% Whites, 10% Natives or Pacific Islanders, and the rest have multiple origins.

Although not explicitly stated by Nai Aupuni, the group seeks to seize the opportunity created by the US Department of the Interior, which in September proposed the creation of an administrative procedure by which Native Hawaiians can decide to reorganize their own government, "what form that government would take, and whether it would seek a government-to-government relationship with the United States."

Proponents of this procedure highlight the fact that the Aha convention will be able to discuss all self-government options in 2016 and that for the first time in more than one century, a political body will be representing "a majority or near majority" of Native Hawaiians.

Pro-independence sectors boycott election

But the procedure, in practice, rules out the independence option. Although Nai Aupuni bases its discourse on the right to self-determination, it does so under the internal self-determination principle, i.e. not seeking secession but some sort of autonomy.

Thus, Hawaiian pro-independence sectors which believe the Department of Interior's proposal to be a trap are calling for a boycott to the Nai Aupuni election. Those sectors say the US government is trying to apply on Hawaiians the same scheme that it has early applied on Native American peoples: a new indigenous political body only meant for those self-defining as Native Hawaiians which in any case will have limited powers under federal and state laws.

Moreover, the secessionist groups argue that accepting this procedure equals to admitting the legality of Hawaii's annexation by the United States.

This one continues to be a controversial debate both in Hawaii and the US. A sovereign state for much of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Hawaii disappeared in 1893 after a coup led by American businessmen supported by the US Army. Five years later, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Pro-independence groups recall that the act of annexation was illegal and, therefore, Hawaii should still be regarded as a de jure independent country.

Keywords: election, indigenous peoples, United States