By NYLU BERNSHTAYN, age 10

Native activists protest the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, October 7, 2014. Self-governance could bring Native Hawaiians the power to protect sacred lands such as this. PHOTO: Occupy Hilo/Flickr
Hawaiian activists protest the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, October 7, 2014.
Self-governance could bring Native Hawaiians the power to protect sacred lands such as this.
PHOTO: Occupy Hilo/Flickr

In November 2015, Native Hawaiians voted to form an independent government that represents the indigenous people of Hawai’i. Those in favor of the election say it would offer Native Hawaiians a voice in their own government.

The winning 40 delegates were to be announced on December 1, but on December 2, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the vote count. On December 15, Native organizers canceled the election altogether, re-starting the process by offering all 196 former candidates the opportunity to join together on a council to determine next steps.

Originally, the elected delegates were to start the process of writing a constitution. While other U.S. indigenous groups have forms of self-government, Native Hawaiians are currently the only U.S. Native group that does not.

In 1893, indigenous Hawaiian leader Queen Liliuokalani was forced by U.S. businessmen to give up her land or face U.S. military violence. Sixty-six years later, in 1959, after the U.S. government took over, Hawai’i became the 50th state in the country.

Some Hawaiians criticized the election, claiming it was discriminatory. In fact, it was a group made up of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians that had initially both challenged it, arguing it would exclude non-Native Hawaiians from voting.

Kelii Akina, a Hawaiian who has spoken out against the election, said that the Supreme Court decision “halting a Hawai’i state-sponsored, race-based election is a victory for the Constitution and the Aloha Spirit.” But the election was not sponsored by the state; it was organized by a nonprofit called Na’i Aupuni, one of many groups pushing for sovereignty for Native Hawaiians.

Although the votes collected will never be counted, the struggle for independence is far from over. Many, like Hazel Twelker, who grew up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, support the process. “People of [Native] Hawaiian ancestry should decide whether they want to be self-governing or not,” Twelker told IndyKids.


Glossary of Terms:

Sovereignty: The power of a community to govern itself.