Thursday, March 17, 2005

You don’t know what you got till it’s gone

Joni Mitchell wrote 'Big Yellow Taxi' while on a visit to Honolulu. The Canadian looked out her downtown hotel window and the rest of the lyric came to her in a flash: you pave paradise, put up a parking lot.

Yesterday, the Senate voted down a bill amendment which would have prevented drilling for oil in The Artic Wildlife Refuge. It was a close vote: 49 – 51. Both Democratic Hawaiian Senators voted to allow drilling. So did both Republican Alaskan Senators.

Hawai’i and Alaska – senators from two states synonymous with natural beauty – voted to spoil one of our remaining pristine environments. Why would Hawaiians, Democratic Hawaiians (along with one Louisiana – oil biz state - senator), break with the rest of their party?

A political deal.

But even more sadly, the deal seems to have been tied to another bill: “The Akaka Bill.” A bill considered to be a first step towards given Native Hawaiians back something they didn’t know they had lost until it too was gone.

The “Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill” is also known as the “Akaka (HI Dem)/Stevens (AK Rep) Bill.” The bill would begin the process for Native Hawaiians to be recognized by the US Government as an indigenous people. It is (arguably) a first step towards instituting Native Hawaiian self-determination. Not exactly secession, but a venue towards finally addressing the possibility of reinstituting The Hawaiian Kingdom.

Just another political deal, which becomes an ethical debate example of whether the ends will justify the means. Will native Hawaiians see some justice from their bill? Will that justice be worth it?

While we were on the Big Island last month, I met a neighbor; a native Hawaiian, who spoke passionately about the Akaka bill. He was a great, great, great grand-nephew of a Puna district local Ali’i. He said his family had been bamboozled out of their lands, all those years ago. I was ignorant of the Akaka bill; ignorant of the power plays Stevens, Inouye and Akaka were known for partnering on, in the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Pork barrel politics are very actively engaged in, in both paradises.

I wish I had been informed enough to have asked this gentle man if despoiling an Alaskan wildlife refuge was an acceptable trade-off for his people’s cause. In Hawaiian culture, the concept of “REFUGE” has always been important. They would set up places where, if you could get there, you could escape whatever/whomever was after you. My new friend was for - but wary of - the Akaka bill and schooled me on it. He knew its limitations. He still felt the ultimate solution was true autonomy; secession and the reinstitution of the Kingdom. But…I didn’t ask him: “really, a kingdom?” Is this nostalgia for class favor, landed gentry and a withdrawal from democracy? Or, is it simply an interest in getting out from under the control of the mainland? Getting back something that was taken away? And isn’t this Akaka/Stevens wheeling/dealing just trading one land grab, to pay back on another?

The blue states are not all on the same page, are they? Sometimes, all that post ’04 election talk about moving to another country doesn’t sound so futile. Where is refuge now?

This is a pretty good summary of the political connections between Artic Refuge and Hawaiian Recognition.


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