Air Date: September 17, 1996 Program 9638


Various residents of Hawaii
Gethune Teame, Public Outreach Director, Tesfa
Berhane Gebrehiwet, Director of Research and Education, National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students

(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)


JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground.

KEALI'I GORA: We have no other choice but to create this particular initiative to insure that we can govern our own affairs.

MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, Hawaii is a vacationer's paradise, but in this paradise many of the native Hawaiians are unhappy, claiming that their land was taken from them illegally when the United States colonized the islands and later made Hawaii a state. A sovereignty movement has been established but the advocates of sovereignty are not united.

HAYDEN BURGESS: One organization has said, "Look at me, see me as the representative of the native Hawaiian people." And then you have other organizations and individuals wanting to be recognized.

MARTIN: And then later in the program, a report on Eritrea, a young African country that appears to be a success.

GETHUNE TEAME: There is a dedicated leadership in Eritrea. That's what we believe that leadership has been dedicated for independence now also is dedicated for national reconstruction.

MARTIN: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Jeff Martin.

In Hawaii, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra has embargoed the results of a vote among the Kanaka Maoli, a native Hawaiian people. The voting was over the issue of whether or not to proceed with establishing the Kanaka Maoli's sovereignty. Voting was completed on August 16 and the votes have been tallied but Judge Ezra is hearing testimony on two lawsuits that challenge the vote. As Judith McCray explains in this report, the dispute is an internal one among people who have a unique and quite profound claim.

GORA: In respect to our ancestors, I'd like to call upon them by doing an ?? or a chant and basically the chant of greeting and love to dwell with us as we move ahead in this political movement for justice. (Chant)

JUDITH McCRAY: This is Keali'i Gora, chair of Oahu Island for Kalahui??, Hawaii, a rights organization. Gora is part of a growing political movement amongst native Hawaiians demanding rights to their homeland. Kalahui Hawaii is one of more than 50 organizations representing the various concerns of the approximate 200,000 Kanaka Maoli, the people whose history on the islands predates the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. In 1893 American businessmen, backed by U.S. Marines, illegally overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and established a provisional government under the U.S. flag.

GORA: Now based on that historical fact, we are looking at this sovereignty movement as a point of justice and a point of freedom.

McCRAY: 1.8 million acres of land were taken over the by the U.S. The Kanaka Maoli were neither consulted nor compensated. Fifty years later, the newly formed United Nations listed Hawaii as a colonized territory eligible for restoration of its independence. The United States had Hawaii removed from the list and blocked further UN investigation by holding a plebiscite or vote asking the Hawaiian population and the U.S. military personnel stationed on the islands, if they wanted statehood. The result: in 1959 Hawaii became the 50th of the United States.

The result for the Kanaka Maoli was expulsion from the choicest tracts of land used for pineapple plantations, military bases and real estate development. A total of two million acres of land were placed in trust controlled by the state to benefit the social conditions of the native Hawaiians. Two hundred thousand of those acres were set aside for natives to live on if they could prove that they had 50% Hawaiian blood. However, few have realized these benefits. Only seven thousand families have been placed on home land. Overall the Kanaka Maoli have the poorest health and live in the greatest poverty of any ethnic group in Hawaii. Only 20% of the state's population, they make up 75% of the homeless.

In the meantime, the U.S. has used those lands to expand military operations and the state has built harbors, airports, and schools. Legally classified as wards of the state, the Kanaka Maoli have few legal avenues open to them. To Keali'i Gora their quest for sovereignty is critical to their survival.

GORA: Now when you look at our condition, and you see the problems and the plight of our people, how do we turn it around when the present government, both on the local level as well as the national level, is not doing their judiciary obligation as well as their moral, legal, and ethical obligation to our people? We have no other choice but to create this particular initiative to insure that we can govern our own affairs.

SHARON VENNE: I think in the late '70s, early '80s, they started organizing within Hawaii to talk about what they could do and as a result of that internal organization, they decided that the best thing to do was to hold an international tribunal.

McCRAY: Sharon Venne is a lawyer with the Cree Nation in Canada. In 1993 she was one of nine human rights and legal experts invited by organizations to judge an international investigation of the United States' role in Hawaii. Their judgment found that the Kanaka Maoli had never relinquished their sovereignty nor ceded their land to any territory.

VENNE: The main thrust of it was that we said that the United States was in violation and that Hawaii should be listed again for decolonization.

McCRAY: Ven says the tribunal's judgment propelled the U.S. Congress to issue a bill acknowledging the illegal invasion. In 1993, President Bill Clinton formally apologized for depriving native Hawaiians of their to self-determination and signed the bill into law.

NALANI MINTON: The apology bill not only recognized our inherent sovereignty and our rights to transmit our land and culture to future generations, but it also recognized illegal acts of war by which the U.S. continues to occupy our land.

McCRAY: Melani Minton is a member of the pro-Kanaka Maoli independence working group. She says that the law invalidates the vote for statehood by its acknowledgment that the Hawaiian people never relinquished their land to the United States in any plebiscite.

MINTON: We hold them accountable to the invalid plebiscite that was held in 1959, which extinguished our rights to the decolonization process without our consent and feel that that practice should be restored.

McCRAY: In response to the apology bill, last year the Hawaiian Legislature passed a law to hold a new plebiscite for native Hawaiians only. The Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council was created and members appointed by the Governor to organize and send mail-in ballots to approximately 85,000 Kanaka Maoli living in Hawaii and the continental United States. All ballots were due on August 15. The single question read, "Shall the Hawaiian people elect delegates to propose a native Hawaiian government. Seemingly straightforward, the plebiscite has heightened confusion and increased friction among native rights groups. For Keali'i Gora the plebiscite is a move by the state to further undermine Native rights.

GORA: If you say yes, you're saying that the State of Hawaii will control this process, but furthermore, there is no provision of land in this legislation. So when you talk about sovereignty, what is sovereignty without land? It's absolutely meaningless.

McCRAY: According to Hayden Burgess, member of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council and a native Hawaiian also known as Poka Laenui, the plebiscite is a legitimate opportunity for Kanaka Maoli to vote to hold a constitutional convention where delegates can meet to discuss and determine their collective future.

HAYDEN BURGESS: In that convention, they will explore all of the different possibilities of the indigenous people, but in the discussion, I anticipate they will also talk about independence. After the convention concludes, then they will go back to the Hawaiian people and propose to the Hawaiian people a structural form of government and the Hawaiian people will either ratify or reject this formation.

McCRAY: Jose Luis Morin disagrees. An attorney with a native rights group, the Kanaka Maoli tribunal communique, Morin says voting yes voting yes for the right to hold the constitutional convention is not a choice, but a proscription for continued control by the State of Hawaii.

JOSE LUIS MORIN: Why does this have to be done by way of constitutional convention of elected delegates? Why can't some other process be chosen by the Kanaka Maoli people? The importance behind this is to understand that the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council was appointed by the Governor of the State of Hawaii and the people that have consented to be on the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council were never elected by the Kanaka Maoli people.

McCRAY: And it is distrust of the State's role and history with the Kanaka Maoli that led activities like Morin, Lelani Minton and Keali'i Gora to advocate a boycott of the vote.

MORIN: Why should the Hawaiian people trust the State of Hawaii and the United States when they're evicting our people off of our trust lands? We have 28,000 Hawaiians waiting on the waiting list to get their land from Hawaiian Home Land which is now currently being managed by the State of Hawaii. Why should we trust the State of Hawaii?

McCRAY: Hayden Burgess responds, from the State of Hawaii's point of view, the question of trust goes both ways.

BURGESS: Native Hawaiians have been going to the State Legislature year after year after year. One organization has said, look at me, see me as the representative of the native Hawaiian people because I have 20,000 in my membership. The same organization has said, give me the ceded lands or the public lands that were stolen from the Hawaiian government because we are voice of the Hawaiian people. And then you have other organizations and individuals wanting to be recognized. The State of Hawaii said, no we are not going to recognize any organization. Instead what we want is the native Hawaiian people themselves to develop a process to make their own determination as to who is and what is a forum to represent the native Hawaiian people. So those organizations who are saying that the State of Hawaii is trying to short-circuit the process, are those very organizations that have gone to the State of Hawaii saying, recognize me.

McCRAY: This past July, an independent human rights organization investigated the plebiscite. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization or UNPO, heard testimony from native rights groups, individuals and the Hawaiian Sovereignty Elections Council. The UNPO report concluded that the plebiscite did not satisfy international standards for a free and informed choice, and urged that the vote be cancelled. Michael Van Walt, General Secretary of the UNPO, says the plebiscite is creating conflict instead of reaching the consensus that it was intended to do.

MICHAEL VAN WALT: The Kanaka Maoli want a process; they want to work towards sovereignty. I don't think there's much disagreement on that. The question is really only how it's being started, how it's being implemented and the fear of a number of Hawaiians is that they're being locked into a particular type of process and that by choosing the process that is being proposed, there's already a sudden predetermination of the outcome. That may be true or it may not be true. The problem we have with it is that there clearly is a perception among a section of the population that there's something gravely wrong with this vote.

McCRAY: The plebiscite was not cancelled; however, five different lawsuits have been filed against it. A pending court injunction prevents the results from being announced. If the injunction is upheld, the results will be voided. In the meantime, says Jose Luis Morin, the Kanaka Maoli have developed their own process for reaching consensus.

MORIN: They have created an alternative process to the state-controlled process and that's called Puvalu which is in keeping with their own traditions of consensus building in their community. That is a process that is now underway and at each gathering there are approximately 100 people from various groups that come together on a regular basis to talk about these hard questions. That is a process that is true to international law and the right of self determination.


McCRAY: Like this song describing how the people work together to build the large traditional canoes, arriving at a consensus about their right as a sovereign nation will take much Puvalu and unity. And it is their right, says Gora, to decide if they want independence.

GORA: When you look at independence, it's a very scary word and it instills fear in the colonizer. Now should our people decide we want independence, then so be it. Then the United States really has to do that because that's our right, to self determination. The United States is on our land. They never owned it in the first place. You don't go onto another sovereign land and overthrow that kingdom. I mean, it was absolutely immoral.

McCRAY: This is Judith McCray for Common Ground.

MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, a report on Eritrea, a newly independent country that is off to a promising start.

Printed transcripts and audiocassetes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.


MARTIN: Eritrea is one of the newest nations on the planet. It broke free from Ethopia in 1993, taking with it all of Ethopia's coastline along the Red Sea. And despite all odds, Eritrea is now something of a success story. To learn the secrets of the success, Keith Porter spoke with two veterans of independence.

KEITH PORTER: Earlier this year, Newsweek magazine said, "From the ruins of war, Eritreans are transforming their new nation into that rarity on the African continent, a country that works.

GETHUNE TEAME, Public Outreach Director, Tesfa: We have a history. Our history tells Eritrea people fought for the last 30 years for their independence uniting themselves, helping each other, feeling each other as one family because we had nobody to back us, to help us and to recognize our ?? questions and so we finally decided to go on our own and to help each other. So, we have this kind of culture.

PORTER: This is Gethune Teame. He spent eight years as a freedom fighter on the front line of Eritrea's battle for independence from Ethopia. Now he's Public Outreach Director for a child protection agency called Hope.

TEAME: We care for each other. For the last five years almost, we never had the police departments and everything. Everybody was taking care of each other. Everybody was controlling each other.

PORTER: You had no police department for the last five years you say?

TEAME: Yeah, we had no police and now we have a department, of course. We should have but you don't see anybody walking around, we have nobody in the prisons like making crime so very low. Everybody was responsible for anybody. That tells how we have close ?? and how we live like one family.

PORTER: How you're that close; you live like one family; that you could survive that many years without a formal police department.

TEAME: I mean, the people had passed through 30 years of oppression and you know, killing decent blacks and everything and these people were fighting to stop this kind of feelings into people. So anybody doesn't want now to see fighting because we experienced more than anybody in the world.

PORTER: So are you hopeful about what's happening, at least in the political process in Eritrea.

TEAME: We say we are hopeful.

PORTER: And Berhane, are you hopeful?

BERHANE GEBREHIWET, Director of Research and Education, National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students: Definitely, I am optimistic about the political situation in the country.

PORTER: Berhane Gebrehiwet also spent time fighting the Ethopians and now heads the Research and Education Department at the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students.

GEBREHIWET: And I want to add something on what Gethune said, as he said, we didn't have any law enforcement agencies, departments. I mean only we owned was freedom fighters with full optimism and a will to work hard. So we are in the process of building all these departments of law enforcement and for the future we are not going to live without any police department, without any court. And all is under construction. Secondly, when the constitution is finished next year, there is a consensus on the draft constitution that there will not be presidential elections. There will be parliamentary elections and the parliament will elect the president. That's the consensus on the draft constitution that we have now.

PORTER: Now I have a couple of other questions for you about current activity in Eritrea. One is that I read a couple of articles recently about tourism and the ability of Eritrea to attract tourists. Gethune, what is there in Eritrea that would attract tourists from the rest of the world?

TEAME: In the first place we have a one thousand kilometer long coastline of the Red Sea. We have a very attractive area in the coastline. And we have the corals and the ?? islands which are about 350 small islands in one area which are rich of corals and a lot of attractive natural things in the sea. We see people rushing to that area. And we have also some historical places of the last 30 years of war, what has been done and all different lines and the fighting areas, fields and everything. And we have also some historical places which are many, many years—like the Egyptian mummy. Nobody knows how they did it, but there are people who stayed there for more than one hundred years. ?? was a kind of a skin with oxen skins and some kind of chemical. Nobody knows how they did it. We have that kind of thing.

PORTER: Your whole region in East Africa is affected by what's happening in Sudan. How is the civil war in Sudan directly affecting the people of Eritrea?

GEBREHIWET: It is affecting us, I mean a country or people can't live isolated from neighbors. Although there is political boundaries, you can't live isolated so we have been living for so many years with Sudanese people and a good friendship, at least with the people, the political situation change from region to region in Sudan, but at least with the people. Now the problem is the ideology of Muslim Fundamentalism in Sudan. And they are trying to spread it to different countries in the region and this is creating some political disturbances. And our government was aware of that since the beginning of liberation and it has been trying to improve the situation, but it was unable and now no diplomatic relations with Sudan. And there is definitely political support for the opposition in Sudan so that, I mean at least we can help the people who helped us during our struggle for independence and we have to help them to keep peace in the country, Sudan. So that's the way we are trying to improve the situation in our boundaries with Sudan.

PORTER: Gethune, is there anything you want to add about how your country is affected by the war in Sudan?

TEAME: Sudan is now making problems to all countries around her, like the ??, the Ugandans, the Eritreans. It also affects us, of course. It can affect us but like for example, organizing people with Islam Fundamentalists, the Jihads, the Sudanese tries to make some kind of sabotage in the border lines, tries but it is controlled now of course. But if it is, you know if you don't take care of it when it is in the beginning stage of it, it can bring some problems.

PORTER: All right. One last question: two different articles that I read also, the people used the word, incorruptible, to describe the Eritrean people. Do you understand the word incorruptible? Why is it that different people from outside Eritrea describing Eritreans would use the term incorruptible to describe them?

TEAME: I think that is a word used a lot ?? by Eritreans in Eritrea because there is a dedicated leadership in Eritrea. That's what we believe that leadership that has been dedicated for independence now also is dedicated for national reconstruction and that's why you can see there is no corruption, there is a lot of improvements in the public service system to make it very fast and efficient. There has been a streamlining in the civil service in the government and I can see that now we don't have problem of leadership, civil service in the country. All we need is to work hard and we are working hard. Otherwise, in the matter of government and civil service officials, we have people dedicated to their work which is related to national reconstruction.

PORTER: Gethune, do you believe that the Eritrean people are incorruptible or what do people mean when they say that at least?

TEAME: As I told you before, these people has their own history, a different history and these people have created a culture that makes anybody to give his time and himself to his country instead of himself. That's why we got the victory; that's why we one day took ?? who were backed once by the Americans and then by the Russians, was full of weapons and everything. This is the reason why we won the war. After the war, everybody now—you know for the last maybe 40-50 years after the Italians were thrown out?? there by the Eritreans, nothing was made or built in Eritrea. It tries the same as it was in the 1930s and everybody feels this thing. So this time everybody's ready to rebuild our country. Everybody is accepting this idea from his heart, not because it's an order or a law or something like that. So I think this is one reason why everybody's not that much—before we get in Asmara, Eritrea was corrupted when it was ruled by the ?? military government. Everything was like that. The moment we came here, the fighters had created their own kind of cultures so they were spread in all of the departments, the departments were all dominated by the fighters and the people are also of course part of the fighters because they have the aim of rebuilding the country. Nobody there has time to think about corruption.

PORTER: That is Gethune Teame. He is Public Outreach Director for a child protection and education agency in Eritrea. Our other guest has been Berhane Gebrehiwet, head of the Research and Education Department at the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students. Both men are veterans of the Eritrean war for independence. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

MARTIN: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To order or to share your comments, write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Our e-mail address is When ordering transcripts or cassettes, ask for Program No. 9638. To order by credit card, call us at 319-264-1500.

For Common Ground, I'm Jeff Martin.

B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1996, The Stanley Foundation