3.3 Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement
Grade: 6-12Subject: English Language Arts, U.S. HistoryNumber of Activities: 4
Good Americans (1950 – 1960s). This lesson provides an overview of Hawaiʻi’s history as a kingdom, the development of the plantation economy in the 19th century, and the shift to statehood in the 20th century. Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Native Hawaiians have been seeking sovereignty from the United States. And with the gradual influx of Asian immigrants to the island as laborers to work on sugar plantations, Native Hawaiians have seen their island’s population change, and with it, a shift in the economic and political dynamics between the indigenous people and Asian Americans.
Students will learn about:
"Hawaiʻi" throughout this lesson is punctuated by the ʻokina (like an upside-down, mirrored apostrophe), an official consonant in the Hawaiian language that represents a glottal stop. Accordingly, Hawaiʻi is pronounced as"ha-wai-ee" instead of "ha-why." In addition to showing how Hawaiian words should be pronounced, the ʻokina is symbolic of the way Hawaiian language and culture has been preserved by not reverting to or using Anglicized pronunciations of Hawaiian words and names. Instances in which Hawaiʻi is not punctuated with the ʻokina in the lesson are a result of the lack of this punctuation in official titles (e.g. Hawaii Admissions Act and Hawaii Democratic Revolution).
Read more about Hawaiian Diacritical Marks here: https://historichawaii.org/2018/12/21/hawaiian-diacritical-marks/
Background Essay
Before Hawaiʻi became the fiftieth state of the United States, it was an independent kingdom. Its distinct culture had emerged on an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean by the 12th century with multiple kingdoms across islands. The civilization remained isolated until 1778 when British explorer James Cook arrived. In 1795, King Kamehameha I consolidated rule over the islands and started the unified Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
Since 1893, Native Hawaiians have been seeking sovereignty when their monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, was overthrown in a coup by American sugar planters and the threat of U.S. military force. In 1898, the island was annexed as a U.S. territory. Although recognized by the United Nations in 1946 as a non-self-governing nation, the Admission Act (Hawaiʻi Statehood) in 1959 removed Hawaiʻi from that registry, hindering the international recognition of the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
Today’s Hawaiian population is comprised of not only Native Hawaiians, but also Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Pacific Islanders. This however was not always the case.
During the 19th Century, Americans and Europeans saw the profit potential in the island nation’s sugar cane plantations and hired contract laborers from Asia due to the lack of native labor. The first Chinese contract laborers arrived in 1852, followed by the Japanese in 1885. In 1890, the Chinese and Japanese made up a third of the population. Concerned American colonizers and Native Hawaiians established a commission in 1894 to investigate the growing Chinese and Japanese population, concluding that although the growing Asian population was not good for the island their labor was nevertheless necessary. By 1900, Asian Americans were 65% of the population, while Native Hawaiians shrank to just 24%.
By the 20th Century, Asian Americans became a majority of the population, while the white (“haole”) population became the minority. This shift in the population gave rise to the political influence of Asian Americans, including the island-wide strikes of the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954 which led to the overthrow of white minority rule, better working conditions and statehood. Compared to Asian Americans however, Native Hawaiians suffer from lower income, higher poverty, incarceration, and high school dropout rates or don't attend college. Due to their limited access to land, they are disenfranchised economically and socially.
The Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement continues to seek to reclaim the lost land and culture of the native people. In 1921, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act allowed the homesteading for people of 50% or more Hawaiian ancestry.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Apology Resolution, admitting the United States’ responsibility in the overthrow of the monarchy and that the native people did not directly relinquish their land. However, in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that several clauses in the Apology had no binding legal effect in terms of land claims by Native Hawaiians.
From 2000 to 2009, Senator Daniel Akaka proposed a series of bills, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (Akaka Bill), to gain U.S. federal recognition of indigenous Hawaiians similar to Native Americans.

Works Cited
“Akaka Bill: Issues, Support and Opposition.” IvyPanda, 24 June 2020, https://ivypanda.com/essays/akaka-bill-issues-support-and-opposition/. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Fein, Bruce and Mossman, Boyd. “Perspectives on the Akaka Bill.” Star Bulletin Editorial, 07 August 2005. http://archives.starbulletin.com/2005/08/07/editorial/special.html. Accessed 14 May 2021.
FindLaw Staff. “Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920 § 209. Successors to lessees.” FindLaw, 01 January 2019. https://codes.findlaw.com/hi/hawaiian-homes-commission-act-1920/hi-hhca-sect-209.html. Accessed 14 May 2021.
“Hawaiian Home Commissions Act.” Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. http://dhhl.hawaii.gov/hhc/laws-and-rules/. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Lee, Trevor. “Pacific Sovereignty Movements and Asian Americans: Communities, Coalitions, and Conflicts.” Asian American and Asian Research Institute-City University of New York, 2013. http://asianamericanstudiesonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2013-CUNY-FORUM-TrevorLee.pdf. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Plumhoff, Katherine. “Mauna Kea Protests: Native Hawaiian Activists Are Fighting for Their Sacred Land.” Teen Vogue, 30 July 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/mauna-kea-protest-kapulei-flores. Accessed 14 May 2021.
“The U.S. Occupation.” The Hawaiian Kingdom. https://www.hawaiiankingdom.org/us-hawn-homes-act-1920.shtml. Accessed 14 May 2021.

1 Definition is adopted from Merriam-Webster Dictionary
2 Definition is adapted from Dictionary.com
3 Definition is adopted from Encyclopedia Britannica
4 Definition is adopted from Vocabulary.com
5 Definition is adopted from Merriam-Webster Dictionary and YourDictionary.com
Discussion Questions
Activity 1: Native Hawaiian History
Students will learn about Hawaiʻi’s history in order to understand the social and political implications to the island’s indigenous and foreign population and later becoming a state of the U.S.
Distribute the Native Hawaiian History Timeline Activity handout. Explain to students:
After the class has completed the timeline, discuss the following questions:
  1. What impact did European and American relations have on the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi?
  2. How did social, political, and economic factors lead to a rise of immigrants from Asia to Hawaiʻi?
  3. Why did plantation owners hire laborers from different countries instead of one place?
  4. Why were immigrants from different countries able to work together, both in the fields and in workers’ rights movements?
Activity 2: Hawaiian Statehood
In 1959, the Hawaii Admissions Act established Hawaiʻi as the fiftieth state of the United States. Although the shift to statehood was a huge boon to the political progress of Asian Americans on the island, it simultaneously complicated the chances of sovereignty for Native Hawaiians. Divide students into groups of three to four and have them conduct research on the following labor movement events: Groups will conduct research on the Hawaii Admissions Act ballot vote, including support and opposition by different demographic groups on the island using the below fact sheet and other sources. Students will analyze the issues that matter to each of these groups.

Fact Sheet As a whole class, have a discussion on the following questions:
  1. What was the Hawaiian Sugar Strike of 1946, and how did it lead to multi-ethnic worker solidarity?
  2. What was the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954, and how did it lead to Hawaiian statehood?
  3. How would Hawaiian statehood assist America in the Cold War?
  4. How did the passage of the Hawaii Admission Act impact Asian Americans?
  5. How did the passage of the Hawaii Admission Act impact Native Hawaiians and their struggle for sovereignty?
Activity 3: Akaka Bill
Since the last sovereign Hawaiian government was overthrown by American businessmen in the late 19th century, native Hawaiians have been denied the right to self-determination. Beginning in 2000, Senator Daniel Akaka, the first U.S. Senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry, has proposed various versions of what is now the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, more commonly known as the Akaka Bill. The bill would give Native Hawaiian recognition by the federal government, similar to an Indigenous American tribe, and provide for negotiations between the United States and the proposed new Hawaiian government entity. If passed, the bill could give Native Hawaiians a legal means to fight for their rights and sovereignty.
Assign students to research the Akaka Bill to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of the bill, as seen from the point of view of Native Hawaiians. Students will answer the following questions for a whole class discussion:
  1. In your own words, what is the goal of the Akaka Bill?
  2. How is the bill a response to events you learned about in Hawaiian history?
  3. What connections can you make between the political progress made by Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the Akaka Bill (2000-2009) today?
  4. What are some arguments for passing the Akaka Bill?
  5. What are the arguments against passing the Akaka Bill?
  6. Do you think it is possible for the U.S. to one day recognize a Native Hawaiian government? Why or why not?
Extension Activity: Protecting Sacred Land
In 2019, Native Hawaiian advocacy groups and people made headlines by protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano considered to be sacred in Hawaiian religion and culture. The summit was chosen for its ideal location for capturing images from deep space. The protests at Mauna Kea are an extension of the continued contention between the native Hawaiian population and the U.S. government over the legitimacy of the overthrow of Hawaiʻi's monarchy and its annexation.
Students will conduct research on the Protect Mauna Kea movement by Native Hawaiians, and answer the following questions for a whole class discussion:
  1. Why is Mauna Kea an ideal spot for an astronomical research center?
  2. Why are Hawaiians protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope?
  3. How might this protest be related to the struggle for Native Hawaiian rights?
  4. How does this event connect to the larger themes of this lesson, such as sovereignty or political power?
Further Information
Schmitt, Robert C. Historical Statistics of Hawaii. Honolulu, Hawaiʻi: University Press of Hawaii, 1977.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Revised Edition). New York: Back BayBooks, 2008.
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Hawaii.” United States Census Bureau. Web, Accessed August 24, 2020. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/HI/PST045219#.
Williams, Ronald. “Hawaiʻi Alive.” Bishop Museum, 2011. Web, Accessed August 24, 2020. http://www.hawaiialive.org/
Wilmshurst, Janet M., et al. “High-Precision Radiocarbon Dating Shows Recent and Rapid Initial Human Colonization of East Polynesia.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 1 Feb. 2011. Web, Accessed August 24, 2020. https://www.pnas.org/content/108/5/1815.full