Are Race-Based Elections Legal?

POLITICS

Some Hawaii residents are suing the state over an election that may give Native Hawaiians self-government, saying such elections are race-based. (Christian Science Monitor)

Use our resources to learn how Hawaiians began to lose their sovereignty.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The Great Seal of the State of Hawaii is loaded with symbolism. Use it and the links provided to start a great report on the Aloha State! 1959 was the year Hawaii became a U.S. state. The Hawaiian motto at the base of the seal, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono,” is commonly translated as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” The man on the left side of the seal is Kamehameha I, the monarch who unified the Hawaiian Islands. On the right is the Western personification of Liberty. The red, white, and blue stripes represent the flag of Hawaii, and the eight stripes represent the eight major islands. The designs on the yellow background are puloʻuloʻu, or kapu sticks. (Kapu sticks were symbols of authority in pre-contact Hawaiian culture.) The star in the middle of the seal represents Hawaii’s place as the 50th state in the U.S., and the 50th star in the U.S. flag. The eight taro leaves at the bottom of the design represent Hawaii’s eight major islands. Next to the taro leaves are banana leaves—Hawaii is the only major exporter of bananas in the U.S., and banana foliage is a common plant. Finally, maidenhair ferns, rising from the banana leaves, are common and popular plants throughout Hawaii. Illustration courtesy State of Hawaii

The Great Seal of the State of Hawaii is loaded with symbolism. Use it and the links provided to start a great report on the Aloha State! 1959 was the year Hawaii became a U.S. state. The Hawaiian motto at the base of the seal, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono,” is commonly translated as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” The man on the left side of the seal is Kamehameha I, the monarch who unified the Hawaiian Islands. On the right is the Western personification of Liberty. The red, white, and blue stripes represent the flag of Hawaii, and the eight stripes represent the eight major islands. The designs on the yellow background are puloʻuloʻu, or kapu sticks. (Kapu sticks were symbols of authority in pre-contact Hawaiian culture.) The star in the middle of the seal represents Hawaii’s place as the 50th state in the U.S., and the 50th star in the U.S. flag. The eight taro leaves at the bottom of the design represent Hawaii’s eight major islands. Next to the taro leaves are banana leaves—Hawaii is the only major exporter of bananas in the U.S., and banana foliage is a common plant. Finally, maidenhair ferns, rising from the banana leaves, are common and popular plants throughout Hawaii.
Illustration courtesy State of Hawaii

Discussion Ideas

  • What is being decided in the challenged election?
    • Voters are preparing to elect representatives to constitutional convention. The elected delegates would discuss and recommend a form of government for Native Hawaiians. The recommendations themselves would then be voted on in another election.

 

 

  • Who are Native Hawaiians?
    • Native Hawaiians are members of an ethnic group indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. Native Hawaiians trace their ancestry to Polynesian people who occupied and exercised sovereignty in what is now the state of Hawaii prior to European contact in the 1700s.

 

  • Have similar race-based elections been held in the United States before?
    • Yes, they’re held all the time. Native American and Alaska Native communities (nations or native corporations) have a high degree of self-governance. “This is why, for example, U.S. state and federal police need special certification to operate on Native American reservation land, and the tribes can opt out of daylight savings or state casino prohibitions if they choose.”

 

  • Why would people support Hawaiian self-governance?
    • Greater independence. Hawaiians have sought greater autonomy and self-determination for more than a century. Hawaii was an independent kingdom until 1887, when the so-called “Bayonet Constitution” was forced on King David Kalakaua by American business interests. The monarchy was completely overthrown in 1893, the U.S. annexed the kingdom in 1898, and it became a state in 1959.
    • Possible financial gain. With greater autonomy, Native Hawaiians could more directly influence economic decisions. Some Native American groups, for instance, have invested in casinos, while some Native Corporations have invested in businesses surrounding Alaska’s oil industry.

 

  • Why would people not support Hawaiian self-governance?
    • Possible disenfranchisement. People not on the rolls as Native Hawaiians may have more limited political and financial power. These people include people of European, Asian, and African ancestry.
    • Possibly limited real-world impact. According to Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist, “It won’t protect our culture, our traditions.” The Department of the Interior, prepared to establish a possible government-to-government relationship, says any Native Hawaiian government won’t be eligible for federal Indian programs, services, and benefits until Congress allows it.

 

  • Why can Hawaiians sue to stop or halt the proposed elections?
    • Their tax dollars are, obliquely, helping fund it. Through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a government office that works to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians, the state contributed $2.6 million to the election process.

 

  • If the elections proceed as planned, and if delegates decide to form a new Native Hawaiian government, what would it look like?
    • It’s way too soon to make any sort of prediction. It could be anything from complete independence from the U.S. (unlikely), to a form of dual citizenship, to maintaining the status quo.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Christian Science Monitor: Are race-based elections legal? In Hawaii, maybe

Nat Geo: 1887: Bayonet Constitution

Associated Press: Q&A—A look at the proposal for US-Hawaiian relationship

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