In January 1993 the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of Hawaii’s last monarch was observed in a multiday series of events that culminated in a solemn march of about 10,000 people to Iolani Palace for a day of speeches, music and remembrance.
Twenty-five years later a new group of organizers is planning a similar event with a march and observance ceremony expected to draw thousands to Iolani Palace and to the Capitol courtyard next door.
It’s a coincidence that the anniversary falls on the same date — Wednesday, Jan. 17 — as the opening day of the 2018 state Legislature, but organizers of Onipaa Kakou are hoping the occasion will send a loud message to lawmakers as they launch their session.
“Truth and unity,” said Walter Ritte, the veteran sovereignty activist from Molokai and one of the event’s chief organizers. “We want to tell the Legislature the truth about the history of the overthrow and the illegal annexation and to tell them about the unity of the Hawaiian people.”
Getting the message across about unity could be thorny, however. The rift between those who favor a form of sovereignty within the jurisdiction of the United States and those who insist on a fully independent nation appears to be as strong as ever.
But Ritte, who supports an independent Hawaii, said that while Hawaiians don’t all agree on the pathway to a solution, they all agree on the truth about the legality of the overthrow — and that’s what the day is about.
At the Capitol, speeches will be balanced by University of Hawaii Hawaiian studies professor Jon Osorio, an advocate of independence, and former Gov. John Waihee, who has been raising money for efforts to establish the Na‘i Aupuni constitution, which allows for a federally recognized government.
At the palace, however, the schedule appears to veer toward voices of independence, with speeches by firebrands Andre Perez of Oahu, Kahookahi Kanuha of Hawaii island and UH-Maui College Hawaiian studies professor Kaleikoa Kaeo, each of whom has been arrested multiple times in recent years in defense of the cause.
Among other scheduled speakers are UH law professor Williamson Chang, Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe and veteran sovereignty activist and attorney Mililani Trask.
As leader of Ka Lahui Hawaii, Trask was front and center in the 1993 Onipaa centennial, marking the day when Queen Lili‘uokalani was forced to yield her throne in a coup backed by U.S Marines.
Trask and her older sister, Haunani-Kay Trask, then director of the UH School of Hawaiian Studies, helped lead the march from Aloha Tower to Iolani Place.
Despite the somber occasion, said Mililani Trask, “It was a time of positive, uplifting and hopeful sentiment.”
Coverage by The Honolulu Advertiser described the event as being marked “by as much bitterness as warmth, and as much divisiveness as unity.”
The most incendiary remarks came from the elder Trask.
“I am not an American,” she declared from the palace bandstand. “We are not Americans. Say it in your heart. Say it in your sleep. We will never forget what the Americans have done to us — never, never, never. The Americans, my people, are our enemies.”
Waihee, the governor at the time, had ordered that the American flag not be flown in the palace area during the event, but Haunani-Kay Trask said Waihee didn’t go far enough.
“It should be burned to the ground,” she said.
And on a day when a representative of the United Church of Christ formally apologized for the complicity of the church’s missionary descendants in the overthrow, Trask urged the Hawaiians to spurn the church because it teaches Hawaiians to be compliant.
“Don’t make nice. Never make nice. … Fight. Fight. Fight.”
Later in the day the late Kinau Boyd Kamalii, OHA trustee, urged Hawaiians to reject the “politics of hate,” and then-U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka called for unity and diversity that “must not bring divisiveness.”
“I am proud to be Hawaiian,” Kamalii said. “I am also proud to be an American.”
Then-OHA Chairman Clayton Hee told the crowd he would ask for state funding for a Native Hawaiian constitutional convention.
“We cannot wait for Congress,” he declared, almost prophetically, as Congress would fail to enact the Akaka Bill, which sought nation-within-a-nation status for Native Hawaiians.
No fights, no injuries
Despite the huge crowd that converged at Iolani Palace on Jan. 17, 1993, there were no incidents or arrests that day or over the course of the five-day event.
It’s unlikely a similarly sized crowd will be seen at the 125-year observance. For one, the 1993 centennial fell on a Sunday, while the 125th is on a Wednesday.
But shuttles are being planned to bring people from across the island, thanks in part to funding by OHA and Kamehameha Schools, and event organizer Trisha Kehaulani Watson said she expects thousands to show their support for the deposed queen and her memory.
“It’s a sad day for us, a hard day,” she said.
Instead of starting off at Aloha Tower, a “peace march” is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Mauna Ala royal mausoleum in Nuuanu Valley, where Lili‘uokalani is buried.
As the procession nears Iolani Palace, Watson said, there will be an attempt to re-create the Ed Greevy photo used for the cover of Haunani-Kay Trask’s book “From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai‘i,” which was published later that year.
A similar image by veteran Honolulu Star-Advertiser photographer Bruce Asato — showing the march’s leaders, including the Trask sisters, pausing to allow elders to enter the palace grounds first — appeared on the front page of The Honolulu Advertiser.
What could prove to be the most moving highlight of this year’s event, according to organizers, will be the 10:45 p.m. raising of the Hawaiian flag above the palace at the same time of day it was taken down during the overthrow. The event is being planned by the Royal Order of Kamehameha.
The Capitol activities will begin at noon — two hours after the 29th state Legislature launches its 2018 regular session amid ceremony. The Onipaa Kakou observance will return to Iolani Palace from 1 to 6 p.m.
While the 1993 entertainment featured Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole and the Makaha Sons of Niihau, the 2018 headliners are Amy Hanaiali‘i and Keauhou.
Another event, called E Ola na Mele Lahui, will take place at the Hawaii Supreme Court on King Street at 6 p.m. Sponsored by the Judiciary History Center, the Hawaii State Bar Association Civic Education Committee and the Dolores Furtado Martin Foundation, the program will explore “Hawaiian political expression through mele and hula, linking new archival documents and newspaper articles on the overthrow to Hawaii’s legal history.”
Looking back at the Onipaa a quarter-century later, Mililani Trask said she was proud to have had a role in an event that not only honored the queen’s memory, but left a legacy of activism and thousands of new Native Hawaiian registered voters.
“There were 20,000 people, and we didn’t have a single injury or fight,” she said, noting that alcohol was strictly prohibited.
Trask said she plans to tell her audience this year to remember the overthrow but, at the same time, to celebrate their resiliency as a people and to continue the path forward.
Many other indigenous people, their cultures and languages have been driven to extinction, she said, but Hawaiians are not only still fighting for their rights and practicing their culture, but expanding in number.
“Despite the overthrow and the Apology Bill showing how illegal it was, our people haven’t given up. They haven’t resorted to violence like so many others,” she said. “We are still here. That is something to be proud of.”
Trask said there are so many more issues for Hawaiians to consider beyond self-governance, including the protection of sacred sites and resources, homelessness, poverty, drug violence and the impact of Honolulu’s rail project on Hawaiians, among others.
“Hawaiians can be a forceful voting block,” she said.