It’s Hawaiian Independence Day tomorrow. November 28th marks the day in 1843 when Great Britain and France formally recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom as independent. Fast forward to today…college students across the island chain are seeking that same recognition. HPR’s Ku‘uwehi Hiraishi reports.
For most college-bound students who are United States citizens, answering questions about citizenship on your college application is fairly simple. But for students at Hawaiʻi Community College or HCC in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, checking that box was a big deal.
“They didn’t feel comfortable registering for school and having to check the American citizenship box, says Ku’ulei Kanahele, a Hawaiian language instructor at HCC.
She also sits on the Pūkoʻa Council, a University of Hawaiʻi system-wide organization promoting access and success for Native Hawaiian students.
“Being an American citizen is hard for a lot of native Hawaiians because of feeling like second-class citizens in our own ʻāina, in our own home,” says Kanahele, “So they came to the Council to express that. They wanted to designate themselves as citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom.”
See, for many native Hawaiians, American colonization began with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. Since then, the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands have struggled with a loss of land, language, and a sense of what it means to be a native Hawaiian.
“For some students I think it’s continuing to allow America to hold that dominance over their identity,” says Kanahele.
Hilo students made their case and their cause made its way up the chain of command in the UH system. Partner Akiona, a Hawaiian Studies major in his second year at Kapiʻolani Community College in Kaimukī learned about the form at the beginning of his Fall semester.
“When I saw the form at KCC, I talked to students at UH Manoa, and students at UH Manoa had no idea this form existed,” says Akiona.
According to UH spokesman Dan Meizenzahl, the form was first made available in May of this year to all students in the UH system, upon request. So far, 17 students have declared their affiliation to the Hawaiian Kingdom. But there is some concern that such an affiliation could be met with political retribution particularly when it comes to financial aid.
“Because for a lot of our native Hawaiian students, they need the scholarship to go to school,” says Kanahele.
Meizenzahl confirmed this form does not equate to any declaration of citizenship, which would relegate students to “international student” status and have an impact on financial aid. Instead is simply a form of expression. Akiona is currently working on his form.
“I know a lot of people within the UH system are not much aware of it much less the weight that it holds for students as well as institutions but overall, as of right now, I believe it’s a good thing, it’s a step in the right direction,” says Akiona.
A step in the direction of lending further credibility to the restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom, which for some native Hawaiians was never relinquished.