Lā Kū'oko'a: A Panel on Hawaiian Independence

Lā Kū'oko'a commemorates the day that Britain and France acknowledged Hawai‘i’s status as an independent nation by signing the Anglo-Franco Proclamation on Nov. 28, 1843.

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Native Hawaiian Student Services organized panel discussions at the Art Auditorium this past Tuesday to celebrate Lā Kū'oko'a, or Hawaiian Independence Day. The panels surrounded the idea of kū'oko'a (independence) on many different levels, touching on its embodiment within the Maunakea movement as well as legal discrepancies surrounding it.

Lā Kū'oko'a commemorates the day that Britain and France acknowledged Hawai‘i’s status as an independent nation by signing the Anglo-Franco Proclamation on Nov. 28, 1843. According to the proclamation, these nations considered the Hawaiian islands “capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations,” which led these two foreign powers to declare that they would “never take possession...of any part of the territory of which they are composed.”

The panels held in the Art auditorium took this history and placed it into the context of the contemporary Hawaiian independence and Maunakea movements. According to the panel speakers, which was comprised of students, faculty, and community members, these movements are closely linked, as they see reclaiming their sovereignty over Maunakea is a movement towards a greater sovereignty at the nation-state level.

KCC Hawaiian studies professor Donovan Preza voiced the historical importance of Lā Kū'oko'a, marking it as the first time that Hawaiians felt unified while being subject to a western political and economic system.

“It was western-imposed law, it was western-imposed property, it was western-imposed, it was western-imposed. It was not ours,” he said. “Lā Kū'oko'a has unified all of us and we now understand that this is ours. And I don’t mean that in a western, possession kind of way. I mean that in a genealogy, connecting back to land, connecting back to what is ours.”

Political science professor Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Ka'ōpua referred to the work of indigenous scholar Shiri Pasternak in her explanation of the Maunakea movement’s place in Hawaiian independence. 

“Jurisdiction is often thought as an extension of sovereignty or independence, that once a state or a nation has sovereignty and independence, it enacts jurisdiction. But she actually argues that it’s the other way around, that it’s jurisdiction that produces sovereignty,” Goodyear-Ka'ōpua said. “So it’s the enaction of decision making and re-nationality with aina and people that produces kū'oko'a.”

According to Goodyear-Ka'ōpua, the jurisdiction that is being imposed through the firm stance of the kia’i on Maunakea as well as the idea of kapu aloha as a means of conduct as well as a certain form of law is in itself a means of creating sovereignty. In this way, she reasons that the Maunakea movement as well as many others that are occuring with the rejuvenation of Hawaiian customary practices is enabling Hawaiians to establish their own sovereignty through enacting their own jurisdiction.

UH Mānoa graduate student Kaipulaumakaniolono Baker had similar sentiments.

“When we show up to the mauna, when we show up to aha (ceremony) on campus, when we show up to the BOR, when we create a blockade on the freeway, when we put on panels that are aimed at inspiring or shedding some light at some form of a galvanized kanaka maoli consciousness, when we do all of these things we are enacting our jurisdiction,” he said.

Baker acknowledges the argument that, although Hawaiians are indeed returning to customary practices as a means of reconnecting to their cultural roots and reestablishing that idea of being a lāhui (nation), the practices that they are taking part in today probably differ from those that their kupuna conducted long ago. However, to Baker, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as he claims that it is vital for today’s Hawaiians to be “active agents in applying that knowledge” rather than merely speculating the potential differences in customary practices done today from those of old Hawaii.

“We cannot have our kupunas’ ku’oko’a,” he said. “Our ku’oko’a has to be our own.”

Political science professor Dr. Keanu Sai summarized the general view of all the panelists, regarding the great value they assign to their history and cultural past as a basis of knowledge from which to determine future conduct, both as individuals and as a collective nation.

“The practical value of history is that it’s a film of the past, run through the projector of today onto the screen of tomorrow,” he said.