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Native Hawaiian

"Kanaka Maoli" redirects here. For other uses of Kanaka, see Kanaka (disambiguation).
This article is about the indigenous peoples of Hawaii. For other indigenous peoples see Indigenous peoples (disambiguation)
Native Hawaiians
(Kānaka Maoli)
Total population
alone: 164,918, any combination: 527,077 as of the 2010 census.[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
 United States
English, Hawaiian, and Pidgin
Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hawaiian religion

Native Hawaiians (Hawaiiankānaka ʻōiwi, kānaka maoli, and Hawaiʻi maoli) refers to the indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands or their descendants.[3] Native Hawaiians trace their ancestry back to the original Polynesian settlers of Hawaii.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau report for 2000, there are 401,162 people who identified themselves as being "native Hawaiian" alone or in any combination.[1] 140,652 people identified themselves as being "native Hawaiian" alone.[2] The majority of native Hawaiians reside in State of Hawaiʻi, California, Nevada and Washington. Two-thirds live in the State of Hawaii while the other one-third is scattered among other states, with a high concentration in California.

The history of native Hawaiians, and of Hawaiʻi in general, is classified into four major periods: antiquity (Ancient Hawaiʻi), monarchy (Kingdom of Hawaiʻi), territorial (Territory of Hawaiʻi), and statehood (State of Hawaiʻi).


The early settlement history of Hawaii is still not completely resolved. Some believe that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaiʻi in the 3rd century from the Marquesas and were followed by Tahitian settlers in AD 1300 who conquered the original inhabitants. Others believe that there was only a single, extended period of settlement. Patrick Kirch, in his 2001 Hawaiki, argues for an extended period of contact but not necessarily for a Tahitian invasion:

There is substantial archaeological as well as paleoecological evidence confirming Hawaiian settlement no later than 800 AD, and quite possibly as early as AD 300–500 (Kirch 1985; Athens 1997). The immediate source of the colonizing population in Hawaiʻi is likely to have been the Southern Marquesas, but continued contact between Hawaiʻi and islands in the core region is indicated by linguistic evidence (lexical borrowings from the Tahitic subgroup), abundant oral traditions (Cachola-Abad 1993), botanical indications, uniquely shared mtDNA sequences in populations of the Pacific Rat (Matisoo-Smith et al. 1998), and possibly some archaeological style changes as well. However, long-distance voyaging between Hawaiʻi and the central Eastern Polynesian core became less frequent after about AD 1200, and was little more than a memory encoded in Hawaiian oral traditions by the time of European contact.[4]

The only evidence for a Tahitian conquest of the islands are the legends of Hawaiʻiloa and the navigator-priest Pa'ao, who is said to have made a voyage between Hawaiʻi and the island of "Kahiki" (Tahiti) and introduced many new customs. Some Hawaiians believe that there was a real historical Paʻao. Early historians, such as Fornander and Beckwith, also subscribed to this Tahitian invasion theory, but later historians, such as Kirch, simply do not mention it.

King Kalakaua, in his book, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, claims that Paʻao was from the South Pacific. The religion he brought, the "kapu" system of religio-government was from Tahiti or Samoa. Paʻao was instrumental in bringing the High Chief Pili from Tahiti to rule the island of Hawaii. These later chiefs from the South Pacific would intermarry with the existing Hawaiian chiefs of that time.

Some writers believe that there were other settlers in Hawaiʻi, peoples who were forced back into remote valleys by newer arrivals. They claim that stories about menehune, little people who built heiau and fishponds, prove the existence of ancient peoples who settled the islands before the Hawaiians.[5] Luomala, in her 1951 essay on the menehune, argues that these stories, like stories of "dog people" with tails living in deep forests, are folklore and not to be construed as evidence of an earlier race. Archaeologists have found no evidence suggesting earlier settlements and menehune legends are simply not mentioned or discussed in current archaeological literature.


At the time of Captain Cook's arrival, native Hawaiians may have numbered some 250,000 to 800,000; there has been debate over such estimates.[6][7] Over the span of the first century after first contact, the native Hawaiians were nearly wiped out by new diseases introduced to the islands. Native Hawaiians did not have resistance to influenza, smallpox, measles, and whooping cough, among others. The 1900 U.S. Census identified 37,656 residents of full or partial native Hawaiian ancestry.[8] The 2000 U.S. Census identified 283,430 residents of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry, showing a dramatic growth trend since annexation by the U.S. in 1898.[9]

Hawaiian language

Main article: Hawaiian language

The Hawaiian language was once the primary language of the native Hawaiian people. Today, native Hawaiians predominately speak the English language as a result of more than a century of being a part of the United States of America, as a Territory and then as a State of the Union. Another large contributing factor was an 1896 law that required that English "be the only medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools." This law prevented the Hawaiian language from being taught as a second language. Some native Hawaiians (as well as non-native Hawaiians) have learned the native Hawaiian language as a second language. As with others local to Hawaii, native Hawaiians often speak Hawaiian Creole English (referred to in Hawai'i as Pidgin), a creole which developed during Hawaiʻi's plantation era in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the influence of the various ethnic groups living in Hawaii during that time.

The Hawaiian language has been promoted for revival most recently by a state program of cultural preservation enacted in 1978. Programs included the opening of Hawaiian language immersion schools and the establishment of a Hawaiian language department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. As a result, Hawaiian language learning has climbed among all races in Hawaiʻi.

In 2002, the University of Hawaii at Hilo established a masters program in the Hawaiian Language.[10] In fall 2006, they established a doctoral (Ph.D) program in the Hawaiian Language. In addition to being the first doctoral program for the study of Hawaiian, it is the first doctoral program established for the study of any native language in the United States of America. Both the masters and doctoral programs are considered by global scholars as pioneering in the revival of native languages.

Hawaiian is still spoken as the primary language by the residents on the private island of Niʻihau.


Hawaiian children are publicly educated under the same terms as any other children in the United States. In Hawaii, native Hawaiians are publicly educated by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education, an ethnically diverse school system that is the United States' largest and most centralized. Hawaiʻi is the only U.S. state without local community control of public schools.

Under the administration of Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano from 1994 to 2002, the state's educational system established special Hawaiian language immersion schools. In these schools, all subject courses are taught in the Hawaiian language and use native Hawaiian subject matter in curricula. These schools were created in the spirit of cultural preservation and are not exclusive to native Hawaiian children. Currently, these schools are challenged by a relative lack of native speakers of the Hawaiian language and a dearth of educational materials in Hawaiian, since olelo Hawaii is typically a first language only for those who live on Niihau.

Some native Hawaiians are educated by the Kamehameha Schools, established through the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a princess of the Kamehameha Dynasty. Arguably the largest and wealthiest private school in the United States, Kamehameha Schools was intended to benefit indigents and orphans, with preference given to native Hawaiians. Although this Hawaiians-only preference is not explicitly stated in her will, subsequent Bishop Estate trustees have interpreted her wording to mean that. Kamehameha provides a quality education to thousands of children of whole and part native Hawaiian ancestry at its campuses during the regular school year, and also has quality summer and off-campus programs that are not restricted by ancestry. Kamehameha Schools' practice of accepting primarily gifted students, in lieu of intellectually challenged children, has been a controversial topic amongst the native Hawaiian community. Many 'rejected' families feel that the gifted students could excel at any learning institution, public or private. Thus, the Hawaiian community may be better served by educating children from high-risk, high-crime districts so that a greater proportion of disadvantaged youths may grow up to be responsible community contributors.

Since the late 1990s, Kamehameha Schools has faced several high profile legal battles. The highest profile of these legal battles involved the selection and remuneration of trustees. Ultimately, this suit, directly and indirectly, brought about the resignation or removal of all five of the then serving trustees, and a restructuring of the administration of both the trust and the schools. Other legal challenges have concerned the admission of non-native Hawaiians to the school. A few non-Hawaiians have sued for admission, claiming that the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop has been misinterpreted, and further that the then current policies of race-based admissions were discriminatory and thereby should be struck down.[11] In 2007, Kamehameha's Maui campus graduated its first non-Hawaiian student. The student's 2002 admission to the school created an uproar within the Hawaiian community.[12]

As with other children in Hawaiʻi, some native Hawaiians are educated by other prominent private academies in the Aloha State. They include: Punahou School, Saint Louis School, Mid-Pacific Institute and Iolani School.

Hawaiian revival

Native Hawaiian culture has seen a revival in recent years as an outgrowth of decisions made at the 1978 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention, held 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook. At the convention, the Hawaiʻi state government committed itself to a progressive study and preservation of native Hawaiian culture, history and language.

A comprehensive Hawaiian culture curriculum was introduced into the State of Hawaiʻi's public elementary schools teaching: ancient Hawaiian art, lifestyle, geography, hula and Hawaiian language vocabulary. Intermediate and high schools were mandated to impose two sets of Hawaiian history curricula on every candidate for graduation.

Statutes and charter amendments were passed acknowledging a policy of preference for Hawaiian place and street names. For example, with the closure of Barbers Point Naval Air Station in the 1990s, the region formerly occupied by the base was renamed Kalaeloa.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Another important outgrowth of the 1978 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention was the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more popularly known as OHA. Delegates that included future Hawaiʻi political stars Benjamin J. Cayetano, John D. Waihee III and Jeremy Harris enacted measures intended to address perceived injustices toward native Hawaiians since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893. OHA was established as a trust, administered with a mandate to better the conditions of both native Hawaiians and the Hawaiian community in general. OHA was given control over certain public lands, and continues to expand its land-holdings to this day (most recently with Waimea Valley, previously Waimea Falls Park).[13]

Besides purchases since its inception, the lands initially given to OHA were originally crown lands of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi used to pay the expenses of the monarchy (later held by the Provisional Government following the fall of the monarchy in 1893). Upon the declaration of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, they were officially designated as public lands. They were ceded to federal control with the establishment of the Territory of Hawaiʻi in 1898, and finally returned to the State of Hawaiʻi as public lands in 1959.

OHA is a semi-autonomous government body administered by a nine-member board of trustees, elected by the people of the State of Hawaiʻi through popular suffrage. Originally, trustees and the people eligible to vote for trustees were restricted to native Hawaiians. Rice v. Cayetano reached the United States Supreme Court suing the state to allow non-Hawaiians to sit on the board of trustees and for non-Hawaiians to be allowed to vote in trustee elections. Justices ruled in favor of Rice on 23 February 2000 forcing OHA to open its elections to all residents of the State of Hawaiʻi regardless of ethnicity.

Federal developments

Native American Programs Act

In 1974, the Native American Programs Act was amended to include native Hawaiians. This paved the way for native Hawaiians to become eligible for some, but not all, federal assistance programs originally intended for Continental Native Americans. Today, Title 45 CFR Part 1336.62 defines a Native Hawaiian as "an individual any of whose ancestors were natives of the area which consists of the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778."

There is some controversy as to whether or not native Hawaiians should be considered in the same light as Native Americans.[14][15]

Native Hawaiians Study Commission

The Native Hawaiians Study Commission was created by the Congress of the United States on December 22, 1980 (Title III of Public Law 96-565). The purpose of the Commission was to "conduct a study of the culture, needs and concerns of the Native Hawaiians." The Commission published and released to the public a Draft Report of Findings on September 23, 1982. Following a 120-day period of public comment, a final report was written and submitted on June 23, 1983 to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

United States apology resolution

On 23 November 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed United States Public Law 103-150 also known as the Apology Resolution which had previously passed Congress. This resolution "apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii".[16]

Washington-based constitutional scholar Bruce Fein has outlined a number of counter-arguments disputing the accuracy of the assertions made in the Apology Resolution.[17]

Akaka Bill

In the early 2000s, the Congressional delegation of the State of Hawaiʻi introduced the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill named after U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI). The Akaka Bill would establish the process of recognizing and forming a Native Hawaiian government entity to negotiate with state and federal governments. The significance of the bill is that it would establish, for the first time in the history of the islands, a new political and legal relationship between a Native Hawaiian entity and the federal government. This Native Hawaiian entity would be a newly created one without any historical precedent in the islands or direct institutional continuity with previous political entities (unlike many Native American Indian groups, for example).

This bill came under scrutiny by the Bush administration's Department of Justice as well as the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The political context surrounding the Akaka Bill is both controversial and complex. Proponents, who consider the legislation an acknowledgement and partial correction of past injustices, include Hawaiʻi's Congressional delegation as well as the former Republican Governor Linda Lingle. Opponents include the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who question the constitutionality of creating race-based governments, libertarian activists who challenge the historical accuracy of any claims of injustice, and other Native Hawaiian sovereignty activists who feel the legislation would thwart their hopes for complete independence from the United States.


Akaka said on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Dec. 2010 that “misleading attacks” and “unprecedented obstruction” led to the failure of legislation in the 111th Congress.

Ka Huli Ao: Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law

In 2005, with the support of Senator Daniel Inouye, federal funding through the Native Hawaiian Education Act created the Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie. MacKenzie is also recognized as the chief editor of the Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook which is a legal publication that describes Native Hawaiian law, a subset of laws of the State of Hawaiʻi. Melody MacKenzie worked as a clerk to the schoolʻs namesake, William S. Richardson for four years and also served as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation for four years, then worked as a senior staff attorney for another six years.

Ka Huli Ao focuses on research, scholarship, and community outreach. Ka Huli Ao provides a monthly lunch time discussion forum referred to as Maoli Thursday which is free and open to the public. Ka Huli Ao maintains its own blog as well as a Twitter account and a Facebook group. Ka Huli Ao also provides law students with summer fellowships. Law school graduates are eligible to apply for post-J.D. fellowships that last for one year.

Notable Native Hawaiians

Culture and arts

Several cultural preservation societies and organizations have been established over the course of the twentieth century. The largest of those institutions is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, established in 1889 and designated as the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Bishop Museum houses the largest collection of native Hawaiian artifacts, documents and other information available for educational use. Most objects are held for preservation alone. The museum has links with major colleges and universities throughout the world to facilitate research.

With the support of the Bishop Museum, the Polynesian Voyaging Society's double-hulled canoe Hōkūle‘a has contributed to rediscovery of native Hawaiian culture, especially in the revival of non-instrument navigation by which ancient Polynesians originally settled Hawaiʻi.[20]

One of the most commonly known arts of Hawaii is hula dancing. It is an interpretive and expressive dance famous for its grace and romantic feel that expresses stories and feelings from almost any phase of life.

See also


Further reading

  • Maenette K. Nee-Benham and Ronald H. Heck, Culture and Educational Policy in Hawaiʻi: The Silencing of Native Voices, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1998
  • Scott Cunningham, Hawaiian Magic and Spirituality, Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., 2000
  • Rona Tamiko Tamiko Halualani, In the Name of Hawaiians: Native Identities and Cultural Politics, University of Minnesota Press, 2002
  • Marshall D. Sahlins, How Natives Think: About Captain Cook, for Example, University of Chicago Press, 1995
  • Thomas G. Thrum, Hawaiian Folk Tales: A Collection of Native Legends, International Law & Taxation Publishers, 2001
  • Thomas G. Thrum, More Hawaiian Folk Tales: A Collection of Native Legends and Traditions, International Law & Taxation Publishers, 2001
  • Houston Wood, Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawaiʻi, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999
  • Kanalu G. Terry Young Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past, Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1998

External links

  • Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)
  • Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
  • Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law official website
  • Ka Huli Ao Blog
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