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Hawaiians May Ask United States To Return Islands in Referndum

By Ellen Nakashima
The Washington Post

You can't turn back the hands of time, says Billy Pa, a Waikiki surfing instructor. But sometimes, when he looks up at Diamond Head, across the sweep of sand freckled with tourists, he wishes he could.

He talks about how Hawaiians are sometimes shunned in their own home. "A lot of my people are not welcome in Waikiki," he said. "Some of the hotels, the restaurants, the bars, they see a Hawaiian kid come around, they think, Watch out. There's gonna be trouble.' It's ridiculous."

He resents the hotels, the traffic jams, the multinationals building golf courses and shopping malls.

So Pa voted "ae," or yes, in a state-funded referendum this month. Only people of Hawaiian ancestry, who make up one-fifth of Hawaii's 1.2 million residents, could participate. The governor-appointed sovereignty elections commission says that is because the native Hawaiians' land and sovereignty were forcibly taken more than 100 years ago. The mail-in ballot, results of which could be announced next week, asked one question, in English and Hawaiian: "Shall the Hawaiian people elect delegates to propose a native Hawaiian government?"

The idea, organizers say, is not to decide now what form sovereignty should take, but whether Hawaiians want to pursue it. Proposals range from complete independence to a land deal in which the descendants of Polynesian islanders who arrived in Hawaii 1,000 years or more ago would get all or some of the 1.75 million acres, almost half the state, they say was stolen when the last Hawaiian monarch was overthrown.

On Jan. 17, 1893, 13 white businessmen backed by three companies of U.S. Marines forced the Hawaiian queen, Lili'uokalani, from her throne, seized crown lands and ended Hawaii's independence. The businessmen, mostly American, wanted sugar tariffs lifted.

This group declared the Republic of Hawaii in 1894. The islands were annexed as a U.S. territory four years later. In 1959, given the choice of remaining a territory or becoming a state. Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly for the latter and Hawaii became the 50th state.

In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow, then-Gov. John D. Waihee III (D) and the first governor of Hawaiian ancestry, raised the Hawaiian flag over the state capitol. That same year, Congress passed and President Clinton signed a resolution apologizing to Hawaiians for the overthrow.

Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano (D), a second-generation Filipino American, said he is all for Hawaiians pursuing sovereignty. But it must be "a kind of sovereignty which is acceptable to the non-Hawaiians, as well as the United States government."

Cayetano said the sovereignty movement's lack of clarity has made some people nervous.