I am currently in collaboration with LOAM magazine over the next month as an artist- in- resident. The article below was written for and originally published by LOAM.
“So long as Hawaii was a monarchy, however, a non-Hawaiian would never have complete control of the government and therein lies the tale of Bayonet, the Overthrow and the American annexation.
The same founders of the Independent/Reform Party in 1883 made up the committee of safety that took control of the government in 1893 under the protection of American soldiers and warships. In 1895, in a particularly spiteful and cynical piece of timing, they declared their republic on July 4, a “government” that had all of 4,000 mostly white citizens, and declared Sanford Dole president for life. That this “republic” was set up for no other purpose than to encourage the Americans to annex the islands makes it impossible to commemorate the Fourth as a day of independence. I cannot imagine how any Hawaiian, knowledgeable about this history and feeling any sense of kinship with his or her nineteenth century ancestors, celebrates the Fourth of July.”
– Jonathan Osorio, Excerpt from ‘A Hawaiian National on Independence Day’
My family is First Nations from northern British Columbia, but I grew up in Hawai`i, and have an American passport. These identities are more than present for me, from July 1st through the 4th as Canada celebrates its Confederation Day and America their Independence Day. As I’ve become an adult, these four days have also become all the more confusing for me. I didn’t grow up with a nationalistic sense, as my parents were always honest with me about the history on which this country was founded. My mother, an African American woman, had us watching Roots at an early age so that we would always understand how the color of our ancestors skin was linked to the inequity of the ‘American Dream.’ I remember having serious doubts around the age of 10 about the daily standing in school to observe the flag while pledging allegiance to “The United States of America”. So much of my ancestry and present reality did not lend itself to comfortably believing in this pledge. Hawai`i is geographically isolated from the mainland of America. We were literally, not united with the rest of the states, and culturally we were being raised with what seemed to be a very different mentality than those raised on the mainland.
The Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement has been present my entire life. On the side of the highways are homemade signs that state just this: "Reinstated Kingdom of Hawai`i". I couldn’t always comprehend the full immensity of these signs as a child, but by the simple fact of being native, there was a deeper sense of knowing. I often sit with myself now and ask, “What does it mean to be native?” For me the answer is tied up with an understanding that at some point, invaders arrived on the land of my ancestors and took over through any means necessary. Today we use words like colonization to sum up the before history of massacre, disease and religion, when really colonization is only possible after indigenous populations are left decimated, hanging onto the bare threads of survival. Assimilation is also a part of this process. Through the use of shaming the native or Indian out of populations, total control can be taken, as cultural identity is lost to the larger mass identity of nationalism.
A few years ago new language began to rapidly move around me in the islands. “Occupied by the American Military” was suddenly a way to understand the deeper ‘why’ behind Hawai`i as a state and the large military base that is on the island of Oahu. “The Overthrow” of the Hawaiian Kingdom became a focal piece of history as the general public started untying the knot between water issues, the shipping industry and our extreme dependence on food and other resources from the mainland. People started understanding their place in it all. The word settler, became commonplace as those non- Hawaiians accepted the actual history of the place they now inhabited. We were not Native Hawaiians, we were from somewhere else, but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t work together. As it was most recently explained to me, if you are not native to the land you are currently living on, then your responsibility is to support those who’s ancestors are of that land in their rightful fight for sovereignty. Part of this process is supporting the re-framing of what was once commonplace. I don’t write any of this in an act of shaming, but I do write in an act of honesty. Simply put from my perspective, the celebration of Canada Day and The Fourth of July are a celebration of continual land theft and most importantly, the celebration of Indigenous resiliency in the fight for survival against all odds.
I am aware that there are many other perspectives that one can bring to my viewpoint, but as our “democracy” unravels for all I am sure many more are beginning to feel into this loss of “independence” that native peoples have felt for hundreds of years. There are ways forward, and together, but they will not fit into our conventional sense of business as usual. As The United States takes pause to observe and remember false histories built upon slavery and war, I ask you to take a moment aside from the usual agenda as well. Ask yourself, who are the original caretakers of the land I live on and where are they today? How is their history wrapped up in the one that America is celebrating? And lastly, what do I want my place to be in it all? That might be the most important question, because against all desires of our government at hand, you still have a choice in how and where you bring your voice.
I’ve been watching dandelions spring up within my yard over the last months. At first there were just a few, lone yellow topped stalks that budded closed at night and wisped across the yard over the days, seeding the barren soil. Now they are everywhere, covering whole areas with their thick dark green leaves, I can’t help but look at them and think, “against all odds.” Dandelions are incredible. The plant itself is a token of resiliency, a reminder that even where seemingly nothing can regrow, there will be life again. When used medicinally to treat inflamed livers, they whisper, “this too will heal.” I decided that for these thoughts I wanted to sit with these plants as a way to provide healing for my own anger and pain. The prayer that wanted to come forward was one that asked for wholeness.
I collected petals that had fallen from their stems over the last week and began to weave them into the base of dandelions, re-forming them into a larger flower. I thought about how many of us are scattered from our true places of origin, how many of us hurting in our search for a place to call home. There is so much that cannot be rebuilt to replicate what was, but that does not mean re-building cannot happen. The reality is just that what will be born will look different than what was. I don’t think its wrong that it hurts to come to that realization, because it does hurt. In matters of reconciliation we ask, “What is possible?” Sometimes the answers seem futile, not enough for all the wrong that has been. But then I have to ask myself, “Will my anger feed me and those around me into further right action?” I know that it won’t. I know that the real injustice is to live my life out of anger and the only real possibility of reconciliation is to define my own healing.
This is my own prayer for healing from the roots up.