Update 2011 - Hawai'i

Ka Pae Aina o Hawaii (the Hawaiian Archipelago) is made up of 137 islands, reefs and shoals, stretching 1,523 miles south-east to north-west and consisting of a total land area of approximately 6,425 square miles. Kanaka Maoli, the indigenous people of Ka Pae Aina o Hawaii, represent approximately 20% of the total population of 1.2 million.

In 1893, the Government of Hawaii, led by Queen Liliuokalani, was illegally overthrown and a Provisional Government formed without the consent of Kanaka Maoli and in violation of treaties and international law. Since 1959, Hawaii has been a state of the USA.

Kanaka Maoli continue to struggle and suffer from the wrongs that were done in the past and continue today. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples guides the actions and aspirations of the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, together with local declarations such as the Palapala Paoakalani. 1

awai’i has faced many waves of colonization over the centuries. In November 2011, thousands of CEOs and 20 heads of state came thundering onto the shores of Honolulu to focus on profit and trade in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The APEC summit was a rare opportunity to connect indigenous peoples in Oceania. Kanaka Maoli spearheaded a substantive movement uniting indigenous peoples from across the region of Oceania under Moana Nui, a coalition of sovereignty advocates, local activists and academics offering an indigenous paradigm for development based on Pacific cultural values and not commodification.

The Moana Nui conference and campaign allowed the ohana (family) of Oceania to unite. Maori from Aotearoa (NZ), Maohi from Tahiti and Rapa Nui spoke together about the challenges facing Polynesians since colonization and common challenges today, including militarization. The circle of indigenous peoples also included the Aboriginals of Australia, First Nations of Canada, Ainu from Japan, people from the Cordillera in the Philippines and Khmer Krom from Vietnam.

Before the heads of state arrived and security gated off Waikiki from the world, homeless Kanaka Maoli were rounded up by police and moved far away from Waikiki to the ends of the island.

While the APEC agenda divided citizens and denied access, Moana Nui focused on inclusion and interconnectedness. Jon Osorio, a sovereignty leader, professor and musician, welcomed the indigenous leaders thus: “This is not a conference of the native only, but companions and allies that have joined in our work and commitment to restore EA (breath, sovereignty) to the islands in this great sea.”

The Moana Nui Summit aimed to move beyond talking and towards sharing talent and techniques in order to imagine and initiate a new era of engagement among indigenous peoples of Oceania. As Jon Osorio said: “Imagining all of you here inspired all of us. It is our birth right, kuleana, to our islands and the sea. This isn’t a conference for the faint hearted. It will chart a path, we will talk together to end alienation of our lands and ourselves.”

With regard to the companies and countries meeting at APEC Osorio pointed out, “They know nothing about our knowledge of the ocean and care even less.”

Waldon Bello, a member of Congress in the Philippines’ House of Representatives and author, noted, “APEC has been silent for the region’s first peoples. Environmental crisis is also significant. When it comes to climate change and deforestation, APEC has been useless.” (…) “APEC is obsolete and irrelevant. Let’s build a relevant body for our transpacific community.”

Bello concluded, “The concerns of indigenous peoples must be addressed but networks should be pushed with a transpacific basis. The future lies in sustainable economies that are non-globalized. We have to have economies that respond to local dynamics instead of being subordinated to global trends.”

The spirit of self-determination was at the core of the conference. The principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a common thread throughout the five panels and continued into conversations. Mililani Trask, long-time Kanaka Maoli activist, claimed:

We are the ones winning this struggle. We have not vanished. We are here because we are resilient. We will persevere.”  (...)“We are all survivors of genocide. We have to continue to survive and then save the entire world. The aina (land) is what nourishes us. We are cosmic people. We are all united. We have to listen to our ancestors and practice our culture. It will bring serenity and sanity back to our earth. We have an imagination that predates global capitalism; we can see the way forward.

The Moana Nui conference did not end with a summary session. Instead, the Moana Nui Declaration that emerged from the summit was read in the streets in protest and resistance. The topics of indigenous resources, lands and economies; native rights and governance; demilitarization and indigenous developments provided an indigenous way forward for the world from Hawaii. The Moana Nui Declaration proudly claims:

We, the peoples of moana nui, connected by the currents of our ocean home, declare that we will not cooperate with the commodification of life and land as represented by APEC’s predatory capitalistic practices, distorted information and secret trade negotiations and agreements. We invoke our rights to free, prior and informed consent. We choose cooperative trans-Pacific dialogue, action, advocacy and solidarity between and amongst the peoples of the Pacific, rooted in traditional cultural practices and wisdom. E mau ke ea

o ka aina i ka pono. A mama. Ua noa.

Next year, APEC will be hosted in Vladivostok and Kanaka Maoli hope that a parallel indigenous peoples’ summit will continue to be organized. There are many associations in Russia that can continue this tradition of Moana Nui commenced by the traditional peoples of the Pacific along with the International Forum on Globalization.



1 The Paoakalani Declaration <http://kaahapono.com/PaoakalaniDeclaration05.pdf>.


Joshua Cooper is a lecturer at the University of Hawaii teaching classes in Political Science & Journalism focusing on International Human Rights Law, Nonviolent Social Movements, Ecological Justice in Oceania and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Cooper is also director of the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights and Oceania HR.


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