Note: This is part 3 of a larger webpage. The larger webpage is entitled "Dialogs with a racist -- Bringing to public awareness the explicit, enthusiastic, and unapologetic racism of Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a featured blogger on the public website of the largest circulation newspaper in Hawaii." To see that larger webpage, go to
The Hawaiian "N" Word: On Being "Native"
[Ethnic Hawaiians should be entitled to government handouts in proportion to their percentage of native blood quantum. "I support all Hawaiians, but I support Hawaiians with more blood quantum and more ancestors going first."]
Trisha Kehaulani Watson dialog started May 27, 2009
Honolulu Advertiser featured blog He Hawai'i Au
Original essay by Trisha Kehaulani Watson
When did the word "native" become such a complicated word?
Let's start at the beginning. In 1921, the US Congress passes the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. The purpose of this act is: "The Congress of the United States and the State of Hawaii declare that the policy of this Act is to enable native Hawaiians to return to their lands in order to fully support self-sufficiency for native Hawaiians and the self determination of native Hawaiians in the administration of this Act, and the preservation of the values, traditions, and culture of native Hawaiians." See
The act benefits "native Hawaiians," small "n" – those with a minimum of 50% blood quantum. (J. Kehaulani Keaunui recently wrote a wonderful book called Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigenity, in which she discusses the history of how the blood quantum rule developed and continues to create legal and social problems in the Hawaiian community. Dr. Kauanui is also the host of Indigenous Politics, which can be visited here.)
Conversely, "Native Hawaiians," big "N" – references any individual with Hawaiian ancestry. These individuals do not benefit from the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, but instead benefit from provisions in Article XII of the Hawai'i State Constitution, which identifies Native Hawaiian rights and creates the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who are referred to in the article as simply "Hawaiians".
The State of Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau has a couple of helpful papers on the subject of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands available here and here. You can also visit the DHHL website here or the OHA website here.
Koko (Blood) Counts
Okay, now for my two cents… and I emphasize that this is only my opinion. I may be wrong. Many will disagree with me. If our community comes to a consensus and the majority disagrees with me - I will defer to the community, but I hope above all else that this will begin a discussion among Hawaiians as to how we distribute our resources. I encourage you all to read Kauanui's book. I think she will disagree with what I write here. Yet, I hope that she would agree that Hawaiians need to have these conversations. We need to start to have these conversations and make these decisions for ourselves or others will surely continue to make them for us, and I find that unacceptable.
About me: My father is over 50% Hawaiian (both my paternal grandparents were Hawaiian) - native Hawaiian; my mother is not Hawaiian (she's full Portuguese) - haole. So I am less than 50% - Native Hawaiian. So I give this opinion as someone who isn't a "native" Hawaiian: I think those who are "native" should get priority for Hawaiian resources.
Koko counts. And those with more should get more.
There are many who are going to disagree with me. That's fine. I hope they speak out against what I write here. My mind can be changed, but right now, in my opinion, being Hawaiian isn't about race, it's about ancestry, and those with more blood quantum have also (generally) maintained stronger ancestral ties to Hawai'i. That matters to me.
Our ancestry counts. We should strongly reinforce the various ways in which traditional ancestral identity counted in pre-contact Hawai'i. I believe blood quantum is one way (of many) to do this. Blood quantum to me is not about race but about ancestry, geographic lineage, and national identity. So anyone with even one single ancestor who resided here prior to western contact is "Hawaiian" as far as I'm concerned.
Who our ancestors were matters: their mo'okū'auhau (family lines), their 'āina kūpuna (ancestral lands), their kapu (spiritual guidelines), their hana (work). It is who our ancestors were; it is who we are. I believe in ancestral knowledge. I believe we carry ka 'ike (the knowledge), ka hana (the skills), ka mana (the power), ka ikaika (the strength) of our ancestors within us. Our genealogy matters.
The reality is that many of us Hawaiians think about the necessity of preserving our bloodlines. This is the sad reality of people who are aware of the fact that we are truly threatened and endangered. I am afraid for my people. My boyfriend is 98% Hawaiian ("native" by definition); that matters to me. We talk about blood quantum. We compare our genealogies. I realize this will seem strange to some, but it is who we are. The most beautiful Hawaiian wedding I ever attended began with the couple chanting their genealogies. Our mo'okū'auhau are critical to our culture – this is why they were printed in our newspapers. It's why we tattoo them on our bodies. When you know your genealogy; you know yourself.
My kūpuna are my bedrocks and my guides. Being Hawaiian is so much more than just an element of my identity – it is the foundation of all my spiritual beliefs. Some people turn to God or Jesus. I turn to my Akua, my kūpuna, my 'aumākua. I kahea (call) to them when I am lost. I think of them constantly in my decisions. I ho'omana (honor) and mālama (care for) them in every way I can. My church is the land and the sea – all the things which feed us and nourish us.
Each ancestor is a thread which binds us to our past (our identities) and our land. When we weave those threads through the bonds of love for another person, we thicken and strengthen the cords that bind us to the land which gave birth all Hawaiians. Koko is not about the ounces of blood that run through our veins, but about the aka cords that bind us to the 'āina and to those who now guide us from Wao Akua (the realm of the Gods).
This is why the argument by those who say that Hawaiians are no different than other races which have been here multiple generations fails. Hawai'i is not your 'āina kūpuna (ancestral land). Only Hawaiians can trace their lineage back to Papahānaumoku and Wākea. We are literally the lineal descendants of this land. We are born with a spiritual obligation to care for this land, because the 'āina is Papahānaumoku – our earth mother. No other group is born with this responsibility. Yes, anyone can embrace it by choice (and I am so grateful to those who do), but Hawaiians conversely are spiritually and ancestrally bound to this responsibility. Granted, some Hawaiians fail in this responsibility. Many more do not. I do my best not to.
I love my non-Hawaiian relatives; it doesn't matter to me that they aren't Hawaiian. Similarly, I would never judge another person for who they chose to love. Yet, I have chosen to embrace the tremendous kuleana (responsibility) of caring for this land and being the living embodiment of my kūpuna. I am them. And all I do reflects upon them. As all I do reflects upon all my descendants who will come after me. And for all of them, those past and those present, I have an obligation to stand up for the Hawaiian values I have been taught and given and to strive each and every day to leave Hawai'i a more pono (balanced and sustainable) place.
So I believe those with more koko should have priority on opportunities because they were born with greater kuleana and carry greater responsibility. They have more Hawaiian ancestors to answer to. They are accountable to them and to our Hawai'i, our homeland. I also believe that while we, as Hawaiians, are entitled to our land and our resources, I also believe that we must be responsible with them. We have an obligation to take care of ourselves, our families, and to be good stewards of our land, our knowledges, and our culture. We are not always so. We must do a better job. For our children and for our land, we must do a better job. We must all call upon the strength of our glorious and loving ancestors and find our better selves.
I also believe that those who do not fulfill their kuleana should have those responsibilities and the benefits that come with them taken away. There are too many Hawaiians who work hard and continue to struggle to get by for us, as a community, to allow other Hawaiians to squander the opportunities they have been given – not when there are so many Hawaiians who long for those opportunities. Our ancestors were the most brilliant, industrious, innovative people in the world. Each Hawaiian carries this potential within him or her. We need only support each other in achieving this potential.
I do not believe simply in "Hawaiian rights," I believe that Hawaiians are entitled to opportunities to fulfill their "Hawaiian responsibilities."
For me, being Hawaiian isn't political. We have muddied it with politics. We have focused on political fights and on-going contention, because American jurisprudence and politics arrived here and twisted our identity. Most Hawaiians don't even know who they are anymore. American imperialism did that to us. It's not going to undo it. Only we can help ourselves. I want to give Hawaiians the opportunities to find themselves again, because we are incredible people! So we fight these battles because we must. I don't know a single Hawaiian who enjoys the political battles, but we fight them so that our culture may survive and so Hawaiians who struggle today can be given the opportunity to thrive tomorrow.
I do all of this so that my children and grandchildren may one day access their ancestral lands with ease. I want every Hawaiian to have the option to know and practice their culture. I want every Hawaiian to have the option to know and speak their native language. And this will come from strengthening our ties to our ancestors, and uniting with other Hawaiians to learn from their ancestors so that we can make the next generation even stronger than this one.
I support all Hawaiians, but I support Hawaiians with more blood quantum and more ancestors going first. I want every person on the Department of Hawaiian Homelands list to receive their land. As someone who's been on homestead a lot lately; I find it wonderful that there are entire communities of Hawaiians. They are true communities. It's beautiful. And I do hope that once we take care of everyone on the list; we will resolve our political problems such that all Hawaiians have the opportunities to live in such communities. I believe we should have that option. I believe in giving Hawaiians that choice. For as our culture and community continues to recover from the injustices that have been committed against us, I believe having communities where Hawaiians can find support and opportunities to learn from one another safe from the ugly prejudice that still lingers against us (although much less than in years past) will be a critical element in restoring peace and prosperity in Hawai'i for all of us.
Forgive me for my ignorance, but how is someone 98% Hawaiian?
Very thought-provoking and informative article. Thank you. As a haole I support the right of the indigenous Hawaiians to decide who is "Hawaiian" and to control all of these islands they settled. If that someday means I have to leave the 'aina I love then so be it, although my guess is that under a Hawaiian government respectful haoles would be welcomed. Your discussion of the importance of ancestral bloodlines was terrific; for the first time I got some grasp of it into my hard white (race and age!) head why it is so important to Hawaiians. I have to ask, though: isn't a person with 40% blood who has lived on and respected the land and carried the traditions and taught the keiki just as responsible, deserving and important to the cause as a person with 80% who left the islands to work in the american corporate world and never looked back? Blood can't be the only qualifier, can it?
by Ken Conklin:
Ms. Watson has given a clearly written exposition of what I call "Hawaiian religious fascism" It is a religious belief that anyone with a drop of Hawaiian native blood is part of a family consisting of the gods, these islands, and ethnic Hawaiians; that anyone who lacks a drop of the magic blood is forever outside that family; and that therefore ethnic Hawaiians are entitled to exercise racial supremacy in the political life of Hawaii and especially regarding land-use policy.
Today's activists sometimes make the startling statement that their claims for political power are not based on race, but genealogy. This is what they mean: ethnic Hawaiians are entitled by "natural law" (based on Kumulipo) to exercise sovereignty in Hawai'i. This is a religious belief used to assert a political right to racial supremacy in Hawai'i. That's why the correct name for it is Hawaiian religious fascism. It is just as dangerous for Hawaii as similar claims were in other places including South Africa under apartheid, Germany under Der Fuehrer, Italy under Mussolini, etc.
According to the most popular Hawaiian creation legend, as interpreted by the sovereignty activists, ethnic Hawaiians have an intimate, unbreakable connection to the land of Hawai'i that is not shared with others who lack native blood. The gods mated and gave birth to the Hawaiian islands as living beings, and then some plants, and then to the first Hawaiian. Thus the gods, the land, and the ethnic Hawaiians are all related as members of a family, and anyone lacking Hawaiian blood is not a member of this family and does not share the same rights and responsibilities. Hawai'i is the homeland of the ethnic Hawaiians, and everyone else is merely a guest. If that were true, then only people with Hawaiian ancestry (or subordinates they hire and supervise) should be allowed to make decisions about the way land is used in Hawai'i.
There are conflicting interpretations of the Hawaiian creation legend, regarding whether the family relationship with the land is only for ethnic Hawaiians or includes all mankind. But regardless of arguments over how to interpret Kumulipo, it is simply unacceptable for a thoroughly integrated multiracial society to allow one race to claim permanent legal and political supremacy. Whether that race is in the majority, as whites were in the Southern United States during slavery, or whether the superior race is in the minority as the whites were in South Africa under apartheid, racial supremacy is no longer acceptable today. Claims for racial or ethnic political supremacy have caused tremendous suffering within the past decade in Rwanda (Tutsi vs. Hutu), Zimbabwe (blacks evicting and sometimes killing white farmers with government approval), and Fiji (Fijians of Polynesian ancestry staging a political coup against a democratically elected government headed by Asian Indian descendants of sugar plantation workers who had been imported by the British several generations previously). The world will never forget the German Holocaust based on a theory of Aryan supremacy over the Jews.
I devoted Chapter 8 of my book to this topic. The book is available for free in the Hawaii Public Library system, and I hope lots of people will read it. Parts of the book are also available for free on the internet at
Additional topics flowing from Hawaiian religious fascism include claims that anyone with a drop of Hawaiian blood has a unique way of thinking that justifies their having a racially separate school system; and that only ethnic Hawaiians should have leadership positions in the revival of Polynesian voyaging.
There is no compromise possible on this issue. Are all humans fundamentally equal in the eyes of God(s), or are some people inherently superior to others with special rights to political power on account of their special relationship to God(s)? I reject what Ms. Watson wrote. I consider it blatantly racist. And I hope Hawaii's people will come to recognize the great danger of meekly tolerating assertions of a right to political power based on race. Everyone is entitled to believe whatever religious views they wish. Nobody is entitled to impose those beliefs on everyone else.
by Trisha Kehaulani Watson:
I'm going to respond to each of the comments one at a time:
Only one person in my boyfriend's family was ever not full Hawaiian. His great-great grandmother on his father's side married (and had children with) the son of a foreign diplomat. So when you do the math, he is technically 96.875% Hawaiian and 3.125% French. All his other ancestors are full Hawaiian. Hope this answers your question. Thanks!
Thank you for your comment. I'm glad the blog helps. You are absolutely right. Blood or ancestry cannot be the only factor, and I plan to get to that in future blogs. I didn't want to overload everyone with this one! Thank you again.
You just make me sad. There are so many people here, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian alike, who love this place and her people that I do not understand your obcession with attacking us. You say people should have religious freedom, but call me a facist for my religious beliefs. Doesn't that strike you as hypocritcal?
** Further reply by Ken
Ms. Watson writes:
"Ken, You just make me sad. There are so many people here, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian alike, who love this place and her people that I do not understand your obcession with attacking us. You say people should have religious freedom, but call me a facist for my religious beliefs. Doesn't that strike you as hypocritcal?"
Let me respond point by point:
First of all, I most definitely love this place and ALL her people. That's why I came here permanently following several summer vacations. I knew I would be a minority, and I relished the chance to support and participate in Hawaii's rainbow of cultures. I invested lots of time and effort learning Hawaiian language because of my love for the language and the people, and speak it more fluently than the vast majority of ethnic Hawaiians who have lived here all their lives. I'm not claiming to be an expert in the language, but I am claiming credit for my demonstrated love and respect. I have lived here for 17 years, and will stay here the remainder of my life and beyond. Hawaii is my hanai homeland. He Hawai'i au. (I guess my using that phrase to describe myself will make you angry. Too bad!)
I am most definitely NOT attacking ethnic Hawaiians. I am attacking only those few among them who choose to be champions for a racist belief-system and who support proposals for race-based political power.
Yes, I believe people should have religious freedom. That does not mean that someone who believes in human sacrifice should be able to carry out that belief. When you use a religious belief to demand political power based on race, you are indeed a religious fascist.
What saddens me is that you have been given the megaphone of a blog on the website of Hawaii's largest-circulation newspaper, where you freely spew your poison and receive the kudos of other like-minded people.
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