A Unique Challenge for US Indigenous Rights: How the Fact That Sovereign Hawaii Was a Complex State Society Affects Its Indigenous Movement

Lantz Fleming Miller


Of all indigenous rights movements in the fifty states, that in Hawaii poses a unique situation in many ways in terms of rights to territory (Sai 2008). For one matter, it is the only state in which the extent of the native lands is contiguous with state borders. In California, there are traditionally hundreds of tribes (most now forcibly assimilated or eradicated) within state borders (Feit 1999). In contrast, a nation such as that of the Choctaw extended across state borders (Galloway 1995). Other contrasts of situation between the indigenous-rights movements in Hawaii compared with the others include the historical processes by which the native lands were seized by the dominant government or its citizens and, most important, the fact that Hawaii was a single complex state society at the time of that seizure. While the indigenous Hawaiian rights movement (IHRM) historical claims and economic encroachment upon the lands, its unique historical, cultural, and geographical status offers an opportunity whose full exposition may work to the movements advantage against this redoubt.

In this paper, I survey the character of Hawaii s original complex-state society status in terms of indigenous peoples rights campaigns, with the aim of analyzing how it may affect the IHRM, albeit a divided movement, in its aims for some degree of autonomy for the Hawaiian people.

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