Hawaii Government Demands Cartoon be Censored

Does free speech exist in Hawaii?

A government department of the State of Hawaii is demanding the retraction of a political cartoon published Jan. 18 on the satirical web site http://www.zeroshibai.com/ and reprinted Jan. 21 on http://www.hawaiireporter.com/ The demands come in response to images and text ridiculing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' Kau Inoa campaign as "Cow Inoa."  Kau Inoa, Hawaiian for "place your name" is building a roll of Hawaiians to participate in a Hawaiian tribal government.  Haunani Apoliona, writing in her capacity as "Chairperson, Board of Trustees, Office of Hawaiian Affairs" (OHA) in a Jan. 24 statement demands: "The cartoon should be pulled and the secret author publicly identified."  OHA's backers are calling and emailing businesses demanding they pull their ads from HawaiiReporter. 

Apoliona -- and OHA -- apparently believe the First Amendment has been repealed and government now has the right to censor local media. The saving grace is OHA's inability to enforce this demand.  OHA is a Department of the State of Hawaii created by a 1978 amendment to the State Constitution and funded by legislative appropriation.  It has an elected Board of Trustees not subject to appointment by the state's Republican Governor or Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Apoliona's response to the cartoon indicates she is speaking in her capacity as OHA Chair, not as a private citizen. In addition to signing the letter with her government title, and sending it to Hawaii Reporter from her OHA email address, Apoliona's statements indicating she is speaking as a representative of her department include:

  • "OHA and all those raised in Hawaii don't find it funny at all."
  • "The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will continue to fight to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians."
In addition, a local Honolulu KGMB-TV reporter and videographer seeking comment on the cartoon controversy Jan. 24 received a response not from Apoliona but from Crystal Kua, Director of Communications for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Disturbingly, Kua also indicates that OHA believes it can determine what is and is not a "legitimate" news organization. KGMB reports:

The co-founder of the online newspaper Hawaii Reporter says the cartoon was sent in from another Web site, and in keeping with the newspaper's policy, it published the piece.

"That's been our policy since day one when we opened six years ago, as long as it's clear and not libelous. That's our policy. We wanna let people express their views and get a debate going in the community," said Malia Zimmerman, co-founder of Hawaii Reporter.

"If she just decides to throw everything out there without any kind sensitivity then she's not a legitimate news organization," responded Kua.

OHA is working day and night to get out from under the Bill of Rights and gain the power of censorship by winning enactment of the Akaka Bill.  The Akaka Bill, which would create a sovereign Hawaiian "tribal" government, was first offered by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in 2000 immediately on the heels of the Broken Trust scandal.  Its latest incarnation, HR 505 passed the US House on October 24, 2007.  The Senate version, S310 is still pending a vote of the full Senate.  President Bush has pledged to veto the bill.  Senators and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) have all supported the Akaka Bill in the Senate.

CORRECTION:  Senator McCain in a June, 2006 statement inserted into the Congressional Record explained that he voted on March 9, 2005, as Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, to bring the Akaka Bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote because, “The sponsors reached an agreement in the 108th Congress that they would be afforded an opportunity to bring the bill to the Senate floor during this Congress.”

McCain then added, “I would like the record to reflect clearly, though, that I am unequivocally opposed to this bill and that I will not support its passage should cloture be invoked.…I commit to the Senators and the Governor that I remain willing to work with them to address the fundamental legal concerns facing their State. I also recognize the efforts made by Senator Akaka to address some of the criticisms that have been leveled at this legislation. However, I still have a number of significant concerns with this measure.  Foremost among these concerns is that, if enacted, S . 147 would result in the formation of a sovereign government for Native Hawaiian people. I am sure that the sponsors have good intentions, but I cannot turn away from the fact that this bill would lead to the crea tion of a new nation based exclusively -- not primarily, not in part, but exclusively -- on race.”

OHA's attitude should be a sharp warning to Native Hawaiians. Indian reservations are -- by law -- often places where constitutional rights do not apply. OHA is already showing just what kind of dictatorial powers it would like to exercise over Native Hawaiians on a post-Akaka-Bill Hawaiian Indian reservation.

In a 2001 series "Broken Trust: Civil Rights in Indian Country", a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio observes:

"Press freedom is a constitutional guarantee for most American journalists. But many who work on Indian reservations do not enjoy the same freedom, because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not apply to them. Their protection comes from the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, which guarantees free speech. But it leaves the enforcement to tribal governments that own most reservation media outlets."

Tribal governments can also give corrupt trustees substantial protection against legal oversight by State or Federal authorities.  

Apoliona complains:

"This cartoon is an openly racial slur, a display of a ‘small mind.'" She adds: "This cartoon is merely a racist piece of propaganda." Speaking to  KGMB Crystal Kua complains,

"It doesn't even have anything to do with Kau Inoa. There's no political connection to that whatsoever. They just think it's funny to go ahead and poke fun at Hawaiians."

Which is it: "poke fun" or a "racial slur"? There are dozens of local comedians who "poke fun at Hawaiians." Shall they be subject to OHA censorship? Will they be banned from performing at the resorts located on OHA land leases along Hilo's Banyan drive? The OHA Trustees give every indication they will be just so petty. In 2005 the late OHA Trustee Linda DeLa Cruz ordered removal of a roadside memorial to a Hilo hit-and-run victim because it was "not Hawaiian style."

Readers can decide for themselves what they think of the cartoon. One comment sent to Zero Shibai editors calls the cartoon "insensitive and more than extremely racial." One Hawaii Reporter reader pledges to protest racism by refusing service to "haole" (white) customers at his auto repair business. Others express support for the cartoon and blame OHA for fostering the racial hatreds Apoliona purports to decry.

"Political Correctness" is an ideological weapon of censorship used by OHA. As Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, explains to KGMB,

"Everybody is really afraid to speak up and investigate or look into the Office of Hawaiian Affairs because they're afraid they'll be labeled a racist."

Racism, real or imagined, is just an excuse for OHA. Apoliona gets right to the nub of the real issue complaining:

"While pretending to be a news site with selected placements of respectable columns and letters, Hawaii Reporter leaves a long trail of smears against all things that don't fit its partner, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. One of the key missions of the Grassroot Institute is to kill the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which seeks to protect programs for Native Hawaiians."

Because land and power in Hawaii are concentrated in the hands of a small elite tied to the multi-billion dollar Hawaiian institutions pushing for the Akaka Bill, HawaiiReporter is one of the few places where anti-Akaka Bill opinion is published.  In the entire state only one or two elected officials openly oppose the Akaka Bill.  In a state of only 1.2 million people, HawaiiReporter gets about 1 million hits a month. 

Apparently "one of the key missions" of the State of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, is to suppress any and all Hawaii-based opposition to the Akaka Bill and any news outlet willing to publish anti-Akaka Bill opinions. This is a problem inherent in having a government department given the mission of advocating changes in law. Government is supposed to defend freedom, not restrict free speech in furtherance of a political agenda.

Apoliona's attitude is expressed when she would normally be expected to be on her best behavior -- before assumption of any new "sovereign" powers. This is a sign that a post-Akaka-Bill "Trustee" government would seek to impose dictatorial controls over those Hawaiians unfortunate enough to become its subjects. This may seem far-fetched to some, but they would do well to take a look at Hawaii's future by informing themselves of the reality in Indian Country.

OHA's attack on free speech should be alarming to all Americans, native Hawaiians most of all.
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