Poka Laenui’s involvement in the work of the WCiP

Adam Manalo Keawe Camp asked me several questions dealing with my involvement in the drafting of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Believing that the topic is one of general interest, I share my response with you.

1. What was your role in the drafting process of UNDRIP?
I first became involved in this United Nations process in about 1983 as the elected Vice President of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. The pathway for me to get there was a result of my search for an international body which could examine the decolonization of Hawaii, looking at this matter from an international legal rather than an American colonial process. I had been elected to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1982 representing the Oahu seat under a platform of using the office as a steppingstone to forward our right to independence. Once taking office, I made it very well known at OHA that I would seek avenues beyond the Hawaii State or the U.S. government’s jurisdiction for decolonization. T.C. Yim, Executive Director of OHA saw a magazine article about a regional meeting of the Pacific region being called in Australia. Upon inquiry, I was able to secure an invitation for myself, Rod Burgess (trustee) and Francis Kauhane, OHA Staff, to attend this conference. This was our first introduction to such a regional conference of indigenous peoples. I was able to present Hawaii’s story.
From this Australian gathering of the Pacific region of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), a second gathering was scheduled in which the full WCIP would gather, including all 5 of its regional organizations (N. America, Central America, South America, Scandinavia, and the Pacific). I attended that gathering held in Panama City, Panama. The Hawaii delegation included Rod Burgess, Francis Kauhane, Uncle Harry Mitchell, and myself. At that gathering, I had the opportunity to present the Hawaii case for decolonization to the general body. I also participated in the drafting and review of the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the WCIP and after elections of the Executive Officers of the organization, found myself elected as the English Speaking Vice President for the WCIP, which had a Spanish speaking Vice President and a President. I was subsequently appointed as the political spokesperson for the WCIP to attend the UN’s Working Group on the Drafting of the Rights of Indigenous Populations. The name was later changed from “Populations” to “Peoples.”
The UN working group met over several years with essentially two agenda items, the first to review relevant events affecting indigenous peoples of the world and second, to begin drafting a declaration of the rights of indigenous people. As to the second item, I was put in charge of submitting proposals and debate on submitted proposals from governments, non-governmental organizations, and indigenous peoples and organizations. I also saw as my responsibility, to organize and assist in submitting interventions from other indigenous peoples, often members of the WCIP, but also to bring in other indigenous peoples from the Pacific and Asia, many of whom were not aware of the process occurring at the U.N. One result was the formation of the Pacific Asia Council of Indigenous Peoples, formed here in Hawaii which included people from India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Philippines, Burma, Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Tahiti, Kanaky, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Hawaii. Madame Erica Dias, Chairperson of the UNWGIP, was also in attendance at this Hawaii meeting.
In this capacity, I assisted in the drafting and at times, the presentation of interventions on behalf of indigenous peoples who were unable or too afraid of making their own presentations for fear of repercussions back in their homeland. Some of these people were involved in wars in their homeland. Copies of such presentations should be maintained by IWGIA operating out of Geneva, Switzerland.

2. Were there other Kānaka Maoli who participated in this process that we should recognize?
The first person I am aware of who participated in this process as well as in the WCIP was Kawaipuna Prejean who attended the first UN WGIP as well as the organizing meeting of the WCIP in Canada. After my initial attendance at the WGIP, others from Hawaii also attended, some with me and others via other organizations. Carl `Imiola Young, Marsha Joyner, and Ululani Beirne accompanied me in my early travels. Mona Bernardino worked with the UN staff as well. Ka Lahui Hawaii also sent individuals from that organization in the later years. Other organizations were also present.

3. How is UNDRIP relevant to Kānaka Maoli today?
The United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples is relevant to the Kanaka Maoli as an international statement of rights. It is beyond the colonial statement of a country which attempts to define the indigenous peoples they find residing within their claimed territories. It needs to be clearly understood that the defined rights of indigenous peoples within a colonial state is merely the domestic law of that state which continues in that international crime of colonialism.
Especially in the case history of Hawaii, the assertion of Native Hawaiian rights is only as strong as the legitimacy of the U.S. assertion of jurisdiction over the Native Hawaiian people and the territory of Hawaii. But a study of the aggression of the United States against the Hawaiian nation, juxtaposed against the rights of the Native Hawaiian people, will bring new light to the situation of the Native Hawaiians.
Beyond the indigenous question, UNDRIP would raise the essential question of the continued colonization of Hawaii, once an audience is made aware of the history of Hawaii from an international perspective.

4. Being that UNDRIP is non-binding and that the US is not a signator but supports it, how could UNDRIP help with asserting Kānaka Maoli rights under the State of Hawai’i?
UNDRIP should be held up as a minimum international standard by which indigenous peoples rights should be regarded. While these described rights cannot be considered mandatory, arguments can certainly be made for their persuasive international importance, as a matter of human rights of indigenous peoples. These rights should also be understood and used by those arguing for indigenous peoples. The only thing that separates these rights from their application to the Kanaka Maoli is the theft of the Hawaiian nation by the United States. There is no other legitimacy in law or logic for the State of Hawaii to use its power over Hawaii.
5. What are the key points of UNDRIP that you feel Kānaka Maoli should know? All of it is important. The situations will define what is relevant at the time. The whole document should be studied and determined what is applicable.

6. How are indigenous peoples defined under UNDRIP and do Kānaka Maoli fit that criteria?
It depends on how one defines Kanaka Maoli. If it is defined as the indigenous race or people of Hawaii, the Kanaka Maoli would fit the definition.
If it is defined as an individual who is true, civil, pono, upright, . . ., that definition would be much broader than just an indigenous person.
The international standard used in the UNDRIP is that an indigenous person is one whose people pre-existed the people who today govern the territory over which is the subject of the declaration. That’s a pretty messy definition, unsatisfactory in many instances.

The UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and its resulting Declaration must be understood as a process and as a product. The many years of drafting of the document first reviewed the conditions of the indigenous peoples around the world, drawing them into Geneva, Switzerland,, to see and hear of their plights. This became a major introduction of the indigenous people from around the world to the international venues, and to Europe of the indigenous peoples. It became an opportunity for exposure, especially of indigenous peoples, their histories, cultures, and conditions to the world.
The UN declaration is the product which stands as a minimum standard of what the rights should be of the world’s indigenous peoples. While it is not binding on nations, it stands as a statement of such rights to which indigenous and colonial governments can look to as a fundamental standard.
Poka Laenui, Former political spokesperson

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