(Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series discussing recent legal and political challenges to the Kamehameha Schools and other institutions designed to benefit the native Hawaiian people. Read parts 2 and 3.)
Last Thursday my alma mater, Kamehameha Schools, was sued by “an unidentified non-Hawaiian student.” The school was founded by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of Kamehameha I, via a trust established by her will.
The results of this lawsuit will have lasting and profound implications for every native Hawaiian and Hawai’i resident alike.
Kamehameha Schools (PDF) is the single largest landowner in Hawai’i and the largest independent school in the United States. Since its founding in 1887, Kamehameha Schools has always had an admissions policy that gives preference to students of Hawaiian ancestry in some way; recently, after major controversy surrounding the admission of a non-Hawaiian, the board of trustees decided to alter the long-standing policy of “Hawaiians first” to “Hawaiians only.”
I’m hurt and frustrated by the anonymous petitioner’s attempt to destroy Kamehameha’s mission – much more than I expected to be. I rarely identify with my Hawaiian heritage, and I’ve always looked with contempt upon Hawaiian activists who refuse to acknowledge the good that has come from being a U.S. state, even though there is much that is bad. Maybe, the hurt is because Kamehameha Schools is a major benefit to the Hawaiian people, and (the educational side, at least) has no agenda to advance. Maybe, the hurt is because attorney John W. Goemans seems to be concerned with nothing but devastating the Hawaiian people, none of whom have done anything to him that I’m aware of, and/or lining his pockets with fees collected from trials designed to generate media fame. (Goemans has been reported as saying that Hawaiians should not be considered an indigenous people “because they lack a common language or religion” – points I and many others would contend. Besides, do United States citizens share a single common language or religion?)
The intent of Pauahi was not to discriminate unfairly against non-Hawaiians, but rather to provide her people, who were quickly becoming extinct, with the ability to live on equal footing with the people who were so drastically changing Hawai’i. Her foresight was remarkable – Kamehameha Schools admitted its first students only six years before the kingdom of Hawai’i was illegally overthrown by U.S. forces in 1893.
Tomorrow: The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, and current legal battles.