Sovereignty protests aim to educate
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JULY 3, 2000

In 1773, American colonists dressed up as Indians and dumped tea into the Boston Harbor, setting in motion a series of events that saw the birth of a nation.

On July 4 of this year, the rebirth of another nation will be commemorated at the historic harbor. Native Hawaiians adorned with ceremonial leis will stage their own version of the Boston Tea Party in an effort to bring national attention to their struggle for sovereignty.

But instead of dumping tea in the water, a group of 30 to 50 protesters will cast Hawaiian ti leaves into the harbor.

"I hope to educate the American public," said event organizer Butch Kekahu. "We have to focus on the facts and our integrity."

On Tuesday, Kekahu will hold a small ceremony as participants cast the leis made from ti leaves into the water. Kekahu brought the leis with him from Hawaii, which hold special significance not only for the event, but for Hawaiians in general.

Throughout history, Hawaiians have used ti leaves in a variety of practical ways: as ho'okupu, or gifts, as plates on which to eat food, as bandages. They also serve an important spiritual purpose and are planted at grave sites when a person dies.

Once they've grown, family members will take the plants and place them in the four corners of a house. The aumakua, or spirit, will then watch over the house and family members.

The spirit of Queen Liliuokalani might just be watching over Kekahu and other protesters this summer. Overthrown in 1893 by a group of businessmen supported by the American military, Liliuokalani traveled to Boston and then to Washington, DC, in 1897 to ask for help in recovering the monarchy.

Her pleas fell on deaf ears. In 1898, the United States annexed the islands of Hawaii.

Kekahu will be following in the Queen's footsteps, heading to Washington, DC, in August to hold Aloha March 2000. In 1998, a similar protest was held at the nation's capitol.

In 1993, President Clinton acknowledged the overthrow's illegality, something with Kekahu believes is an important recognition of Hawaii's sovereignty. He also marks the Rice v. Cayetano decision as an important event, despite its potentially devastating effect on Native Hawaiian rights.

"It has brought us together," said Kekahu. "Our nation is just like a family."

The Supreme Court earlier this year struck down an election which restricted voting privileges to Native Hawaiians. Unlike similar challenges to Indian preference laws, the Supreme Court ruled the election was based on race and therefore illegal.

Kekahu will hold on the history of the Hawaiian nation today at the New Federal Building in Boston at 1PM. Tuesday's protest will begin at 12:45PM at Boston's South Station, where participants will gather before marching to the Boston Harbor.

Relevant Links:
Aloha March 2000:
The Ti Plant, by the Nation of Hawaii:
The Nation of Hawaii:
More on Rice v. Cayetano:
News, history, and more, by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
Hawaii's Last Queen, by PBS: