Native Hawaiians

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In April of 1990, Daniel K. Akaka became the first native Hawaiian and Chinese American to serve in the United States Congress as a Senator from the State of Hawaii. After having completed the unexpired term of the late U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, Akaka was elected in 1994 and re-elected in 2000.

Native Hawaiians (in Hawaiian, kanaka ‘oiwi or kanaka māoli) are the indigenous Polynesian peoples of the Hawaiian Islands who trace their ancestry back to antiquity before the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report for 2000, there are 476,000 people who identified themselves as being native Hawaiian, part native Hawaiian and mixed native Hawaiian. Most native Hawaiians are residents of the United States in California, the State of Hawaii, Nevada and Washington. Two-thirds live in the State of Hawaii while the other one-third is split among mainland states. Almost half of the mainland share of the population is in California.


Native Hawaiian Subgroups

Identifying and classifying native Hawaiian subgroups has become a delicate issue among native Hawaiians. Different government agencies have different methods of classifying native Hawaiians. [1] ( However, it is widely accepted that such classifications are necessary to facilitate laws, trusts and wills governing native Hawaiian programs. For example, programs administered by the Hawai‘i State Department of Hawaiian Homelands are legally bound by trusts to provide services only to Hawaiians claiming over 50% ancestry dating back to antiquity.

According to the Hawaii Revised Statutes, section 10-2 (, Hawaiians are defined as:

any descendant of the aboriginal peoples inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands which exercised sovereignty and subsisted in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and which peoples thereafter have continued to reside in Hawaii.

Within this definition, Hawaiians are sub-classified into two major groups: native Hawaiians consist of the population who claim over 50% ancestry dating back to antiquity. Also, there are part Hawaiians who claim less than 50% of ancestry dating back to antiquity.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also differentiates between:

  • "Native Hawaiian" (capitalized, referring to any person of Hawaiian ancestry regardless of blood quantum) and
  • "native Hawaiian" (uncapitalized, referring to a Hawaiian with at least 50% blood quantum).[2] (

In general usage, however, this distinction is often ignored, with both capitalizations being used to describe the native Hawaiian population as a whole regardless of bloodline.


At the time of Captain Cook's arrival, native Hawaiians numbered over 800,000. Over the span of the first century after first contact, native Hawaiians declined in population by 80%, dying from diseases introduced to the islands. Native Hawaiians did not have immunity to influenza, measles, and whooping cough, among others. From 1890 to 1920, native Hawaiians held a steady number of only 40,000. A short period of population growth occurred before the 1930s and then glided into a steady decline through the present day.

An Office of Hawaiian Affairs survey in 1984 reported that 61% of Native Hawaiians had less than 50% native Hawaiian blood. That same report indicated that only 8,244 pure blood native Hawaiians existed out of the 208,476 total native Hawaiians surveyed.


Native Hawaiians are fluent in the English language as a result of over a century of forced westernization. They also speak the native Hawaiian language of antiquity and Hawaiian Pidgin developed during Hawai‘i's plantation era in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Hawaiian language was revived most recently by a state program of cultural preservation enacted in 1978. Programs included the opening of Hawaiian language immersion schools and the establishment of a Hawaiian language department at the University of Hawaii Manoa. As a result, Hawaiian language use has climbed.


An overwhelming majority of native Hawaiians are educated by the Hawai‘i State Department of Education, the largest and most centralized of the United States educational system. Hawai‘i is the only state without local community control of schools. Under the administration of Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano (D-HI) from 1994 to 2002, the state's educational system established special Hawaiian immersion schools. In these schools, all subject courses are taught in the Hawaiian language and use native Hawaiian subject matter in curricula. These schools were created in the spirit of cultural preservation.

A sizeable number of native Hawaiians are educated by the Kamehameha Schools, established through the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last princess and heir of the Kamehameha Dynasty. The largest and wealthiest private school in the United States, Kamehameha Schools was intended to teach only native Hawaiian children through all the grade levels. Bishop feared that the education of native Hawaiians would be in jeopardy under the American government. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kamehameha Schools faced several high profile legal battles where whites sued to be admitted to the school calling the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop a racist document. Jurists have often sided with the last will and testament citing special circumstances that merit the race restrictions.

Another sizeable number of native Hawaiians are educated by the most prominent private academies in Hawai‘i. They include: Punahou School (formerly the Royal School which educated Hawai‘i's royal families), and Iolani School which was established by Anglican missionaries.

Culture & Arts

Native Hawaiians and community allies have established several cultural preservation societies and organizations over the course of the twentieth century. The largest of those institutions is the Hawai‘i State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, established in 1988 and is administered by the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. It houses the largest collection of native Hawaiian artifacts, documents and other information available for educational use. Most are held for preservation alone. The repository has established links with all the major colleges and universities throughout the world to facilitate research.


Major Native Hawaiian Celebrations
Date Name Island
January 17 Day of Mourning for the Overthrow in 1898 statewide
March 26 Prince Kuhio Day statewide
March Kamehameha Schools Song Competition Oahu
March to April Merrie Monarch Hula Festival Big Island
April 15 Father Damien Day statewide
May 1 Lei Day statewide
June 11 King Kamehameha Day statewide
June King Kamehameha Hula Festival Oahu
July Hawaiian Cultural Festival Big Island
July Prince Lot Hula Festival Oahu
September 2 Queen Lili‘uokalani Day statewide
September to October Aloha Festivals statewide


The history of native Hawaiians and of Hawai‘i in general are classified into four major periods: antiquity, monarchy, colonial and statehood. Click on the following links to read relevant historical articles covering native Hawaiians:

Hawaiiana Revival

Native Hawaiian culture saw a revival in recent years as an outgrowth of decisions made at the 1978 Hawai‘i State Constitutional Convention, held exactly 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook. At the convention, the Hawai‘i state government committed itself to a progressive study and preservation of native Hawaiian culture, history and language.

A comprehensive Hawaiian culture curriculum was introduced into the State of Hawaii's public elementary schools teaching: ancient Hawaiian art, lifestyle, geography, hula and Hawaiian language vocabulary. Intermediate and high schools were mandated to impose two sets of Hawaiian history curricula on every candidate for graduation.

Statutes and charter amendments were passed acknowledging a policy of preference for Hawaiian place and street names. For example, with the closure of Barbers Point Naval Air Station in the 1990s, the region formerly occupied by the base was renamed Kalaeloa.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)

Another important outgrowth of the 1978 Hawai‘i State Constitutional Convention was the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more popularly known as OHA. Delegates that included future Hawai'i political stars Benjamin J. Cayetano, John D. Waihee III and Jeremy Harris were compelled to create measures that would right the injustices imposed on native Hawaiians since the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. OHA was established as a trust, administered with a mandate to better the conditions of both native Hawaiians and the Hawaiian community in general. OHA was given control over certain lands returned to them, originally taken away with the establishment of the Territory of Hawaii in 1898. They still wait today for the return of other lands promised to them by both the federal and state governments.

OHA is a semi-autonomous government body administered by a nine-member board of trustees, elected by the people of the State of Hawaii through popular suffrage. Originally, trustees and the people eligible to vote for trustees were restricted to native Hawaiians. Rice V. Cayetano reached the United States Supreme Court suing the Cayetano Administration to allow non-Hawaiians to sit on the board of trustees and for non-Hawaiians to be allowed to vote in trustee elections. Justices ruled in favor of Rice on 23 February 2000 forcing OHA to open its elections to all residents of the State of Hawaii regardless of ethnicity.

Federal Developments

Native American Programs Act

In 1974, the Native American Programs Act was amended to include native Hawaiians as a category of indigenous people of the United States. This paved the way for native Hawaiians to become eligible for some, but not all, federal assistance programs originally meant for Native Americans. In order to become eligible for all such programs, further legislation is currently needed.

United States Apology Resolution

On 23 November 1993, U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton signed United States Public Law 103-150 also known as the Apology Resolution. It had been passed by Congress only weeks earlier. The document officially apologized on behalf of the United States government for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and the use of American troops against Queen Lili‘uokalani.

Akaka Bill

In the early 2000s, the Congressional delegation of the State of Hawaii introduced the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill named after U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI). The Akaka Bill would establish a political and legal relationship between native Hawaiian entities and the federal government.


In 1996, native Hawaiians throughout the United States held a plebiscite and voted in favor of creating an interim native Hawaiian government. The vote now allows native Hawaiians to covene a constitutional convention to draft laws establishing their independent authority.

Notable Native Hawaiians

See also

Further Reading

External links


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