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Native Hawaiians

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Native Hawaiians
Kānaka Maoli, Hawaiʻi Maoli
Total population
527,077 (2010 census)[1]
156,456 (Native Hawaiian alone)[2]
Regions with significant populations
United States527,077
New Zealand429[4]
Related ethnic groups
Pacific Islander Americans, Tahitians, other Polynesians

Native Hawaiians (also known as Indigenous Hawaiians, Kānaka Maoli, Aboriginal Hawaiians, or simply Hawaiians; Hawaiian: kānaka, kānaka ʻōiwi, Kānaka Maoli, and Hawaiʻi maoli) are the Indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii was settled at least 800 years ago by Polynesians who sailed from the Society Islands. The settlers gradually became detached from their homeland and developed a distinct Hawaiian culture and identity in their new home. They created new religious and cultural structures, in response to their new circumstances and to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. Hence, the Hawaiian religion focuses on ways to live and relate to the land and instills a sense of community.

The Hawaiian Kingdom was formed in 1795, when Kamehameha the Great, of the then-independent island of Hawaiʻi, conquered the independent islands of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi to form the kingdom. In 1810, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau joined the Kingdom, the last inhabited islands to do so. The Kingdom received many immigrants from the United States and Asia. The Hawaiian sovereignty movement seeks autonomy or independence for Hawaii.

In the 2010 U.S. census, people with Native Hawaiian ancestry were reported to be residents in all 50 of the U.S. States, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.[1] Within the U.S. in 2010 540,013 residents reported Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander ancestry alone, of which 135,422 lived in Hawaii.[1] In the United States overall, 1.2 million people identified as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, either alone or in combination with one or more other races.[1] The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population was one of the fastest-growing groups between 2000 and 2010.[1]


King Kamehameha II

The history of Kānaka Maoli, like the history of Hawaii, is commonly broken into four major periods:


One theory is that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii in the 3rd century from the Marquesas by travelling in groups of waka, and were followed by Tahitians in AD 1300, who conquered the original inhabitants. Another is that a single, extended period of settlement populated the islands.[5] Evidence for Tahitian conquest include the legends of Hawaiʻiloa and the navigator-priest Paʻao, who is said to have made a voyage between Hawaii and the island of "Kahiki" (Tahiti) and introduced many customs. Early historians, such as Abraham Fornander and Martha Beckwith, subscribed to this Tahitian invasion theory, but later historians, such as Patrick Kirch, do not mention it. King Kalākaua claimed that Paʻao was from Samoa.

Some writers claim that earlier settlers in Hawaiʻi were forced into remote valleys by newer arrivals. They claim that stories about the Menehune, little people who built heiau and fishponds, prove the existence of ancient peoples who settled the islands before the Hawaiians, although similar stories exist throughout Polynesia.[6]


Hawaiians performing a Hula

At the time of Captain Cook's arrival in 1778, the population is estimated to have been between 250,000 and 800,000. This was the peak of the Native Hawaiian population. During the first century after contact, Kānaka Maoli were nearly wiped out by diseases brought by immigrants and visitors. Kānaka Maoli had no resistance to influenza, smallpox, measles, or whooping cough, among others. These diseases were similarly catastrophic to indigenous populations in the Americas.

The current 293,000 include dual lineage Native Hawaiian and mixed lineage/multi-racial people. This was the highest number of any Kānaka Maoli living on the island until 2014, a period of almost 226 years. This long spread was marked by an initial die-off of 1-in-17, which would gradually increase to almost 8–10 dying from contact to the low point in 1950.

The 1900 U.S. census identified 37,656 residents of full or partial Native Hawaiian ancestry. The 2000 U.S. census identified 283,430 residents of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry, showing a steady growth trend over the century.


Some Hawaiians left the islands during the period of the Hawaiian Kingdom. For example, Harry Maitey became the first Hawaiian in Prussia.

The Native Hawaiian population has increased outside the state of Hawaii, with states such as California and Washington experiencing dramatic increases in total population. Due to a notable Hawaiian presence in Las Vegas, the city is sometimes called "the Ninth Island" in reference to the eight islands of Hawaii.[7][8][9]

Culture and arts[edit]

Hawaiian man with his two children, c. 1890

Several cultural preservation societies and organizations were established. The largest is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, established in 1889 and designated as the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The museum houses the largest collection of native Hawaiian artifacts, documents, and other information. The museum has links with major colleges and universities throughout the world to facilitate research.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society reignited interest in Polynesian sailing techniques, both in ship construction and in instrument-free navigation. The Society built multiple double-hulled canoes, beginning with Hōkūleʻa and followed by Makali'i, Alingano Maisu, and Mo‘okiha O Pi‘ilani.[10] The canoes and their worldwide voyages contributed to the renewal and appreciation of Hawaiian culture.[11]

Religion and society[edit]

A depiction of a royal heiau (Hawaiian temple) at Kealakekua Bay, c. 1816

Native Hawaiian culture grew from their Polynesian roots, creating a local religion and cultural practices. This new worship centered on the ideas of land (aina) and family (ohana). Land became a sacred part of life and family.[12] Hawaiian religion is polytheistic, but mostly focuses on the gods Wākea and Papahānaumoku, the mother and father of the Hawaiian islands. Their stillborn child formed the deep roots of Hawaii, and whose second child, Hāloa, is the god from whom all Hawaiians originate.[12]

Hawaiian culture is caste-oriented, with specific roles based on social standing. Caste roles are reflected in how land was controlled.

Land tenure[edit]

Each island was divided into moku, which were given to people of high standing and kept within the family. Each moku was split into smaller ahupua'a, each of which extended from the sea to the top of the nearest mountain. This was to ensure that each ahupua'a provided all necessary resources for survival, including hardwoods and food sources.[13] Each ahupua'a was managed by managers, who were charged by the island chief to collect tributes from the residents. Splits of the ahupua'a were based on the level of tribute. The major subdivisions were 'Ili. Each 'Ili gave a tribute to the chief of the ahupua'a and another to the island chief. In contrast to the European system of feudalism,[13] Hawaiian peasants were never bound to the land and were free to move as they chose.[14]

Kānaka Maoli refer to themselves as kama'aina, a word meaning "people of the land", because of their connection to and stewardship of the land. It was also part of the spiritual belief system that attributes their origin to the land itself.[15] This is reinforced by the cultivation of taro, a plant that is said to be the manifestation of Hāloa. The represents the deep roots that tether Hawaiians to the islands, as well as symbolizing the branching networks that Hawaiian people created.[15]


Hula is one of Hawai'is best-known indigenous artforms. Traditionally, hula was a ritualistic dance performed to honor the gods and goddesses.[16] Hula is typically categorized as either Hula Kahiko or Hula ʻAuana. Each hula tells a story via its movements and gestures.[citation needed]

Hula Kahiko is a traditional style. Its interpretive dance is known for its grace and romantic feel. Dances are accompanied by percussion instruments and traditional chanting. The traditional instruments include the pahu hula, kilu or puniu, ipu, hano or ʻphe hano ihu, ka, pu, oeoe, pahupahu kaʻekeʻeke, hokio, and wi. Dancers add to the effect using ʻuli, puʻili, ʻiliʻili, papahehi, and kalaʻau.[17]

Hula ʻAuana was influenced by later Western factors. It is accompanied by non-traditional musical instruments and colorful outfits. It became popularized with tourists and it is this form that is most widely practiced beyond the islands. Ukuleles and guitars are common.


The Hawaiian people celebrate traditions and holidays. The most popular form of celebration in Hawaii is the Lūʻau. A lūʻau is a traditional Hawaiian banquet, commonly featuring foods such as poi, poke, lomi-lomi salmon, kalua pig, haupia, and entertainment such as ukulele music and hula.[18]

One of the most important holidays is Prince Kuhio Day. Celebrated every year since 1949 on his birthday (March 26), the holiday honors Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, a Congressman who succeeded in helping Native Hawaiian families become landowners. It is celebrated with canoe races and luaus across the islands.[19] Every June 11 Kānaka Maoli celebrate King Kamehameha day. Kamehameha I was the king who unified the islands and established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. He was known as a fearless warrior, wise diplomat, and the most respected leader in the history of the Hawaiian monarchy. The holiday is celebrated with parades and lei draping ceremonies, where Kānaka Maoli bring lei (flower necklaces) to King Kamehameha statues located across the islands and drape them from his cast bronze arms and neck to honor his contributions to the people of Hawaiʻi.[20]

Hawaiian cultural revival[edit]

Native Hawaiian culture underwent a renaissance beginning in the 1970s. It was in part triggered by the 1978 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention, held 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook. At the convention, state government committed itself to the study and preservation of Hawaiian culture, history, and language.

Hawaiian culture was introduced into Hawaiʻi's public schools, teaching Hawaiian art, lifestyle, geography, hula, and Hawaiian language. Intermediate and high schools were mandated to teach Hawaiian history to all their students.

Many aspects of Hawaiian culture were commercialized to appeal to visitors from around the world.[21] This includes hula, use of the word "Aloha", lei, and the assimilation of Hawaiian culture into non-native lifestyles. This has provided significant financial support for cultural practices, while emphasizing aspects that have popular appeal over those that respect tradition.

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.


While Native Hawaiian protest has a long history, beginning just after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, many notable protests came during or after the Hawaiian cultural revival. These include the Kalama Valley protests, the Waiāhole-Waikāne struggle, the Kahoolawe island protests, and protests over the presence and management of astronomical observatories atop Hawaii's mountains, most notably the Thirty Meter Telescope protests.[22]

Hawaiian language[edit]

Hawaiian Traditional Language[edit]

The Hawaiian language (or ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) was once the language of native Hawaiian people; today, Kānaka Maoli predominantly speak English. A major factor for this change was an 1896 law that required that English "be the only medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools". This law excluded the Hawaiian language from schools. In spite of this, some Kānaka Maoli (as well as non-Kānaka Maoli) learned ʻŌlelo Hawaii.[23] As with other Hawaii locals, Kānaka Maoli typically speak Hawaiian Creole English (referred to locally as Pidgin) in daily life. Pidgin is a creole that developed during the plantation era in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mixing words and diction from the various ethnic groups living in Hawaii then.[24]

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi later became an official language of the State of Hawaii, alongside English. The state enacted a program of cultural preservation in 1978. Programs included Hawaiian language immersion schools, and a Hawaiian language department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Ever since, Hawaiian language fluency has climbed among all races.[25]

In 2006, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo established a masters program in Hawaiian,[26] and in 2006, a Ph.D program. It was the first doctoral program established for the study of any pre-contact language in the United States.[27]

Hawaiian is the primary language of the residents of Niʻihau.[28]

Hawai'i Sign Language[edit]

Alongside 'Ōlelo Hawai'i, some Maoli spoke the little studied Hawai'i Sign Language.[29]


In Hawaii, the public school system is operated by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education rather than local school districts. Under the administration of Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano from 1994 to 2002, the state's educational system established Hawaiian language immersion schools. In these schools, all courses are taught in the Hawaiian language and incorporate Hawaiian subject matter. These schools are not exclusive to native Hawaiians.[23]

Kānaka Maoli are eligible for an education from Kamehameha Schools (KS), established through the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop of the Kamehameha Dynasty. The largest and wealthiest private school system in the United States, KS was intended to benefit orphans and the needy, with preference given to Kānaka Maoli. The schools educate thousands of children of native Hawaiian children ancestry and offers summer and off-campus programs not restricted by ancestry. KS practice of accepting primarily gifted students, has been controversial in the native Hawaiian community. Many families feel that gifted students could excel anywhere, and that the Hawaiian community would be better served by educating disadvantaged children to help them become responsible community contributors.[30]

Many Kānaka Maoli attend public schools or other private schools.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs[edit]

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is a self-governing corporate body of the State of Hawaii created by the 1978 Hawaii State Constitutional Convention.[31][32]

OHA's mandate is to advance the education, health, housing and economics (Kānaka Maoli) Native Hawaiians. It relies on ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina to effect change. OHA conducts research and advocacy to shape public policies. OHA works with communities to share information and build public support for Hawaiian issues.[33]

OHA was given control over certain public lands, and acquired other land-holdings for the provision of housing, supporting agriculture, and supporting cultural institutions.[34] The lands initially given to OHA were originally crown lands of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, which had gone through various forms of public ownership since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

OHA is a semi-autonomous government body administered by a nine-member board of trustees, elected by the people of the State of Hawaiʻi through popular suffrage.

Federal developments[edit]

United States annexation[edit]

In 1893, during the Hawaiian rebellions of 1887–1895 and after the ascension of Queen Liliuokalani to the Hawaiian Throne in 1891, Sanford Dole created the "Committee of Safety" overthrew the monarchy. This was in part due to the Queen's rejection of the 1887 Constitution, which severely limited her authority.[35] This diminished traditional governance and installed a US-backed, plantation-led government.[36] One reason for the overthrow was over Kalākaua's unwillingness to sign the amended Treaty of Reciprocity that would have damaged Hawaiian trade, and opened up part of 'Oahu for the Pearl Harbor military base.[37]

The event was challenged by Grover Cleveland, but was eventually supported by President William McKinley in his Manifest Destiny plan, which harmed indigenous peoples in the continental United States and Hawai'i. The change left Kānaka Maoli as the only major indigenous group with no "nation-to-nation" negotiation status and without any degree of self determination.[38]

Native American Programs Act[edit]

In 1974, the Native American Programs Act was amended to include Kānaka Maoli. This paved the way for Kānaka Maoli to become eligible for some federal assistance programs originally intended for continental Native Americans. Today, Title 45 CFR Part 1336.62 defines a Native Hawaiian as "an individual any of whose ancestors were natives of the area which consists of the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778".[39]

United States apology resolution[edit]

On November 23, 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed United States Public Law 103–150, also known as the Apology Resolution, which had previously passed Congress. This resolution "apologizes to Kānaka Maoli on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii".[40]

Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009[edit]

In the early 2000s, the Congressional delegation of the State of Hawaiʻi introduced the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill (Akaka bill), an attempt to recognize and form a Native Hawaiian government entity to negotiate with state and federal governments. The bill would establish, for the first time, a formal political and legal relationship between a Native Hawaiian entity and the US government. Proponents consider the legislation to be an acknowledgement and partial correction of past injustices. They included Hawaiʻi's Congressional delegation, as well as former Governor Linda Lingle. Opponents include the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, (who doubted the constitutionality of creating a race-based government), libertarian activists, (who challenged the accuracy of claims of injustice), and other Native Hawaiian sovereignty activists, (who claimed that the legislation would prevent complete independence from the United States).[citation needed]

A Ward Research poll commissioned in 2003 by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs reported that "Eighty-six percent of the 303 Hawaiian residents polled by Ward Research said 'yes.' Only 7 percent said 'no,' with 6 percent unsure ... Of the 301 non-Hawaiians polled, almost eight in 10 (78 percent) supported federal recognition, 16 percent opposed it, with 6 percent unsure."[41] A Zogby International poll commissioned in 2009 by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii indicated that a plurality (39%) of Hawaiʻi residents opposed it and that 76% indicated that they were unwilling to pay higher taxes to offset any resulting tax revenue loss due to the act.[42]

The bill did not pass.

Ka Huli Ao: Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law[edit]

In 2005, with the support of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, federal funding through the Native Hawaiian Education Act created the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at UH Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law. The program became known as Ka Huli Ao: Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law.

Ka Huli Ao focuses on research, scholarship, and community outreach. Ka Huli Ao maintains a social media presence and provides law students with summer fellowships. Law school graduates are eligible to apply for post-J.D. fellowships.

Department of Interior Self-Governance Proposal[edit]

In 2016, the Department of Interior (DOI), under the direction of Secretary Sally Jewell, started the process of recognizing the Hawaiians' right to self governance and the ability for nation-to-nation negotiation status and rights.[43] This created opposition from the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement who believed that Kānaka Maoli should not have to navigate US structures to regain sovereignty and viewed the process as incomplete.[44] The outcome ultimately allowed nation-to-nation relationships if Kānaka Maoli created their own government and sought that relationship.[45] The government formation process was stopped by Justice Anthony Kennedy,[citation needed] using his earlier precedent in Rice v. Cayetano that "ancestry was a proxy for race" in ancestry-based elections, but the voting itself was not stopped.

Violence Against Women Act[edit]

In December 2022, the Violence Against Women Act was amended to include Kānaka Maoli survivors of gender-based violence and Native Hawaiian organizations in grant funding.[46]

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month[edit]

The United States government has permanently designated the month of May to be Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month;[47] before 2021 it was known as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.[48]

Notable Kānaka Maoli[edit]

In 1873, the first Kānaka Maoli were given permission from King Lunalilo (prior emigration of Kānaka Maoli was not allowed) to permanently emigrate to the United States (Salt Lake City, Utah). They were Kiha Kaʻawa, and Kahana Pukahi. Kiha was adopted by Mormon Missionary President George Nebeker upon arrival, making Kiha Kaʻawa (Nebeker) the first native Hawaiian to become a U.S. citizen in 1873.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012. https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-12.pdf
  2. ^ Hixson, Linsday; Hepler, Bradford; Ouk Kim, Myoung (May 2012). 2010 Census Brief, The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 2010 (PDF) (Report). United States Census Bureau. p. 15. C2010BR-12. Retrieved March 10, 2019. "There were 156,000 people who reported Native Hawaiian with no additional detailed NHPI group or race group and an additional 371,000 people who reported Native Hawaiian in combination with one or more other races and/or detailed NHPI groups. Thus, a total of 527,000 people reported Native Hawaiian alone or in any combination."
  3. ^ "Census Profile, 2016 Census". Statistics Canada.
  4. ^ "2018 Census ethnic group summaries | Stats NZ".
  5. ^ Kirch, Patrick Vinton; Green, Rorger C.; Green, Roger Curtis (2001). Hawaiki, ancestral Polynesia: an essay in historical anthropology (1 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78309-5. OCLC 57218655.
  6. ^ Beckwith, Martha Warren (1976). Hawaiian mythology. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii. ISBN 0-8248-0514-3. OCLC 5773353.
  7. ^ Goldfield, Hannah (May 27, 2024). "The Decades-Long Romance of Las Vegas and Hawaii". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on June 13, 2024. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  8. ^ Fawcett, Eliza (May 20, 2023). "There's No Ocean in Sight. But Many Hawaiians Make Las Vegas Their Home". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 8, 2024. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
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  11. ^ Unattributed (July 25, 2007). "Hawaiian Cultural Heritage". Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (in American English and Hawaiian). United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived from the original on September 16, 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2008. Discusses Hōkūleʻa's Navigating Change voyage which also raised consciousness of the interdependence of Hawaiians, their environment, and their culture.
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  23. ^ a b Warner, Sam L. (1996). I ola ka 'olelo i na keiki: Ka 'apo 'ia 'ana o ka 'olelo Hawai'i e na keiki ma ke Kula Kaiapuni [That the Language Live through the Children: The Acquisition of the Hawaiian Language by the Children in the Immersion School.] (PhD). University of Hawaii. ProQuest 304242908.(Subscription required.)
  24. ^ Collins, Kathy (January–February 2008). "Da Muddah Tongue". www.mauinokaoimag.com – Maui nō ka ʻoi Magazine. Wailuku, HI, USA. OCLC 226379163. Archived from the original on June 5, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
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  27. ^ Thompson, Rod (January 2, 2007). "UH offers first Ph.D. in a native language". archives.starbulletin.com. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
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  32. ^ No. 07-1372 State of Hawaii v. OHA Brief of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, Na'a'ahuhiwa, the Native Hawaiian Bar Association Hui Kako'o 'Aina Ho'o Pula'pulai, and 'ahahui o Hawaii as AMICI CURIAE in support of respondents (Report). University of Hawaiʻi School of Law Library. Footnote 4. The Hawaii Supreme Court has described OHA as a 'self-governing corporate body'…
  33. ^ "What We Do". The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Retrieved February 4, 2024.
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  40. ^ s:US Public Law 103-150
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  47. ^ Tiangco, Arielle (April 25, 2022). "APA, AAPI, APIDA or AANHPI? The history and significance of the "Asian American" identity crisis". The Optimist Daily. Retrieved March 25, 2024. Formerly known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the name officially changed to Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in April 2021, with President Joe Biden's signing of Proclamation 10189.
  48. ^ "About Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on August 15, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
    George Bush: "Statement on Signing Legislation Establishing Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month", October 23, 1992. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=21645 Archived October 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]