Remarks by Congressman Ed Case on the Occasion of the Centennial of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act
Washington, July 9, 2021
This speech was delivered during a ceremony on Capitol Hill to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.
Madam Speaker, last Friday, my colleague, Congressman Kaialiʻi Kahele (Hawaii—Second), and I gathered here on Capitol Hill with leaders of our Native Hawaiian community and partners in the advancement of Native Hawaiians everywhere to recognize the centennial of the enactment, on July 9, 1921, of a truly revolutionary law, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, to honor the times and memory of its author, Hawaiʻi Delegate to Congress Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalani‘anaole, and to reflect on and commit to the path still ahead.
That afternoon, we came together on the East grounds of the Capitol, directly outside the House chamber where Kūhiō served for almost two decades, to share our mana’o (thoughts) on this momentous day. I would like to share here my own remarks on behalf of all throughout our Hawaiʻi who I am privileged to represent:
To my colleague and friend, Congressman Kahele, our incredible guests that are here with us today, and our friends and ‘ohana watching everywhere, Aloha.
As I stand with you today, I have so many conflicting thoughts and emotions.
We are here on hallowed grounds that for centuries now have stood for the very best of humanity, and yet we are also on ground that at a bare minimum tolerated the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
We are on grounds that have advanced equality, opportunity, compassion and justice, and yet have sanctioned so much trial and tragedy for our indigenous peoples. We are on grounds where just one year ago, we gathered to bid aloha to one of the great icons of the civil rights movement, my colleague John Lewis, and yet it is this very ground from which was launched an attack on our Capitol and democracy by our own fellow citizens.
This land is riddled with contradictions. As it was when Prince Kūhiō came to Congress as the first Native Hawaiian to serve almost 120 years ago.
Kūhiō spoke then of the urgency and despair of a people facing extinction in their own land. That was no idle concern. It had in fact happened to other indigenous peoples throughout our country and world; their peoples and cultures are simply no more.
There were then just perhaps 40,000 Native Hawaiians. The life expectancy of Native Hawaiians was but thirty years. They were increasingly not living on the land as had dozens of generations before them, but in the tenements of Honolulu in dire circumstances.
And yet, Kūhiō entrusted his people to this still-new country, a country of promise but that had not shown it was deserving of that trust. And he devoted his next two decades toward advancing his people and to prove that his trust had not been misplaced.
As Congressman Kahele has said, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, signed one hundred years ago today, was his singular accomplishment. But what was Prince Kūhiō’s legacy? What did it all add up to?
History is fickle. We’re all judged by our successes and failures, our achievements and our shortcomings (of course always in hindsight and without the context of the times).
But I would make these three observations about Kūhiō, looking back from the distance of
history and as someone who is not Native Hawaiian.
First, he was exactly the right person for his time and place. Not just for Native Hawaiians, but for all of us whose ancestors and lifeblood lay then and now in Hawaii.
Second, the Kanaka Maoli did not, unlike many of their brothers and sisters, fade from this Earth. Native Hawaiians now number in the hundreds of thousands throughout our country and world, proudly reclaiming and perpetuating their history and culture and contributing alongside all others who seek a better path forward.
Third, Kūhiō, as the first Native Hawaiian leader to step forward onto the national stage, exemplified what proud, principled and capable Hawaiian leadership is, setting the standard for so many of us who followed down the road he paved.
But history is never complete, and the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act is a perfect example. As one Kanaka Maoli leader noted recently, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was beautifully conceived but did not deliver in its implementation. In that the Act is its own story, and now we must turn the page toward better chapters.
Today, I follow and support Congressman Kahele in finding and forging that next chapter. For yesterday’s achievements are just tomorrow’s foundations, and yesterday’s failures are just tomorrow’s opportunities.
I am so deeply humbled with the responsibility—for all of us wherever we are for whom Hawaiʻi is and always will be our true home—to partner with you in these next chapters of renewed opportunity and hope. Thank you. Mahalo.