Native Hawaiians
(Kānaka Maoli)
Kamehameha I 140x190.jpgDuke Aiona.jpg
Daniel Akaka official photo 140x190.jpgLiliuokalani 140x190.jpg
Notable Native Hawaiians:
Kamehameha the Great · James "Duke" Aiona
Daniel Akaka · Queen Liliʻuokalani.
Total population
alone: 140,652, any combination: 401,162 (U.S. census 2000 Native Hawaiian alone or in any combination)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States

English, Hawaiian, Hawaiian Pidgin English


Roman Catholic, Protestant

Related ethnic groups

Marquesans, Māori, Tahitians, Samoans and other Polynesian peoples

Native Hawaiians (in Hawaiian, kānaka ʻōiwi, kānaka maoli or Hawaiʻi maoli) refers to the indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands or their descendants.[2] Native Hawaiians trace their ancestry back to prehistoric Marquesan, Tahitian, Samoan (and potentially Tongan) settlers of Hawaii (possibly as early as AD 400), before the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook in 1778.[3]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau report for 2000, there are 401,162 people who identified themselves as being "native Hawaiian" alone or in any combination.[1] 140,652 people identified themselves as being "native Hawaiian" alone.[4] The overwhelming majority of native Hawaiians are residents of the United States in the State of Hawaiʻi, and in California, Nevada and Washington. Two-thirds live in the State of Hawaiʻi while the other one-third is split among mainland states. Almost half of the mainland share of the population is in California.

The history of native Hawaiians, and of Hawaiʻi in general, is classified into four major periods: antiquity (Ancient Hawaiʻi), monarchy (Kingdom of Hawaiʻi), territorial (Territory of Hawaiʻi), and statehood (State of Hawaiʻi).


At the time of Captain Cook's arrival, native Hawaiians may have numbered some 250,000 to 800,000; there has been debate over such estimates.[5][6] Over the span of the first century after first contact, the native Hawaiians were nearly wiped out by new diseases introduced to the islands. Native Hawaiians did not have resistance to influenza, smallpox, measles, and whooping cough, among others. The census of 1900 identified only 40,000 native Hawaiians. The census of 2000 identified 400,000 native Hawaiians, demonstrating a trend of dramatic growth since annexation by the U.S. in 1898.

The Hawaiian language was once the primary language of the native Hawaiian people. Today, native Hawaiians predominately speak the English language as a result of both the emphasis that the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi placed on learning English, as well as over a century of being a part of the United States of America, as a Territory and then as a State of the Union. Another contributing factor was an 1896 law which provided that English "be the only medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools." This law did not prevent Hawaiian language from being taught as a second language, but further accelerated the trend of native Hawaiian families insisting on English first. Some native Hawaiians (as well as non-native Hawaiians) have learned the native Hawaiian language as a second language. As with others local to Hawaii, native Hawaiians often speak Hawaiian Creole English, referred to as pidgin English, a creole which developed during Hawaiʻi's plantation era in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the influence of the various ethnic groups living in Hawaii during that time.

The Hawaiian language has been promoted for revival 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 Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. As a result, Hawaiian language learning has climbed among all races in Hawaiʻi.

In 2002, the University of Hawaii at Hilo established a masters program in the Hawaiian Language.[7] In fall 2006, they established a doctoral (Ph.D) program in the Hawaiian Language. In addition to being the first doctoral program for the study of Hawaiian, it is the first doctoral program established for the study of any native language in the United States of America. Both the masters and doctoral programs are considered by global scholars as pioneering in the revival of native languages.

Hawaiian is still spoken as the primary language by the residents on the private island of Niihau.

In all U.S. states, native Hawaiian children are publicly educated under the same terms as any other children. In Hawaii, native Hawaiians are publicly educated by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education, an ethnically diverse school system that is the United States' largest and most centralized.

Hawaiʻi 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 language 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 and are not exclusive to native Hawaiian children. Currently, these schools are challenged by a relative lack of native speakers of the Hawaiian language and a dearth of educational materials in Hawaiian, since olelo Hawaii is typically only a first language for those who live on Niihau.

Some native Hawaiians are educated by the Kamehameha Schools, established through the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a princess of the Kamehameha Dynasty. Arguably, the largest and wealthiest private school in the United States, Kamehameha Schools was intended to benefit indigents and orphans, with preference given to native Hawaiians. Although this Hawaiians-only preference is not explicitly stated in her will, subsequent Bishop Estate trustees have interpreted her wording to mean that. Kamehameha provides a quality education to thousands of children of whole and part native Hawaiian ancestry at its campuses during the regular school year, and also has quality summer and off-campus programs that are not restricted by ancestry. Kamehameha Schools' practice of accepting primarily gifted students, in lieu of intellectually challenged children, has been a controversial topic amongst the native Hawaiian community. Many 'rejected' families feel that the gifted students could excel at any learning institution, public or private. Thus, the Hawaiian community may be better served by educating children from high-risk, high-crime districts so that a greater proportion of disadvantaged youths may grow up to be responsible community contributors.

Since the late 1990s, Kamehameha Schools has been facing several high profile legal battles. One involved the choice and payment of trustees. Others have concerned the admission of non-Hawaiians to the school. A few non-Hawaiians have sued for admission, claiming that the last will and testament of Bernice Pauahi Bishop has been misinterpreted, and the policies of race-based admissions are discriminatory and should be struck down.[8] In 2007, Kamehameha's Maui campus graduated its first non-Hawaiian student. The student's 2002 admission to the school created an uproar within the Hawaiian community.[9]

As with other children in Hawaiʻi, some native Hawaiians are educated by other prominent private academies in the Aloha State. They include: Punahou School, Saint Louis School, Mid-Pacific Institute and Iolani School.

Hawaiiana revival[]

Native Hawaiian culture has seen a revival in recent years as an outgrowth of decisions made at the 1978 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention, held exactly 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook. At the convention, the Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi'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 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention was the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more popularly known as OHA. Delegates that included future Hawaiʻi political stars Benjamin J. Cayetano, John D. Waihee III and Jeremy Harris enacted measures intended to address perceived injustices towards native Hawaiians since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893. 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 public lands, and continues to expand its land-holdings to this day (most recently with Waimea Valley, previously Waimea Falls Park).[10]

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. 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 state 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 Hawaiʻi regardless of ethnicity.

Federal developments[]

Native American Programs Act[]

In 1974, the Native American Programs Act was amended to include native Hawaiians. This paved the way for native Hawaiians to become eligible for some, but not all, federal assistance programs originally intended for 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."

There is some controversy as to whether or not native Hawaiians should be considered in the same light as Native Americans.[11][12]

Native Hawaiians Study Commission[]

The Native Hawaiians Study Commission was created by the Congress of the United States on December 22, 1980 (Title III of Public Law 96-565). The purpose of the Commission was to "conduct a study of the culture, needs and concerns of the Native Hawaiians." The Commission published and released to the public a Draft Report of Findings on September 23, 1982. Following a 120-day period of public comment, a final report was written and submitted on June 23, 1983 to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

United States apology resolution[]

On 23 November 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 Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii".[13]

Washington-based constitutional scholar Bruce Fein has outlined a number of counter-arguments disputing the accuracy of the assertions made in the Apology Resolution.[14]

Akaka Bill[]

In the early 2000s, the Congressional delegation of the State of Hawaiʻi introduced the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill named after U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI). The Akaka Bill would establish the process of recognizing and forming a native Hawaiian government entity to negotiate with state and federal governments. The significance of the bill is that it would establish, for the first time in the history of the islands, a new political and legal relationship between a native Hawaiian entity and the federal government. This native Hawaiian entity would be a newly created one without any historical precedent in the islands or direct institutional continuity with previous political entities (unlike many native American Indian groups, for example).

This bill came under significant scrutiny by the Bush Administration's Department of Justice as well as the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The political context surrounding the Akaka Bill is both controversial and complex. Proponents, who consider the legislation an acknowledgement and (partial) correction of past injustices, include Hawaiʻi's Congressional delegation as well as the current Republican Governor Linda Lingle. Opponents include the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who question the constitutionality of creating race-based governments, libertarian activists who challenge the historical accuracy of any claims of injustice, and other native Hawaiian sovereignty activists who feel the legislation would thwart their hopes for complete independence from the United States.

A poll commissioned in 2005 by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs asserted that 68 percent of Hawaiʻi residents support the bill, 17 percent do not support it and 15 percent refused to answer or had no opinion. Another poll conducted earlier that year by The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii indicated that 67% of Hawaiʻi residents were against the Akaka bill. It has been speculated that the phrasing of the questions asked in both of the respective polls influenced the results, and so no definitive survey to determine levels of public support has yet been carried out in Hawaiʻi.

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

In 2005, and with the support of Senator Daniel Inouye, federal funding through the Native Hawaiian Education Act created the Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law] at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa]. A few years later, the program became known as Ka Huli Ao: Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law. The inaugural director of Ka Huli Ao is Honolulu attorney Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie. MacKenzie is also recognized as the chief editor of the Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook which is a legal publication that describes Native Hawaiian law, a subset of laws of the State of Hawaiʻi. Melody MacKenzie worked as a clerk to the schoolʻs namesake, William S. Richardson for four years and also served as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation for four years, then worked as a senior staff attorney for another six years.

Ka Huli Ao focuses on research, scholarship, and community outreach. Ka Huli Ao provides a monthly lunch time discussion forum referred to as Maoli Thursday which is free and open to the public. Ka Huli Ao maintains its own blog as well as a Twitter account and a Facebook group. Ka Huli Ao also provides law students with summer fellowships. Law school graduates are eligible to apply for post-J.D. fellowships that last for one year.

Notable contributions[]

Culture and arts[]

There have been established several cultural preservation societies and organizations over the course of the twentieth century. The largest of those institutions is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, established in 1889 and designated as the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Bishop Museum houses the largest collection of native Hawaiian artifacts, documents and other information available for educational use. Most objects are held for preservation alone. The museum has links with major colleges and universities throughout the world to facilitate research.

With the support of the Bishop Museum, the Polynesian Voyaging Society's double-hulled canoe Hōkūle‘a has contributed to rediscovery of native Hawaiian culture, especially in the revival of non-instrument navigation by which ancient Polynesians originally settled Hawaiʻi.[15]

One of the most commonly known arts of Hawaii is hula dancing. It is an interpretive and expressive dance famous for its grace and romantic feel that expresses stories and feelings from almost any phase of life.

See also[]

  • Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
  • Culture of Hawaii
  • Hawaiian sovereignty movement
  • Population history of American indigenous peoples
  • History of Hawaii
  • Hawaiian kinship


  1. ^ a b U.S. 2000 Census
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved June 5, 2008, from website.
  3. ^ see Kalakaua, Pukui, Fornander, Green, Cachola-Abad, Kamakau, etc. for more on Tahitian, Marquesan, and Samoan ancestries; see Dr. Tevita Ka'ili, David Burley, and others on possible Tongan voyaging contacts.
  4. ^ US Census Bureau. American FactFinder
  5. ^ Archaeology and Prehistory in Kahikinui, Maui, Hawaiian Islands by Patrick V. Kirch
  6. ^ Robert C. Schmitt (1971), summarizing the early censal data, derives a total population estimate of between 200,000 and 250,000. David Stannard (1989) challenges the validity of these estimates, arguing for a precontact population as great as 800,000.
  7. ^ Master's Degree in Hawaiian,
  8. ^ The latest round of litigation against the school was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, following an 8-7 en banc ruling of the 9th circuit court in favor of upholding the admissions policy. The precedent often cited by plaintiffs is that of Stephen Girard, whose racially exclusive school was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1968 when challenged by two African-American youths, Foust and Felder.
  9. ^ Kamehameha-Maui grad is first non-Hawaiian
  10. ^ OHA GAINS TITLE TO WAIMEA VALLEY Besides purchases since its inception, the lands initially given to OHA were originally crown lands of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi used to pay the expenses of the monarchy (later held by the Provisional Government following the fall of the monarchy in 1893). Upon the declaration of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, they were officially designated as public lands. They were ceded to federal control with the establishment of the Territory of Hawaiʻi in 1898, and finally returned to the State of Hawaiʻi as public lands in 1959.
  11. ^ Indian Country Today August 13, 2001, asserting native Hawaiians should be recognized as "aboriginal"
  12. ^ Questions regarding the indigenous nature of Hawaiians
  13. ^
  14. ^ PDF file (592 KB): Hawaiʻi Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
  15. ^ Unattributed (2007-07-25). "Hawaiian Cultural Heritage" (in en-US, portions in haw). Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2008-09-06.  Discusses Hōkūle‘a's Navigating Change voyage which also raised consciousness of the interdependence of Hawaiians, their environment, and their culture.

Further reading[]

  • Maenette K. Nee-Benham and Ronald H. Heck, Culture and Educational Policy in Hawaiʻi: The Silencing of Native Voices, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1998
  • Scott Cunningham, Hawaiian Magic and Spirituality, Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., 2000
  • Rona Tamiko Tamiko Halualani, In the Name of Hawaiians: Native Identities and Cultural Politics], University of Minnesota Press, 2002
  • Marshall D. Sahlins, How Natives Think: About Captain Cook, for Example, University of Chicago Press, 1995
  • Thomas G. Thrum, Hawaiian Folk Tales: A Collection of Native Legends, International Law & Taxation Publishers, 2001
  • Thomas G. Thrum, More Hawaiian Folk Tales: A Collection of Native Legends and Traditions, International Law & Taxation Publishers, 2001
  • Houston Wood, Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawaiʻi, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999
  • Kanalu G. Terry Young Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past, Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1998
  • Patrick W. Hanifin

External links[]

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