Excerpted From Troy J.H. Andrade, Ppkahi I Holomua: Critical Lessons of Social Healing Through Justice for Native Hawaiians, 52 Southwestern Law Review 67 (2023) (71 Footnotes) (Full Document)


TroyJHAndradeFrom the violent displacement and genocide of indigenous communities to the enslavement and forced labor of Africans, from the theft of sovereignty of an Island kingdom to the racist imprisonment of citizens based upon fabricated stories of military necessity, American history is rife with examples of atrocious injustice. These injustices often involve complex issues of colonialism, imperialism, racism, capitalism, and rugged individualism. These injustices have left indelible marks of trauma on affected communities, especially in the aftermath of the United States' continued failure to provide true healing.

Over decades and sometimes centuries, many have tried to address these historical injustices through the legal and political systems. In many of these efforts, there has been a mixture of listening to the harmed community, taking responsibility, and providing concrete avenues for the community to not only heal emotionally, but economically, physically, and culturally. However, many of these admirable efforts failed.

One is undoubtedly left to wonder how, in a country that prides itself on democratic principles of equity, fairness, and justice, can such violence, trauma, and injustice go unaddressed. Are there some historical injustices that are too complex to heal? How does the United States heal when it is embedded with racist ideology and there is a growing refusal to educate about the truth? How do victimized communities heal when American political spaces are so polarized that there is mistrust and deception running rampant? How do we bring people to the table who do not want to be at the table?

These questions are difficult to answer. Until now, there has been no handbook to address healing and reparations from social and historic injustice. In his prescient theoretical masterpiece, Healing the Persisting Wounds of Historical Injustice, Professor Eric K. Yamamoto builds upon a career-long compilation of scholarly research and interventions to set forth guiding principles and a framework to help us understand how to answer some of these complex questions and move forward from historical injustices. Yamamoto has done what many have attempted: he created a theoretical framework--what he calls social healing through justice--that is workable in practice for critiquing and implementing true healing in communities.

In this essay, I describe Yamamoto's theoretical intervention and then apply the social healing through justice framework in the context of one aspect of the Native Hawaiian journey for justice for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, the loss of self-determination, land, culture, and language. Specifically, I offer a critique of the State of Hawai'i's efforts in the late-1970s to reconcile with Native Hawaiians for these historical injustices to highlight the usefulness of social healing through justice and to explain how reparative change was possible, but also to demonstrate the fragility of ensuring true healing.

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The success of the 1978 constitutional convention and the stiff resistance at the 1979 and 1980 legislative sessions reinforce several core lessons gleaned from Yamamoto's social healing through justice theoretical framework.

First, the success of social healing is dependent on bringing all participants “to a common commitment to genuinely engage” by having intensive public education, alliance-forging, and political lobbying. Indeed, the success of 1978 stemmed from there being the right people at the right time with the right tools to advance the cause of reconciliation. The leaders at the constitutional convention, like Frenchy DeSoto and John Waihe'e, successfully framed the reparative measure by challenging the outdated and racist stock story of Hawaiian history. Their efforts, however, were not conducted in the vacuum of law making. The convention delegates capitalized on the timing of the Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and political renaissance. Their efforts succeeded because they had community members, scholars, artists, and media all on their side to frame the reparative efforts of the constitutional amendments to repair the historical harms against Native Hawaiians.

Yet, the creation of OHA would only bring about, at most, partial healing. A second lesson from Yamamoto's framework makes clear that an important precondition for sustained social healing is to have all participants with a common commitment to genuinely engage at the decision-making table. This brief episode of Hawaiian history only addressed issues between the Hawaiian community and the State of Hawai'i. This effort did not address the significant healing necessary between Native Hawaiians and the United States. Comprehensive and enduring Native Hawaiian healing will only come about when the United States makes amends and meaningfully engages with the Hawaiian community.

Third, advocates for social healing must prepare and anticipate the “darkside,” and proactively engage the opposition to reparative justice. The origin story of OHA highlights, as Yamamoto theorizes, the ways in which efforts for reconciliation to address historical injustices are fragile and need to be zealously safeguarded from erosion. The delegates of the People's Convention represented a diverse swath of the community willing to make significant changes to the status quo. And they were successful. However, this victory was short-lived as the delegates underestimated the backlash and resistance and did not anticipate their efforts would be undermined by politicians wedded to the status quo. As Yamamoto argues, there must be a general willingness by those with power to concede some of that authority and to shift the power dynamic. In 1979 and 1980, those in power were not willing to concede their power. To highlight the conflicting visions of the reparative measure, consider that all the delegates of the constitutional convention that became legislators in 1979 and 1980 voted against the laws that watered down the reparative impact of the constitutional amendment establishing OHA. One delegate expressed that his biggest regret was that the constitutional amendment did not go further and provide clearer guidance on the reparative goals and the systemic funding mechanism. In Hawai'i in 1979 and 1980, the legislature's (in)action not only compromised the constitutional convention delegate's contribution to the healing process, but the very process itself. Reconciliation stalled. The legislators' conduct ushered in a future for OHA riddled in crisis and broken promises. It foreshadowed key stakeholders that always needed to be at the table for social healing to occur. Without their meaningful participation, social healing will continue to evade Hawaiians.

These highlighted lessons--and there are many more packed into Yamamoto's book--resonate in the context of the justice struggles for Native Hawaiians. Healing the Persisting Wounds of Historic Injustice is an important contribution and is, no doubt, a significant addition to the canon of reparation and reconciliation literature. It helps organizers, scholars, and policymakers understand what went wrong and what needs to change to ensure true healing. It successfully provides a roadmap for helping communities solve their long-festering injustices, but also pragmatically suggests those instances where stakeholders are not yet ready to move forward. In the end, and in a time when there appears to be a pushback on critically educating the community in history and a time when the United States Supreme Court appears hostile to indigenous autonomy, we all must, as Yamamoto implores, come together to move forward--ppkahi i holomua.

Joanna Lau Sullivan Distinguished Professor of Law, Carlsmith Ball Faculty Scholar, and Director of the Ulu Lehua Scholars Program, University of Hawai'i at Mnoa | William S. Richardson School of Law.