Mark Niesse, AP, June 19, 2008
Surrounded by royal guards and the occasional tourist, Her Majesty Mahealani Kahau and her government ministers hold court every day in a tent outside the palace of Hawaii’s last monarch, passing laws and discussing how to secure reparations for the Native Hawaiian people.
Kahau and her followers are members of the self-proclaimed Hawaiian Kingdom Government, which is devoted to restoring the Hawaiian monarchy overthrown in 1893. Nearly two months ago, they stormed the gates of the old Iolani Palace, and they have politely occupied the grounds ever since, operating like a government-in-exile.
“We’re here to assume and resume what is already ours and what has always been ours,” said Kahau, who is a descendant of Hawaii’s last king and was elected “head of state” by the group.
The Hawaiian Kingdom Government, which was founded seven years ago and claims 1,000 followers, uses its own license plates and maintains its own judicial system. In recent years, members have voted to dissolve the state of Hawaii, its land titles, welfare programs and public schools. They also claim the right to confiscate all bank assets in Hawaii.
The organization’s actions do not carry the force of law, and the state has mostly taken a hands-off approach. It has not confiscated any of the license plates, for example, or arrested anyone for using them.
On April 30, members of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government trooped onto the palace grounds in the heart of Honolulu and shut the gates behind them, leading to a few tense hours before they finally reopened the entrance.
Every day, Kahau and about a dozen of her government officials meet in the tent. Every evening their fold up their tent and go home, returning in the morning.
State officials have largely ignored them, and police have made no arrests. The Hawaiian Kingdom Government has said it has no intention of resorting to violence.
Every week, the Hawaiian Kingdom Government obtains a public-assembly permit that allows it to occupy the grounds of the palace, a museum and popular tourist attraction next door to the state Capitol.
As far as the state is concerned, the Hawaiian Kingdom Government is treated the same as any other group that wants to conduct activities on public ground, said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“As long as they comply with the permit conditions, they may continue to request permits to meet,” she said.
It is unclear how the organization’s members intend to oust the state government. They also want reparations in the form of housing, low-cost health care and cash. The kingdom slapped a $7 trillion fine on the Hawaii state government in 2007.
[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories on the occupation of Iolani Palace can be read starting here.]