126 Years Since Hawaiʻi’s Illegal Overthrow

overthrow of hawai'i's kingdom, queen lili'uokalani

On this day in 1893, a coup d’état of white American businessmen in Hawaiʻi, backed by the U.S. minister and military, banded together and illegally overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. The overthrow was based upon white supremacist plans to take control of the Hawaiian Kingdom and annex it to the United States. Over the past 126 years since Hawaiʻi’s illegal overthrow, kānaka maoli are still struggling in our fight for sovereignty and independence, occupied by a foreign military and government that continues to ignore our rights (I’ve shared more thoughts on our current state here).

In 1887, a group of white missionary descendants who become sugar plantation owners and businessmen devised a plan to take control of the Kingdom when King Kalākaua was on the throne. They drafted the Bayonet Constitution, named after the weapons at which they held Kalākaua, forcing him to sign the new Constitution that took almost all power away from the Aliʻi and turned it over to his white cabinet members. The Constitution made it impossible for Native Hawaiians (along with Asian immigrants) to vote for their Aliʻi on their own homeland. In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani, Kalākaua’s sister and new heir to the throne, drafted her own Constitution, which granted voting rights back to kānaka maoli and restored the throne’s power, to the avail of the white supremacists in her cabinet. Days after Liliʻuokalani announced her new draft, the cabinet declared they would fight the Constitution, with bloodshed or without. Liliʻuokalani tried to protect her people as best as she could so when the United States’ armed military marched toward ʻIolani Palace and threatened violence on unarmed kānaka maoli 126 years ago, Liliʻuokalani said,

“I, Liliʻuokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional Government of the hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom. That I yield to the superior force of the United States of American, whose minister plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government. Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

She didn’t back down willingly, but Liliʻuokalani did not want to risk any harm to her people, so she believed that the U.S. President would eventually reinstate her to the throne and give the Kingdom back it’s power. In December of the same year, President Grover Cleveland denounced the violent military act, but handed all power over to Congress, should they have taken action in granting Liliʻuokalani’s request. However, Congress refused to do anything, and the illegal Republic of Hawaiʻi, led by Sanford Dole, became the new leaders. A group of kānaka, in protest of the actions taken against their queen, tried to fight back with force, but the demonstration ultimately led to Liliʻuokalani’s arrest and home imprisonment, where she was charged with treason and held until 1896. 29,000 kānaka submitted a petition of the new government with their signatures to Congress, but the Senate ignored any votes. In 1898, the Hawaiian flag was lowered from ʻIolani Palace as the American flag was lifted and the Star Spangled Banner played. There were records of wailing coming from every kānaka maoli who watched in horror.

Today marks 126 years since Hawaiʻi’s illegal overthrow and we are still under attack from an illegal occupier in the United States. Kānaka maoli are homeless and imprisoned at alarming rates and we still don’t have the rights or sovereignty to which we are entitled. Until justice is served for our people, we will continue to kūʻē. E onipaʻa kākou.