NOTE: The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act (click here to read the bill’s text). It currently awaits President Barack Obama’s signature. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (the bill’s sponsor) says the bill will “enhance and integrate native tourism, empower native communities, and expand unique cultural tourism opportunities in the United States.” I asked Sydney Lehua Iaukea, who holds a doctorate in political science and is the author of the 2014 book Kekaa: The Making and Saving of North Beach West Maui, for her insight on the bill. She ended up writing the essay below, which highlights the enormous complexity that surrounds the mixing of Native Hawaiian culture with commercial tourism. -Anthony Pignataro, Editor
At a time when we are diving into primary documents from the Hawaiian Kingdom, testifying “no” to Federal Recognition at the statewide U.S. Department of the Interior meetings that were held in 2015, and learning our history as a sovereign state and that sovereignty was never extinguished, the Native American Tourism bill looks to confuse and muddy these issues at best. At worst, it is yet another tool to align with a nation-within-a-nation Federal Recognition attempt that recently failed with Na`i Aupuni. It’s interesting that the last section pleads neutrality in that this seemingly innocent tourism bill will not act as an “alteration of the legal relationship” with Hawaiians:
SEC. 6. Effect.
Nothing in this Act alters, or demonstrates congressional support for the alteration of, the legal relationship between the United States and any American Indian, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian individual, group, organization, or entity.
Where do Hawaiians show up in this bill? Native Hawaiians are not included in the description of the bill, with its intention “To enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American Communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States.” Native Hawaiians are not mentioned until #5 and #6 in the Purpose of the bill, and these statements are disturbing, specifically disturbing is #5:
(5) to encourage Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and Native Hawaiian organizations to engage more fully in Native American tourism activities to increase visitation to rural and remote areas in the United States that are too difficult to access or are unknown to domestic travelers and international tourists;
This would encourage every rural place “too difficult to access” free and open access. Every place and all parts of culture open to the possible destruction of mass consumerism. In essence, no place is sacred or worth protecting, every place is open for intrusion.
Hawaiians are not mentioned in the following sections:
(1) IN GENERAL.—The plans shall outline policy proposals—
(A) to improve travel and tourism data collection and analysis;
(B) to increase the integration, alignment, and utility of public records, publications, and Web sites maintained by Federal agencies;
(C) to create a better user experience for domestic travelers and international visitors;
(D) to align Federal agency Web sites and publications;
(E) to support national tourism goals;
(F) to identify agency programs that could be used to support tourism capacity building and help sustain tourism infrastructure in Native American communities;
(G) to develop innovative visitor portals for parks, landmarks, heritage and cultural sites, and assets that showcase and respect the diversity of the indigenous peoples of the United States;
(H) to share local Native American heritage through the development of bilingual interpretive and directional signage that could include or incorporate English and the local Native American language or languages; and
(I) to improve access to transportation programs related to Native American community capacity building for tourism and trade, including transportation planning for programs related to visitor enhancement and safety.
(2) CONSULTATION WITH INDIAN TRIBES AND NATIVE AMERICANS.—In developing the plan under paragraph (1), the head of each agency shall consult with Indian tribes and the Native American community to identify appropriate levels of inclusion of the Indian tribes and Native Americans in Federal tourism activities, public records and publications, including Native American tourism information available on Web sites.
Finally, there are the issues of nativeness and tourism. Interesting that it is titled “SEC. 5. Native American tourism and branding enhancement.” Native Hawaiians fall under this section of Native American tourism—the crazy agenda to rewrite actual history. And also, we are not a brand and cannot be branded (although it does say the cultures should fit within the national brand of the U.S.)! This section is almost too Disney-like to comment on.
By the way, I write about “heritage tourism” (from the purpose of the bill) in my chapter coming out this December, as part of a collaborative book, that looks at the history of Lahaina. Heritage tourism is the new catchphrase, that has actually been around for years, whereby selling “historical” cultural aspects alongside larger narratives of U.S. imperialism attempts to hide that it is still consumption of culture. The chapter about Lahaina looks at how the tourism discourse from Ka`anapali created the “historic” town of Lahaina, but really they had to make up much of the discourse because those buildings were mostly plantation and not whaling buildings. But “heritage tourism” feels good that some history is shared—whose history is subjective.
Native for Hawaiians has two political understandings. One is Native Tenant from the Hawaiian Kingdom. The other is native Hawaiian under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921. This Act designated nativeness and introduced blood quantum into a Hawaiian national consciousness, so that only those with more than 50 percent aboriginal blood could qualify for homestead opportunities. The U.S. government had previously practiced blood quantum designations on Native Americans and promoted the same colonial discourse in Hawaii. Kehaulani Kauanui calls this a “welfare discourse” that sets up a dependent financial and emotional relationship with the colonial power.
The U.S. Apology Bill of 1993 continued this discourse by noting that the U.S. will seek to make reparations to the native Hawaiians. The subsequent Akaka Bill and the Na`i Aupuni push for this nation-within-a-nation entity further ignores the political facts and reinforces ideas of nativeness—or the museum version of culture, where “authenticity” must be produced and proven. These images fit nicely with the convenient narratives of mass tourism that paint natives as less than, lacking and always in need of civilization—such a one-dimensional view of any culture does not fully represent the uniqueness and knowing of any people.
Photo: Ralawani/Wikimedia Commons