Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month — Advancing Leadership Through Opportunity
By Thomas Behan, OFO, and AA and NHPI Special Emphasis Program Manager
May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month, and it is the time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of the AA and NHPI Communities. This year’s theme is Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity, which allows us to identify and recognize individuals in the community who seized the opportunity to make a difference. Here we highlight the accomplishments of a very resolute AA and NHPI figure who took the opportunity to try to prevent the Kingdom of Hawaii from being conquered.
Queen Liliuokalani (Lydia Kamakaeha) was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sept. 2, 1838. She was the first and only reigning Hawaiian queen and the last Hawaiian sovereign to govern the islands annexed by the United States in 1898.
Liliuokalani was of a high-ranking family; her mother, Keohokalole, was an adviser to King Kamehameha III. Liliuokalani was raised in both the native Hawaiian traditions and the traditions of the missionaries from abroad thus giving her an education that would prepare her for challenges to come. In 1877, Liliuokalani was named Heir Presumptive, and from this point, she was known by her royal name, Queen Liliuokalani.
Over the next 14 years, Liliuokalani established herself as queen. In 1881, she served as regent during her brother’s, King Kalakaua’s, world tour, and she was active in organizing schools for Hawaiian youth. Upon the death of Kalakaua in January 1891, Liliuokalani ascended the throne and became the first woman ever to occupy that position.
Before becoming queen, Liliuokalani opposed the renewed Reciprocity Treaty of 1887, that Kalakaua signed. The treaty granted privileged commercial concessions to the United States and ceded to them the port of Pearl Harbor. One of Liliuokalani’s main goals was to reestablish the power and sovereignty of the monarchy that her brother had given up. First, she successfully fought for the resignation of her brother’s staff. When they initially refused, she took it to the Hawaii Supreme Court, and which ruled in her favor. She also restored her supporters to positions they lost due to the political changes. Liliuokalani’s next step was to rewrite the constitution and restore the monarchy to its former glory.
In January 1893, the Missionary Party, a group of persons with sugar interests in Hawaii led by Sanford Dole, asked for Liliuokalani’s abdication and declared the queen deposed. The Mission Party also announced the establishment of a provisional government pending annexation by the United States. To avoid bloodshed, Liliuokalani surrendered, but she appealed to President Grover Cleveland to reinstate her. Cleveland ordered the queen be restored and rejected the treaty of annexation that had been sent to Congress by his predecessor. Dole, however, defied the order, claiming that Cleveland did not have the authority to interfere and overthrew Liliuokalani. In 1895, an insurrection in the queen’s name, led by royalist Robert Wilcox, was suppressed by Dole’s group; Liliuokalani was held under house arrest on charges of treason. To win pardons for her supporters who had been jailed following the revolt, she agreed to sign a formal abdication.
Liliuokalani tried for several years to regain her throne through the United States court system, but she was unsuccessful. With the queen overthrown, the militia seized Hawaii and it was officially annexed as a territory to the United States in July of 1898.
Queen Liliuokalani lived until Nov. 11, 1917, and although she lost the monarchy and the battle of a free Hawaii during her reign, her work still inspires many Native Hawaiians to continue the fight for the kingdom to this day. Even today, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, a grassroots political and cultural campaign, still works to reestablish an independent nation or kingdom of Hawaii out of a desire for sovereignty, self-determination and self-governance.
Liliuokalani's strength and courage are an inspiration to people all over the world. Even in the face of great adversity, she advocated for Hawaiian culture and tradition in the face of relentless westernization. During AA and NHPI Heritage Month, we can honor her legacy by celebrating and learning about the culture and traditions of the Hawaiian people that she worked to preserve.
Consumer Safety Inspector Thomas Behan, OFO, is assigned to the Philadelphia District, Croghan Circuit in New York State.