By Mia Miller
Hawaii is often known for being one of the most popular US states to visit among tourists, and it’s a destination that is high up on many people’s bucket lists. Tourism is Hawaii’s largest industry and is how the state makes most of its money. But is that tourism wanted in the first place by Native Hawaiians? Throughout history, many Native Hawaiians have spoken up against the American colonization of their islands, and their protests have only grown louder recently with the spread of social media. Are they in the right to be upset? Or are they being overdramatic, and are Americans the ones in the right to support Hawaii’s tourism?
To start, Hawaii never wanted to be part of the United States. When European and American explorers landed on Hawaii in the late 1700s, over half of the Native Hawaiian population was killed by famine and diseases that the white settlers brought with them. In 1893, Hawaii’s Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown by Americans in a coup d’etat, causing the Kingdom of Hawaii to be under the control of the United States. Many American expansionists wanted to annex Hawaii, despite nearly all Native Hawaiians being vocally opposed to the annexation of their kingdom. Despite a petition in Hawaii that got over 21,000 signatures against the annexation, along with several protests in Washington DC, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 as an American territory. In 1959, 93% of voters supported the statehood of Hawaii, leading to Hawaii becoming the 50th state. However, most Native Hawaiians couldn’t even vote since they were not American citizens. To this day, many Native Hawaiians argue that Hawaii is not an American state but rather an independent nation under military occupation due to the fact that annexation and statehood was forced onto Native Hawaiians without their say.
Many Native Hawaiians have always had a hatred towards tourists, but this has only amplified recently because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Americans have been vacationing in Hawaii, and therefore bringing the virus to the isolated islands in the Pacific. Since Hawaii is thousands of miles from the rest of the United States, the state has limited resources and hospital space, and it’s more difficult to transport materials to Hawaii if needed. Starting in August 2021, locals in Hawaii are only allowed to have 10 – 25 guests at a loved ones’ funeral due to Covid-19, yet parties and gatherings for tourists are allowed to have thousands of packed visitors. The government in Hawaii doesn’t prioritize the safety of their locals, but rather making a profit from as many tourists as possible.
The islands have had a huge influx of tourists in the Summer of 2021, mostly Americans looking for an escape from the continental pandemic life. This huge increase in tourism was not something that Hawaii could have prepared for. There were so many cars that people had to park alongside highways and in positions that blocked emergency exits. On the island of Maui, locals were prohibited from using water for ‘non-essential’ activities so they could use the water for resorts. Kaniela Ing, a Hawaiian politician, took to Twitter to say “Stop coming to Hawai’i. They are treating us like second class citizens, literally cutting off our water to feed over-tourism.” Locals and Native Hawaiians are being faced with $500 fines for using water in their homes in order to make tourists more comfortable in their resorts.
Several resorts have also been built on the grave sites of Native Hawaiians. Many companies have been eager to take advantage of Hawaii’s tourism industry in the past several decades. Nearly every resort in Hawaii has found hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of skeletons belonging to Hawaii ancestors on their grounds, but many continue to build despite this knowledge as if there isn’t enough public pressure to stop construction. This insensitivity has led to lots of pain among the Native Hawaiians who have had to watch the bones of their ancestors be tossed aside so that a corporation could build a new overpriced golf course for tourists to enjoy.
Many Americans continue to argue that tourism is good for Hawaii despite all of this. They will see that tourism is Hawaii’s largest industry and assume it helps the Native Hawaiians. Many also believe that being a member of the United States has ‘saved’ Native Hawaiians. Using statistics, this thought process is easy to prove wrong. Native Hawaiians are the poorest and least educated citizens in the state of Hawaii. According to Honolulu Civil Beat, in 2017 13.5% of Native Hawaiians were below the poverty line, while that number was 9.5% for non-Natives living in Hawaii, making the poverty rate for Native Hawaiians significantly higher. Native Hawaiians are also the least likely to obtain a graduate degree out of all ethnic groups living in Hawaii, with only about 3.2% of Native Hawaiians holding a degree in 2007, compared to 8.4% of Hawaii residents in other ethnic groups that year. So clearly the idea that Native Hawaiians have been helped under the control of the United States isn’t entirely true, as it’s clear that they’re not being treated equally to other citizens on the islands.
We could go on and on for several pages discussing all the negatives brought upon the Hawaiian Natives due to over-tourism. By traveling to Hawaii, you are supporting an industry that has caused endless suffering among the people living on the archipelago. Your money is going to support the corporations that want to build over burial sites and force Natives to rebury their ancestors. Your money is going to cause Native Hawaiians to be forced to reduce their usage of water on their own homelands. Take your vacation somewhere else where your money won’t be going to support such an inhumane industry that has been protested against since the first white colonizers landed on the islands and stole the sacred lands for profit.