The office manages resources and helps to remind those of us who live in the territories that we are a resource, that our lands, our lives are more explicitly than any other place within the US and its empire, thought of as a commodity. The fact that our strongest link to the federal bureaucracy is the DOI is key in understanding our relationship to the US. We may have a variety of fantasies about what we are to the US, those fantasies may be to help deal with the existential colonial dread, but many of them are built on wishing into existence a relationship that doesn't really exist.
What I've often written about previously is that the DOI could be considered the office of American exceptions, because it is the link to not just colonies, but also Native American tribes. The excesses within the nation that point to it being more than a benevolent Republic, but rather an empire or ravenous nation-state that destroyed others to claim its existence and continues to exploit others in contrast to its stated ideals. In recent years this sort of naming seems to fit even more because the Office of Insular Affairs within the DOI doesn't only deal with tribes and territories, it also deals with semi-sovereign or sovereign government, such as those around Guam in Micronesia. When I visited this office last year, it was remarkable to see their conference room, which featured flags from territories and freely associated countries.
The office exists therefore to deal with the parts of the nation that it can't easily account for. The parts that don't fit into left or right, Republican or Democratic antagonisms. These are things which exist on the edge off the nation or outside of it, and do so in such a way that they create the borders of the nation, while the nation still claims to control it. This type of differential exclusion is something that I based my dissertation on describing and trying to articulate in the case of Guam, and what its liminal and banal status produces for the United States.
During my recent research trips to Washington D.C., another portrait of the agency emerged, albeit a faded and not particularly powerful one. That was for DOI as being an advocate for the territories, a translator or a whisperer to the federal government. What makes the colonies or the territories different is that they each have unique stories of how they became connected to the US and where they sit in relation to the US.
CNMI and Guam are right next to each other, but are politically different, despite both being territories of the US at present. One bears the name Commonwealth and has a covenant to mitigate relations between the CNMI and the US, the other is a territory with no such protection. Despite that difference however, they exist in very similar relationships to the US. The same goes for American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. Each place has a contemporary existence that strains the imagination of your average American and American politician or bureaucrat. It doesn't quite fit. It requires more to understand, to make sense. And your average American, long suckled with a sense of their own greatness, struggles to imagine how such imperfections and exceptions could exist.
DOI, in particular its Insular Affairs portion is supposed to help fill in those gaps and help the rest of the federal bureaucracy understand what is unique about the territories and that you can't simply impose things on them and assume that since it is good for the 50 it must be good for the colonies. DOI is supposed to help translate the unique exceptions, often times the injustices and the trauma of the colonies in ways that can be appreciated by the Congress and the Executive Branch. It may not be very good at it and it may have limited influence. From those that I interviewed recently for example, all, some of whom had experience working in DOI, agreed that real change within the federal system could never come from DOI since it is too powerless in relation to other parts of the government. It doesn't have enough influence or power.
While preparing for my research trip I came across this article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from 1999 about Danny Aranza, a Filipino born on Guam, who spent time working for the Department of Interior during the Clinton years. This is an example of the role of DOI acting as that translator, the reminder, albeit this case in the context of Native Hawaiians, that the US holds the lands and destinies of a diverse number of native peoples, and that it can continue the legacies of injustice, exploitation and dispossession or it can stop them. Part of that will require them to reckon with the sins of the past and then not dismiss what remedies would be necessary today, but take into account the particularities of those who have been wronged and that acting outside of the perceived boundaries of the US or its constitution and other laws may be necessary.
Most Americans unaware of isle history, overthrow
The point man in Washington for native Hawaiian issues says mainlanders don't know why reconciliation is necessary
By Susan Kreifels
October 23, 1999
Although the Rice vs. Cayetano case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this month raised native Hawaiian issues in the national consciousness, it didn't leave mainland Americans knowing much more about the state's complex history.
That's according to the new point man in Washington for native Hawaiian issues.
Ferdinand Danny Aranza, a former Honolulu attorney and the newly appointed director of the Office of Insular Affairs under the Department of Interior, said Americans generally don't understand how the history here makes native Hawaiians unique among the country's indigenous people.
"The person on the street has no clue about the U.S. role in the overthrow," Aranza said. "They've never had an appreciation of native Hawaiians and their history."
Supreme Court justices will decide whether it is unconstitutional to restrict voters in Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee elections to people of Hawaiian ancestry.
Aranza said Americans also know very little about what federal reconciliation with native Hawaiians means -- or why it's necessary.
In 1993, Congress passed what's commonly called the apology resolution, which acknowledged and apologized to Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the participation of American citizens in the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. The overthrow deprived Hawaiians of the right of self-determination, the resolution said. It urged the president to start reconciliation moves between the United Sates and native Hawaiians.
Aranza said Hawaii's higher profile brought by the Rice vs. Cayetano case makes December a good time for a visit by two federal officials who will gather ideas on the reconciliation, which is still uncharted territory.
The officials, from the Interior Department and Justice Department, will meet with native Hawaiians on all the islands, including Niihau, from Dec. 4-13, Aranza said.
They will try to get some sense of how the reconciliation process should work and what native Hawaiians expect.
Aranza, who stopped in Honolulu this week on his way to Saipan, said his office for the time being is a catch-all for native Hawaiian issues. It could one day be an equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In the meantime, Aranza said he will get a special assistant on native Hawaiian issues: Ed Thompson, a part-Hawaiian who currently works for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
OHA trustee skeptical
Some native Hawaiians are skeptical about the outcome of the December visit. Clayton Hee, OHA trustee, said the meetings will provide native Hawaiians an opportunity to express concerns, but there already are volumes of studies dating back 10 years "that are still collecting dust on a shelf."
Hee's No. 1 concern is identifying native Hawaiians as native Americans, opening up federal programs for American Indians and native Alaskans to Hawaiians. Specific programs carved out for Hawaiians, Hee said, are small in comparison.
Defining native Hawaiians as native Americans should be stating the obvious, Hee said, but Congress has not moved on past bills to do so.
"Why others in Washington don't understand or choose not to is beyond me," Hee said. "There's an inability to understand that Americans illegally, through an act of war, stole the kingdom, and that the United States has a trust obligation."
Bumpy Kanahele, an activist for Hawaiian sovereignty, said not sending a State Department representative was denying an ear for those who want an independent native Hawaiian nation, an option Hawaiians were denied in the 1959 Admissions Act as well.
"We're being shortchanged going into the dialogue," Kanahele said. "If the U.S. is really going to reconcile, they have to bring in a representative for foreign affairs. By not having one here, they'll just give us something like the Indians got -- reconciliation with a reservation."
Insular Affairs director is no stranger
By Susan Kreifels
It takes an islander to know islanders.
That gives Ferdinand Danny Aranza an edge on his new job.
Aranza has been named the new director of the Office of Insular Affairs under the Department of Interior. He's responsible for native Hawaiian and other state issues.
Guam and the U.S. territories, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Micronesian nations also fall under his jurisdiction.
Aranza was born and grew up on Guam and later practiced law in Hawaii for six years.
"It's extremely helpful to come to this job with really an islander's perspective," Aranza said. "It's too easy when you're in Washington to do something and not think about the impact. Being an islander makes me very sensitive to that."
He also believes it improves relationships with island leaders when they negotiate "with someone who looks like them. I would like to bring more folks from the islands into the office."
Aranza and his wife, Hawaii-born Sonia Lugmao Aranza, moved to Washington so she could work for U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie. He became legal counsel for Guam's congressional delegate.
Before taking his current post, Aranza -- who helped shape the Hawaiian homelands program -- worked as a deputy in Insular Affairs, then became acting director June 7.
Other issues before him: reimbursement to Hawaii, Guam and Saipan for the cost of Micronesian immigrants; developing the initial steps for federal reconciliation with native Hawaiians; the brown tree snake problem and coral reef protection; and helping the islands prepare for Y2K computer glitches.
He'll help set up a Y2K command center on Guam, "where America's day begins."
"It will be plugged into the whole White House," he said. "The first report of any problems will probably come from Guam."
Hawaiian issues on agenda
during fed officials' visit
during fed officials' visit
Two federal officials will speak with native Hawaiians on all islands Dec. 4-13 to gather ideas on how the federal government should proceed with reconciliation.
The officials are John Berry, assistant secretary for Policy, Management and Budget in the Interior Department, and Mark Van Norman, director of the Justice Department's Office of Tribal Justice.
Brown-bag lunches on neighbor islands will be open to the public, but schedules are still being confirmed.
Discussions also will be held at the East-West Center on Dec. 10-11 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. The first day will focus on native Hawaiian health, education, housing, Hawaiian culture, economic development, and land and natural resources.
Each topic will be discussed by panelists for 45 minutes, followed by an hour of public comment during which speakers will be limited to three minutes.
On the second day, topics will include the reconciliation process, the political relationship with the federal government, self-determination and ceded lands.
Written testimony should be submitted by Nov. 22 to Assistant Secretary John Berry, c/o Document Management Unit, Department of Interior, 1849 C St., NW Mailstop-7229, Washington, D.C. 20240. Fax: (202) 219-1790.