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The history of Hawaiian civic clubs, a legacy of Prince Kūhiō

Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole
Wikimedia Commons
Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole

A number of events this weekend will mark Prince Kūhiō Day on March 26, though it will be observed as a state holiday on Monday.

Born in 1871, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole went into exile after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. But he returned years later and in 1902 became a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives in Congress, where he served for two decades.

He is credited with spearheading a law setting aside 200,000 acres of land to create homesteads for Native Hawaiians. A parade in his honor will take place Saturday at 5 p.m. near the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands headquarters in Kapolei.

In 1928, Kūhiō also started the Hawaiian Civic Club movement, which advocates for Native Hawaiian political and cultural issues.

"He gathered his closest friends who were one Native Hawaiian, two professionals, and three leaders in the community here, and took them to Washington. And he called them the first Hawaiian Civic Club... which then became the Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu, which we honor and recognize as a mother club. And the whole movement started from there," said Dreanalee “Dre” Kalili, the president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs.

Today, there are 61 independent and autonomous clubs with 3,500 members, all chartered under the association. Kalili said that includes clubs on the continent from California all the way to Washington, D.C.

"We are a 105-year-old organization this year and we've made it 100 years and we want to make sure we'll be around another 100," Kalili added.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 24, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. 

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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