Synopsis   History "Lance Paul Larsen vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom"
Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague
News   Arbitral Log

Keanu goes to The Hague

The Garden Island
Kaua'i Newspaper
Sunday, April 23, 2000

By Brandon Sprague
TGI Asst. Managing Editor

David Keanu Sai, a former U.S. army officer and co-founder of a controversial title company that rocked the Hawai'i real estate market, is not one to go half way on anything.

As an officer, he stood by his guns when higher-ups questioned his strategy on Iraq during war games at Fort Sill just before Desert Storm. He staked his rank on it and was vindicated by officers at the intelligence post in Kuwait.

He stood his ground when civil and criminal suits were lodged against him and his company, Perfect Title, for conducting title searches based solely on Hawaiian Kingdom law from the 19th century.

Last month, he was sentenced to five years probation for attempted theft after issuing a Hawaiian Kingdom deed to a couple who had lost their home due to foreclosure.

Now, Sai, 35, armed with huge tomes containing old court rulings, historical reports, and documents, says he can prove legally before the whole world that the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists.

To do this, Sai is going all the way to The Hague in The Netherlands to argue his position before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the World Court.

Sai says the people in Hawai'i ‹native and non-native Hawaiians ‹ have been for over 100 years living under the impression that Hawai'i was first overthrown by a handful of businessmen in 1893 and then annexed by the U.S. government in 1898.

That's all erroneous assumption, says Sai. "What the World Court is going to do, it's going to be a venue to educate the world. That's all it is. It's not telling the world, 'Hey, recognize us, we're the Kingdom.' We are saying we are still here.

"Somebody conked us on the head and we fell asleep for 100 years. Now we are waking up with a big bump on our head."

The case, which is fundamentally a dispute between a Hawaiian national and the Kingdom, has been shunted by both state and the U.S. federal courts. This type of case is not an unusual thing to pass before the Permanent Court's docket except that the national is a subject of the supposedly defunct Hawaiian Kingdom.

Lance Larsen, a Hilo resident, is taking the Kingdom to court for not protecting his rights as its subject. He was arrested after failing to pay some 40 traffic tickets for driving without a license.

Larsen contends that by removing the state-issued license plates from his truck, he was still in accordance with Kingdom law.

And he says that the mere fact that the World Court at The Hague has agreed to hear the case, makes it far from being frivolous.

What's more, Sai says, two internationally renowned arbitrators are stepping in to hear the case‹Gavan Griffith, the former solicitor-general of Australia and Christopher Greenwood, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The two arbitrators have expertise on the international rules of warfare and occupation, which, Sai plans to argue, were violated by the U.S. when they annexed Hawai'i.

In July, these two and a third, yet-to-be-determined, arbitrators will hear the case.

Legal costs of bringing the case to the World Court are expected to amount to about $70,000.

Sai hopes that issues of the Hawaiian Kingdom as a nation state, the validity of American annexation, and international treaty violations will also be determined during the proceedings.

Sai himself is going to The Hague to defend that supposedly defunct Kingdom as one of its temporary officers.

"It's like a guy you thought was dead, called the Kingdom‹ now he's alive. And everybody is running around because they're scared."

Leaders in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement are cautious about supporting Sai and his case.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Mililani Trask says that any attention at the international level is ultimately good for the Hawaiian cause. Kekuni Blaisdell, coordinator of Ka Pakaukau, agrees.

"It's good in the sense that it gives not only public attention to our plight and the need for proper redress, but it also means that we are getting attention from the international community," he says.

Blaisdell, adds, however, that being part of a group seeking indigenous rights for kanaka maoli, or Native Hawaiians, he cannot support a monarchy.

"We are not into kings. We are in favor of recognition of us kanaka maoli, as a distinct people, with our own nation, in our own homeland." For Trask, the risk of defeat at the international arena is costly for too little gain.

She says the arbitrators could ultimately decide that the Kingdom was overthrown and that it and its subjects have no standing under international law. She says one has to be careful when playing in this arena. A negative decision can set cause a set back, but a positive decision doesn't advance the cause.

"I don't see that there is any outcome, that is in any way going to clarify our status, resolve historic claims with the U.S., or move us any closer to redress for the violations of international law that occurred at the time of the overthrow," she says.

Trask has given testimony at U.N. subcommittees for indigenous peoples addressing the violations of the political rights of the Hawaiian people. Sai says it does not really matter if everyone signs off on his ideas. "I am doing it for the benefit of the people," he says, "whether they support me or not, it's irrelevant."

People do say, though, that what Sai is attempting has not been done before. Native Hawaiians going to The Hague asking to be heard in the '80s could not get through the door because indigenous peoples have no standing at the U.N. Indeed, Sai has done several unprecedented things that leave some thinking he has a legitimate case, and others thinking he is a maverick with a monkey wrench.

Sai simply says he is doing his homework. He draws from his training and experience as a captain in the U.S. army and applies it to researching the Kingdom.

"I looked at Hawaiian history like it was a battlefield and I'm doing an intelligence report."

In 1995, Sai and others established a trust company by filing general partnership papers in the Bureau of Conveyances, according to Hawai'i Kingdom law.

Sai reasoned that in the absence of all other Kingdom subjects ‹ including the officers in the government ‹ that the trust company employees could serve in those roles in a temporary fashion until relieved.

"Out of what we had left from the Kingdom after 100 years, this is all we could do to reestablish our government," says Sai.

By the same reasoning Sai assumed the role of acting minister of the interior of the Kingdom of Hawai'i.

In 1997, Sai as a representative of the Kingdom sued William Clinton in the U.S. Supreme Court for not honoring the U.S.-Hawaiian treaty of 1850. The president, instead of having the case thrown out on the grounds that it no longer recognized the Kingdom, waived his right to respond to the lawsuit, a move that puzzled legal experts.

The history of Sai's company, Perfect Title, was a rocky one. Many clients took the company to court for damages they incurred when the title search company concluded that their deeds were worthless under Kingdom law.

Sai himself was arrested for attempted theft of real property. Last month he was sentenced to five years probation. He says that someone higher up instructed the state judge to give him a light sentence.

"I'm on probation but I can do whatever I want. How's that? I'm a Class B felon, but I can do whatever I want. It shows they screwed up when they arrested me."

Sai's former partner Donald Lewis was acquitted on all counts. "They were threatened by what I do because I don't rally troops. I don't rally support. I just find the document and say, 'Here, you don't have it ‹ now fix it."

Sai is also questioning things that have not been questioned before. For one, he says that the overthrow was not successful. When there is an overthrow, the transfer of sovereignty is done by a treaty of surrender, as was done by King George after the Revolutionary War. Without a treaty of surrender, Sai says the overthrow was just an unsuccessful revolution.

"If it's an unsuccessful revolution, then the Hawaiian Kingdom and its laws still exist. Now its people are confused, well, that's another matter, that's social. Legally, it's still there."

Given all of this new information, he concluded that he was not an American. "I found out that I was in the wrong army," he says.

He tells a group attending a lecture at the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center that everybody in Hawai'i is stuck in the illusion that they are watching a nice movie.

"Good movie, uh? You know what you guys are watching? The Matrix. You guys all think that's real when it's not," he says, referring to the hit science fiction movie starring Keanu Reeves involving a virtual, synthetic world created by computers to dupe humans into thinking they were not slaves.

(Keanu Reeves is Sai's cousin, and both are named after their grandfather, Henry Keanu Reeves.)

So what would Sai's new world look like under the Kingdom? "Nothing would change. Just new management," he says.

He equates it to the transition of Hong Kong moving from English back to Chinese rule in 1997.

"It's all economics," he says."You bring in the economists, the micro, the macro, the social economists; they bring in the brokers, bankers, the realtors, the businessman and you start working on contracts and transition. It's simple."

The hard part of the transition, he says, are the people, who require lots of education.

Sai has been giving educational lectures on the Kingdom for five years. He is now teaching ethnic studies at University of Hawai'i-Manoa and has a radio show every Tuesday to get the word out.

He says that it is amazing that people are finally listening. "Nobody listens in the state of Hawai'i and the U.S. Supreme Court but they listen very well in the international arena because it deals with money and economic trade. That's the leverage. Nobody wants to hear history until it's tagged to your pocketbook, and now everybody listens."

Synopsis   History "Lance Paul Larsen vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom"
Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague
News   Arbitral Log