Negotiations required to change HSTA contract, replacing Election Day holiday

Hawaiʻi lawmakers are considering whether to establish the second Monday in October as a new state holiday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, replacing the state Election Day holiday.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes the continued survival of the descendants of indigenous people worldwide, including Native Hawaiians, and in Hawaiʻi, honors the individuals who first made the islands habitable,” according to SB732, the proposal the Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved Tuesday.

Jodi Kunimitsu, a Maui High math teacher and chair of the HSTA Human and Civil Rights Committee and NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, says the inclusion of Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday in Hawaiʻi is long overdue.

“As we become more educated about the detrimental effects of colonization on Indigenous people, including our own Kanaka Maoli here in Hawaiʻi, we need to find every opportunity to uplift Indigenous people and culture,” Kunimitsu said. “It is our kuleana to ensure that accurate histories are shared with our keiki and in our communities as we move forward. Declaring Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday not only honors the people, but gives us an opportunity to educate ourselves and others about the culture, history, and struggle of Indigenous people.”

Kalae Akioka, Chair of HSTA’s Hawaiian Education Special Committee and kumu kaiapuni (Hawaiian language immersion teacher) at Kailua High said, “We support movement towards an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, however there is apprehension about the loss of the Election Day holiday. We feel it is vital to retain or increase access for all people to exercise their right to vote, and the loss of Election Day seems counterproductive to this.

“Perhaps a different holiday should be considered, such as Statehood Day, which seems a more appropriate exchange, due to its role in the historical trauma of the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi,” she said.

Charter school students prompt senator to introduce the bill

Senate Majority Leader Dru Kanuha (D, Kona, Kaʻu) introduced the proposal.

Kanuha told Honolulu Civil Beat the measure grew out of a request from the students at Papa Pono Kīwila at the Volcano School of Arts and Sciences, who wanted to know why Hawaiʻi had not embraced the Indigenous Peoples’ Day idea.

“By working with these students, we wanted to bring awareness to the state’s obligation to protect all rights customarily and traditionally exercised by descendants of Native Hawaiians as well as other indigenous cultures throughout the world,” Kanuha said.

The movement to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States began as a protest of Columbus Day, which was declared to commemorate the anniversary of Columbus’ landfall in the Western Hemisphere. Nationwide, Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors and commemorates the histories, cultures, and traditions of indigenous peoples and recognizes that the colonial takeovers of the Americas, starting with Columbus, led to the deaths of millions of native people and the forced assimilation of survivors.

In 2021 and 2022, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation that recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, to “honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world.”

Public employees wouldn’t get the day off until holiday is negotiated with employers

Even if lawmakers approve adding the holiday and eliminating Hawaiʻi’s Election Day holiday, a change in the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association contract would have to be negotiated with the employer to make the annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday a reality for HSTA members. All state and county employers would have to negotiate with their unionized employees to add this annual holiday and replace the every-other-year November Election Day holiday.

As the state’s Chief Negotiator Brenna Hashimoto from the Office of Collective Bargaining said in her written testimony, “holidays are a negotiable matter and cannot be solely legislated.”

“Should this measure pass prompting the exclusive representatives to initiate negotiations for inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ Day as another observed holiday for public employees, the employer would have serious concerns regarding the operational and financial impact to the state,” Hashimoto wrote.

The state Department of Budget and Finance estimates adding another state holiday will cost state taxpayers about $17 million a year in lost productivity. Officials from the city of Honolulu’s Human Resources Department estimate the additional holiday would cost city taxpayers $2 million.

The movement to replace Columbus Day began in 1990, with South Dakota becoming the first state to rename the holiday. Since 1992, a growing grassroots effort to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day has spread to 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Hawaiʻi is one of 17 states that does not celebrate Columbus Day; instead, it observes Discoverers’ Day on the second Monday in October “in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian islands” according to a law passed in 1988.

According to the bill lawmakers are considering this year, “While Discoverers’ Day acknowledges the ancestors of Native Hawaiians and other indigenous Polynesians who discovered Hawaiʻi, recognizing and designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday will serve as a day to educate Hawaiʻi’s people about the state’s obligation to the original inhabitants of the ʻāina (land) and the state’s continued protection of all rights customarily and traditionally exercised by the descendants of those native people, as well as to celebrate the revival of previously-taboo cultural practices, such as hula and olelo Hawaii, and all cultures that form Hawaiʻi today.”

You can track the bill’s progress through this year’s legislative session here. It next goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

Supporters of the change say it’s no longer necessary to give the November Election Day off to encourage voter participation because Hawaiʻi has shifted to all-mail voter registration and elections. The net effect would be to create one additional state holiday every two years, since Election Day holidays are now every other year in election years.

It’s been 35 years since Hawaiʻi’s last legal holiday was created. The 1988 Legislature designated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, the third Monday in January to honor the slain civil rights leader and his legacy. That’s when the state swapped Columbus Day for a new holiday in King’s honor that was first celebrated in January of 1989.