By Mark Niesse
The Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — The population of Native Hawaiians in Hawaii jumped by more than one-fifth over the last decade, continuing a resurgence in the once-dwindling numbers of indigenous people in the state, according to new U.S. Census information.
People who identified themselves as Native Hawaiians alone or in combination with other races increased by 21 percent to a total of 289,970 in the state, Census data show. The total number of Native Hawaiians in the nation won’t be released until after counts for all 50 states are made public this summer.
Native Hawaiian families are having more children, and more of Hawaiians embraced their race when filling out government Census forms, said Malia Kaaihue, chief knowledge officer for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
“Our population was a lot younger, and there’s an increasing number of families out there. The trend was kind of expected,” she said. “As Native Hawaiians intermarried with other races in Hawaii, the population expanded.”
Native Hawaiians were encouraged to participate in last year’s count through TV ads, discussions in churches, and outreach efforts in shopping centers, said Larry Hajime Shinagawa, director for the Asian Pacific American Census Information Center of the University of Maryland.
During Hawaiian conferences and community events, the Census handed out posters, bags, pens, and literature encouraging them to participate in the count, Kaaihue said.
“There was a real recognition that we needed to collect more Native Hawaiians,” Shinagawa said. “If you’re counted, then what happens is your count means better services and better representation.”
The population of Native Hawaiians plunged from several hundred thousand before Captain James Cook landed in the islands in 1778 to about 40,000 a century later, in large part due to introduced diseases including smallpox, measles, Hansen’s disease, influenza, and gonorrhea.
But they’ve been slowly climbing back over the last 100 years. Their nationwide population after last decade’s count was about 401,162 nationwide, with 239,655 Hawaiians in-state.
The 21 percent growth in Native Hawaiians’ numbers outpaced the 12 percent increase in the state’s overall population, from 1.21 million in the year 2000 to 1.36 million last year.
Hawaiians were the most likely racial group in the state to identify themselves as mixed race, behind only Chinese, said Acting State Economist Eugene Tian.
“It’s because of interracial marriage,” Tian said. “They already have many generations mixed with other races. … I’ve been watching this trend. It’s been true for the last 10 years, and I think it will continue.”
While the Census’ aggressive marketing to Hawaiians made a difference, most of the increase in their population count was due to a real increase in population, said Richard Pezzulo, chief operating officer for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Native Hawaiians remained the state’s fourth-largest racial group, behind Japanese, Filipinos, and whites, according to the Census. ♦