Senate Re-introduces Bill for recognizing Hawaii

Senate Re-introduces Bill for recognizing Hawaii

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January 19, 2007

By Brian Charlton. HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka warned the U.S. Senate Wednesday that failure to adopt his bill to grant Native Hawaiians federal recognition could lead to a “divided Hawaii,” with many young Hawaiians wanting the islands to become a separate nation.

After years of failing to overcome mostly Republican opposition to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, the Democratic senator reintroduced his legislation to Congress controlled by Democrats for the first time in 12 years.

An identical bill was introduced in the House, where Hawaiian recognition legislation has passed before.

“Despite the perceived harmony, it is the generation of my grandchildren that is growing impatient and frustrated with the lack of progress being made,” said Akaka, 82. “Influenced by a deep sadness and growing intolerance, an active minority within this generation seeks independence from the United States.”

In the text of a Senate floor speech provided by his Washington office, Akaka said “a lack of action will only fuel us down a path of a divided Hawaii.”

Akaka scheduled the introduction on the 114th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the 14th anniversary of the United States offering an apology to Native Hawaiians by declaring support for reconciliation efforts.

“The overthrow facilitated Native Hawaiians being disenfranchised from not only their culture and land, but from their way of life,” he said.

Akaka said young Hawaiians have grown frustrated and many feel they were “violated in their own homeland and their governance was ripped away unjustly.”

The legislation would build reconciliation by providing a structured process to bring together the people of Hawaii so the indigenous people could gain respect and embrace their culture, he said.

The measure also would protect programs that help Hawaiians receive affordable housing, preserve their culture and seek government financial support.

Akaka said the bill authorizes an office in the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States, forms an interagency coordinating group composed of officials who currently administer programs and services to Hawaiians and authorizes a process for the reorganization of the governing entity.

It was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The House bill was introduced by Hawaii Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono.

“This measure gives the Native Hawaiian community the tools to guide its own destiny and manage the lands and assets set aside for it by law,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “Native Hawaiians fully deserve a seat at the table and a direct voice on issues critical to their well being and cultural identity.”

The effort comes seven months after the bill failed to get a final vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. All votes against considering it were from Republicans.

The legislation, nicknamed the Akaka Bill, is part of a seven-year push for legislation to recognize Native Hawaiians as indigenous inhabitants of the 50th state _ a legal status similar to that of American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

“Respecting the rights of America’s first peoples, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians is not un-American,” Akaka said in the speech.

The bill provides a process to set up a Native Hawaiian governing body and then start negotiations to transfer some power and property from state and federal authorities to Hawaiians. The form of the ruling body and the amount of public land to be granted would be decided later.

The bill fell short on a 56-41 procedural vote that required 60 votes to keep it on the Senate floor in June. Now, with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, Akaka says the legislation could have a better shot at passage. But it still might need 60 votes if Republicans decide to stage a filibuster. It could also face a veto from President Bush.

The legislation introduced Wednesday is identical to the bill Akaka negotiated with the Bush administration in 2005, but a different version then was debated in the full Senate because the “amendments” were left off when the Republican-controlled Senate passed them out of committee.

The added sections specifically say that gambling is banned in Hawaii, that individual wouldn’t be able to sue the government on land disputes as the Hawaiian entity would handle those disputes, and that the Department of Defense would have no additional requirements for Hawaiians.

Some Hawaiian groups have opposed federal recognition because they say it will place them under the authority of the U.S. government and stop the drive toward sovereignty. Others simply say it would create a race-based, sovereign sub-nation within the United States.

“It sounds like the bill is the same outrageously bad idea it has been since it was first introduced seven years ago,” said Honolulu attorney H. William Burgess, who has been a longtime critic of the bill. “It would sponsor a separate government for one race; break up and give away much of the state of Hawaii; set a dangerous precedent for the United States and almost certainly lead to secession.”

There are about 400,000 people of Native Hawaiian ancestry nationwide, and 260,000 of them live in Hawaii. No one would be required to join the Hawaiian body provided for under the bill.

“From the standpoint of making right and reconciling the past for a better future we must step forward, especially Native Hawaiians,” said Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which has tried to rally support for the legislation.

©2007, Santa Fe New Mexican

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