INDEX - SOVEREIGNTYwww.islandbreath.org ID#0516-02
SUBJECT: AKAKA BILL
SOURCE: KEN & JANE TAYLOR firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 17 JULY 2005 - 8:00pm HST
Sovereignty Is Too Much for Some, Too Little for Others
"Sleeping Wahine" by Victoria Fine Art, PO Box 1115 Kamuela, Hawaii 96743, tel (808) 889-1711
Bill Giving Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Is Too Much for Some, Too Little for Others
by Deane Murphy 15 July 2005 published by The New York Times
Hawaii is once again awash with mainlanders, as summer vacationers delight in its beaches and make themselves feel at home even on distant tropical islands. Breakfast at Starbucks, lunch at Subway, dinner at Red Lobster and a restful night at the Marriott or Hilton.
But most visitors soon discover something profoundly different about the 50th state that the requisite luaus and hula dances only hint at. The 250,000 indigenous people of Polynesian ancestry who are among Hawaii's 1.2 million residents make the state like no other, sustaining a native Hawaiian cultural and linguistic imprint that preceded the arrival of Capt. James Cook by a millennium.
Now, 112 years after United States troops helped overthrow the independent Kingdom of Hawaii and 12 years after Congress apologized for it, that Hawaiian distinctiveness appears close to being formally recognized by the United States government. A bill that for the first time would extend sovereignty to the native Hawaiian people is poised for a vote - and likely approval - in the United States Senate despite opposition from many Republicans who denounce the measure as unworkable and as promoting racial Balkanization.
The bill, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, is considered the most significant development for native Hawaiians since statehood in 1959. The measure would give them equivalent legal standing to American Indians and native Alaskans and lead to the creation of a governing body that would make decisions on behalf of the estimated 400,000 native Hawaiians in the United States.
The governing body would also have the power to negotiate with federal and state authorities over the disposition of vast amounts of land and resources taken by the United States when the islands were annexed in 1898, including about 300 square miles of land long ago set aside for use as native homelands and an additional 2,500 square miles scattered throughout the islands being held in trusts.
Haunani Apoliona, a musician who is chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency that would be superseded by the new governing body, said the bill was a long overdue acknowledgment that Hawaiian history did not begin with the arrival of Cook and the British Navy in 1778.
"We were here before Columbus," Ms. Apoliona said. "We were in Hawaii before the Pilgrims."
The House of Representatives has passed earlier versions of the bill and would take up the current one if the Senate passes it, perhaps as early as next week.
The Bush administration has remained largely neutral on the measure, though the Justice Department on Wednesday cast some doubt on the constitutionality of the proposed law, namely whether Congress has the authority to treat native Hawaiians as it does Indian tribes. Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella said in a letter to Congress that the proposed law also must be amended to include protections for United States military operations in Hawaii and stronger language precluding casino gambling.
The bill's supporters in Hawaii say that they do not intend to have casinos and that the Justice Department's other concerns can be addressed.
But they acknowledge there are basic questions that will take years of negotiations to answer, like how native Hawaiians would go about governing themselves, whether native Hawaiians in and outside the state would live under different laws from other citizens, and who would qualify as a native, given the large degree of assimilation through marriage and the many Hawaiians living on the mainland.
As for the measure's constitutionality, most everyone believes that will ultimately be determined by the United States Supreme Court.
The measure, which took more than five years to reach the Senate floor, arises from conflicting crosscurrents in Hawaiian society, as native Hawaiians grow impatient for the United States to right the wrongs of more than a century ago, while many nonnative residents and interest groups seek to scale back entitlement programs already available to native Hawaiians.
Backed by Hawaii's two senators, Daniel K. Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye, both Democrats, the legislation grew in part out of a desire to inoculate the entitlement programs, which cover things like education and housing, from race-based legal challenges. One such challenge was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2000, when the court ruled that native-Hawaiian-only voting in statewide elections for the board Ms. Apoliona leads at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs violated the 15th Amendment.
The bill is opposed by conservatives on the islands and in the Senate who see it as a step back. They say it would create a race-based government, provide a new vehicle for Hawaiian secessionist groups and spawn endless litigation by people seeking redress against the federal government.
In a report by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which provides analysis on behalf of Republican Party positions, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said that the bill amounted to a "rejection of the American melting pot ideal." The report said that the legislation ran counter to a "broad consensus in Congress and in the nation" at the time of Hawaiian statehood that the native Hawaiian people would not be treated separately.
In Hawaii, the bill is being criticized by some as not radical enough.
Kekuni Blaisdell, a retired professor of medicine who coordinates a network of indigenous Hawaiian groups that favor independence, said native Hawaiians like Ms. Apoliona were misguided in their acceptance of "continued foreign domination" by the American government.
Every Thursday night, in his home in the well-to-do hills above downtown Honolulu, Mr. Blaisdell and a dozen or so other activists meet to discuss ways to promote independence for Kanaka Maoli, the Hawaiian term for the islands' indigenous people and the only descriptor Mr. Blaisdell, who is 80, accepts. Another group of activists, led by Dennis Kanahele, live on a compound of leased state land elsewhere on Oahu where they fly the Hawaiian flag upside down as a symbol of distress.
"The bill keeps us under the heel of the United States and assures our subservient status as Native Americans, which we are not," said Mr. Blaisdell, who keeps a photograph on the wall of his grandmother, an orphan who was cared for by the royal family. "We were illegally invaded and occupied by the United States, and we were and still are a separate people and nation."
Opponents in the Senate are drafting amendments that would undo some of the bill's central provisions and require a referendum in Hawaii, which could put the proposal at the mercy of the roughly 80 percent of Hawaiians who are not native as well as independence groups like Mr. Blaisdell's.
A survey conducted on behalf of the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs showed strong public support for the bill, while a poll released by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a nonprofit group critical of the bill, showed that two out of three residents were against it.
Hawaii's governor, Linda Lingle, who has staked much of her political reputation on passage of the legislation, said in an interview that she had spoken with six Republican senators who were committed to join the Senate's 44 Democrats and one independent in voting for the bill.
Ms. Lingle's support may very well make the difference. As the state's first Republican governor since 1962, she has a good relationship with the Bush administration, which is eager to see her succeed.
The Justice Department's letter, sent Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, identified four "serious policy concerns" raised by the bill, but said the administration was willing to work with Congress to address them.
Aside from the matters of gambling and military operations, the letter also called for limiting potential claims against the federal government and clarifying jurisdiction over criminal matters on native Hawaiian lands.
Ms. Lingle, who is not a native Hawaiian, said the issues could be dealt with without altering the essence of the bill.
She rejected criticism that the bill was about race, saying it was an effort to recognize a "distinct people" in the same way Congress has recognized American Indians and native Alaskans.
"The only possible issue of discrimination is if this bill does not pass," the governor said. "It would continue the discrimination against native Hawaiians by treating them differently. They would be the only one of the indigenous people not recognized in this fashion."
For more on the issue see: