17 July 2005

Hawaiian Sovereignty...

It's been long since about time for this...


Bill Giving Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Is Too Much
for Some, Too Little for Others


HONOLULU, July 15 - 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

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be superseded by the new governing body, said the bill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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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

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


Blogger lee said...

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee, wrote a comprehensive analysis addressing his concerns over the creation of a race-based government for Native Hawaiians and the dangerous precedents that this bill would create. The paper is available at http://rpc.senate.gov/_files/Jun2205NatHawSD.pdf.

1:49 pm  

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