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Native Hawaiian recognition bill stalled
as U.S. Congress recesses
until after November 7 U.S. election

by Kekuni Blaisdell
Honolulu, Ka Pae'äina (Hawai'i)

  • Back to: "Regarding the U.S. Relationship with Native Hawaiians"

November 12, 2000

Caught in the crossfire of United States (US) presidential politics and racism, Sen. Daniel Akaka's Native Hawaiian Government Recognition Bill (S 2899-HR 4904) failed to pass the current US Congress which recessed on November 3. The struggle will resume when the lame duck Congress reconvenes after the November 7 US national elections.

The Akaka bill has also divided the Kanaka Maoli community. Pro-independence Känaka Maoli are opposed to the bill because it would create a puppet Native Hawaiian government in violation of Kanaka Maoli inherent sovereignty and self-determination. Supporters are mainly Kanaka Maoli colonial-establishment insiders who depend on US Federal funds. They hope that the legislation will pass before possible election of an anti-indigenous peoples Republican-controlled Congress and White House. Meanwhile, the majority of Känaka Maoli remain unaware of the damaging impact of this legislation should it become law.

Introduced July 20 by US Democratic Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawai'i, the bill was designed to protect the State of Hawai'i Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and other Kanaka Maoli programs from being challenged in US Courts. On February 23, the US Supreme Court had ruled in the Rice vs. Cayetano case that because OHA elections were open only to Känaka Maoli, they were "race-based" and, therefore, in violation of the US Constitution's 15th Amendment.

Accordingly, the Washington-drafted Akaka bill proposes a "quasi-sovereign" Native Hawaiian Government similar to US Federally-recognized American Indian Tribal Councils. Such US "government-to-government" trust relationships have usually been considered by US courts to be "political," rather than "race-based." However, under US Federal Indian Control Law, Känaka Maoli would become "wards" with the US government as "trustee." As "wards" in a "domestic dependent nation," Känaka Maoli would be subject to the "plenary power of Congress," with the US holding title to all Kanaka Maoli lands.

In spite of stormy Kanaka Maoli protests during Honolulu hearings August 28 to September 1, the Akaka Bill was approved by the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee on September 15. It was also passed by the US House of Representatives on September 26, by voice vote without objections. However, it has yet to be brought to the US Senate floor for a vote because of Republican senators' new objections to Känaka Maoli acquiring a political status analogous to that of American Indians with special entitlements.

Currently, US Federal programs for landless Känaka Maoli in health, housing, education and economic development amount to a mere $30 million per year. Whereas, return of all 1.8 million acres of US and State of Hawai'i stolen ("ceded") Kanaka Maoli lands could provide an estimated $2 billion annually to relieve the Kanaka Maoli plight.

The most recent September 26 amended version of the complicated and contradictory 31-page Akaka Bill has not been distributed in Kanaka Maoli communities for review and is consistently misrepresented in the colonial news media.

In essence, the bill would establish a Washington, DC, bureaucracy and it would require the following 8 main steps in the creation of a US pre-determined Native Hawaiian Government under US colonial rule:

(1) A US Office for Native Hawaiian Affairs (OFNHA), under the US Secretary of Interior, would include a Department of Justice Representative and consult with a US Native Hawaiian Interagency Task Force (NHITF) and the island Native Hawaiian community.

(2) OFNHA, with the Native Hawaiian community, would develop a Roll of Native Hawaiians, of unspecified minimum number and with two eligibility criteria for Roll members: (a) descendants of island native residents before January 1, 1893 (the eve of the US invasion of Ka Pae'äina), or (b) native Hawaiians eligible for 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act programs (Känaka Maoli of 50% or more blood quantum) or their descendants.

(3) The Roll would be certified and published by a 9-member Native Hawaiian Commission (NHC). NHC members would be Native Hawaiians appointed by the Interior Secretary from 5 nominations by the Majority and Minority Leaders of the US Senate and 4 nominations submitted by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the US House.

(4) OFNHA would assist the Native Hawaiian community in electing from the Roll a Native Hawaiian Interim Governing Council (NHIGC). The number of NHIGC members is not specified.

(5) NHIGC would draft Native Hawaiian Government (NHG) governing documents which would be ratified in a referendum by a secret ballot majority vote by Roll members.

(6) Roll members would also elect NHG officers who would replace the NHIGC. The number and titles of these NHG officers are not specified.
(7) NHG officers would submit the ratified organic governing documents to the Interior Secretary.
(8) Upon certification by the Secretary that "documents are consistent with applicable Federal law and special trust relationship between US and native people of the US..., Federal recognition... [would be] extended."

While the reconvening current, but lame-duck, US Senate will, presumably, reconsider the Akaka Bill, the outcome of the November 7 election is likely to be decisive. If the Republicans dominate, the bill may not even reach a vote in the Senate because of known hostility of some key Republicans to indigenous peoples. If the Democrats win the Congress and White House, approval of the bill is anticipated.

Follow-up lawsuits by pro-Rice "equal-protectionists" against Kanaka Maoli benefits and recent island community forums on culture and race, dominated by non-Känaka Maoli, have heightened non-Kanaka Maoli public expressions on the Kanaka Maoli sovereignty issue.

This has created a curious and, for traditionally sharing and caring Känaka Maoli, a painful paradox. A powerless minority, US colonized Känaka Maoli are being accused of racism for attempting to survive as a distinct people and nation in their homeland. The colonizing majority of US and Asian settlers and US laws of "no race-based voting" and "equal protection" are now being used to deny dispossessed Känaka Maoli of any special rights as the host people in their homeland.

An October 19-24 telephone poll by the colonial Honolulu Advertiser newspaper of 261 island voters of all ethnicities, revealed conflicting views. While 73% favor the Akaka Bill, only 56% support "special benefits" for Känaka Maoli and 36% say such "special treatment" for Känaka Maoli would be "wrong." Whereas, 49% favor "a sovereign Hawaiian nation," only 46% say that only Känaka Maoli should decide and 49% believe that all residents should be involved.

These results also suggest that the current settler-dominated island population has begun to adopt the US colonial government's contradictory meanings for two key terms when applied to Känaka Maoli. "Hawaiian sovereignty" is to mean that colonized Känaka Maoli are not sovereign but must remain under US sovereignty. "Hawaiian self-determination" is to mean that colonized Känaka Maoli are not to exercise true self-determination because the dominant non-Kanaka Maoli settlers will determine the political status of Känaka Maoli in the Kanaka Maoli homeland.

Känaka Maoli currently number 210,000, comprise only 20% of the total Ka Pae'äina resident multi-ethnic population of 1.2 million, and remain divided on the sovereignty issue, as noted above. Thus, the continuing struggle for a nuclear free and independent Kanaka Maoli nation against the US, the planet's most formidable and only superpower, is usually considered to be "unrealistic."

However, even colonial establishment polls show growing support for Kanaka Maoli independence--up to about 30% among Känaka Maoli. This is because of widening awareness of the historical, moral and legal basis for independence in the 1993 Kanaka Maoli Tribunal verdict and recommendations and the 1993 US Apology Resolution. More of the general public are also realizing that there cannot be justice for all without justice first for Känaka Maoli. Such justice cannot be found in contradictory and racist US domestic law, but must invoke international law and indigenous cultural law. This means increasing Pacific region and world community involvement and commitment as part of the global struggle for all threatened indigenous peoples.

  • Back to: Regarding the U.S. Relationship with Native Hawaiians

Published in In Motion Magazine November 9, 2000, - updated November 26, 2000.