Politics / As Sen. Daniel Inouye struggles to keep the Akaka Bill afloat by slipping it into a spending measure drafted by his Appropriations Committee, the state is embarking on a parallel process for Native Hawaiian recognition through Act 195.
Signed into law on July 6, 2011, by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a staunch supporter of the Akaka Bill, Act 195 officially acknowledges Native Hawaiians as the sole indigenous people of the Islands.
It also establishes a governor-appointed commission charged with determining just who is Native Hawaiian. The goal is to create a roll of persons eligible to participate in a process that could lead to the formation of a self-governing entity.
To qualify for the roll, individuals must be over age 18 and must be able to prove they are related to the aboriginal peoples who inhabited the Islands prior to 1778. They also must demonstrate “a significant cultural, social or civic connection to the Native Hawaiian community,” and either meet the 50 percent blood quantum set by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act or be a direct lineal descendent of someone who did.
Former Gov. John Waihee, who was named the at-large member of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission and later chosen as its chair, has dubbed it the “reunification commission,” saying it’s “laying a foundation here for establishing the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.”
Waihee declined to be interviewed by the Weekly, saying he wants to wait until Commission members are more “jelled” before making public statements. He did, however, make comments on a Nov. 6 radio show hosted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), which has provided the Commission with office space and $380,000 for operating expenses.
In the same radio program, OHA chief advocate Esther Kiaaina said the Akaka Bill “establishes a process for creating an entity akin to what is being done now. [Act 195] complements the efforts at the federal recognition level. Being part of a Native Hawaiian roll is a big part of setting up a governing entity.”
Therein lies much of the opposition to Act 195, as articulated by P. Kaanohi Kaleikini in testimony delivered last April to the Senate Finance Committee: “I oppose this measure because, like the Federal level Akaka bill, they would set up a Native Hawaiian governing mechanism that would further ensnare and entrench Hawaii into the US system by turning the Hawaiian people into an American Indian tribe, ‘indigenous’ to the US. This would further the US goal of extinguishing Hawaiian Nationals’ claims to our lands and our national identity.”
Others see the Roll Commission as effectively disenfranchising large numbers of kanaka maoli, who have been struggling for years toward independence.
“As you all must know, there are many who stand in very strong opposition to this process, just as many of us oppose federal recognition as a means to sovereignty,” Laulani Teale, an Oahu community activist and cultural peacemaker, testified at the Roll Commission’s first meeting on Oct. 14. “I believe that we all know that the strong-spirited warriors of the independence movement, like our kupuna before us, and many of whom have been fighting against the occupation and colonization of Hawaiʻi for decades, will not change their views, nor participate in a ‘roll’ under any circumstances. These are the front-line warriors whose voices and actions have brought us to where we are today. I think we all know that any form of nation built without these voices would simply not be pono.”
Some Hawaiians, however, clearly do support the bill, including members of the state Legislature as well as the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, ‘Aha Kiole Advisory Committee and OHA.
“This measure is the first step in us as a state taking some action to rectify this very bad situation,” said Maui Sen. J. Kalani English in testimony before the Senate. “Not waiting for the federal government, not waiting for Congress, not waiting for the [United Nations], not waiting for some outside agency, but us.”
But other Hawaiians and their supporters object to the state, which they view as illegal, creating the framework for a native governing entity.
As Ehu Cardwell of the pro-independence Koani Foundation explained in testimony to the Senate, “It boils down to this: You cannot ‘cede’ lands you do not own. You cannot transfer jurisdiction you do not have. Therefore, the ‘state of Hawaii,’ having no lawful lands or jurisdiction, cannot go forward with this Akaka-like, ‘Native Hawaiian (or First Nation) Government Reorganization’ scheme.”
They fear the state-sponsored process set forth by Act 195 will usurp the longstanding efforts of various sovereignty groups, a concern that Waihee tried to dismiss in his radio interview.
“It’s not like the state of Hawaii’s forming this government for us,” he said. “What the government is doing is recognizing we are the indigenous people and giving us the opportunity, through the kindness of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to have the means to go and do that, to ultimately form our own government.”
And that’s precisely the kind of connection that has some kanaka maoli very concerned, as the commission, which must make a status report to the Legislature 20 days prior to the start of the 2012 session, goes about its business.