Thursday, October 7, 1999

Rice vs. Cayetano

Rice case spurs
call to action
at OHA

Meetings on all islands may
raise support for the agency
and sovereignty

By Pat Omandam


The Office of Hawaiian Affairs' native gathering, or puwalu, next spring likely will be a big first step in getting federal recognition of a Hawaiian nation, OHA leaders said after the U.S. Supreme Court hearing of the Rice vs. Cayetano case in Washington.

OHA trustees believe yesterday's one-hour hearing did not go well for the state and OHA in defending the Hawaiians-only OHA elections.

OHA logo Lawyers, however, cautioned it is difficult to gauge how the Supreme Court will rule on the appeal by Harold "Freddy" Rice in his racial discrimination voting case.

Trustees say the way the justices reacted at the hearing made them realize the urgency for Hawaiians to move collectively toward a sovereign nation, one that the Supreme Court will recognize.

"When we get back to Honolulu next week, I'm sure the conversations are going to be around such talks," said OHA Chairwoman Rowena Akana, among seven of nine trustees who attended the hearing yesterday.

Akana said OHA will likely hold meetings on each island to muster support for the agency and its $317 million trust, as well as raise consensus for sovereignty.

Mililani Trask, an OHA trustee and an attorney, said some questions asked demonstrated ignorance on the court about OHA and Hawaiian issues. For example, one justice asked if OHA was a public agency that served the general public. Another asked, If the court ruled in the state's favor, does this mean Indians who are not tribes will then have the right to put up casinos?

Trask said only one justice referred to the 1993 apology resolution passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. It formally apologized to native Hawaiians for the involvement of U.S. citizens in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

"The truth is, when you look at it, and when you look at this court's record, 18 out of 20 cases involving native Americans, they've overturned," Trask said.

"And some justices, like Sandra Day O'Connor, (William) Rehnquist, they vote against native Americans every time."

OHA was created in the 1978 state Constitutional Convention and is charged with the betterment of native Hawaiians. Its trustees serve four-year terms, with half of the nine seats up for election every two years.

By law, OHA trust funds can be used only for programs that benefit native Hawaiians or those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood. The agency seeks annual matching funds from the state to cover the rest of those of Hawaiian ancestry.

Trask said Hawaiians need to redouble their effort and demand that Congress re-establish and recognize an independent Hawaiian nation.

One way is through the recently approved $243,500 OHA puwalu, being organized by an advisory group seeking a consensus on sovereignty.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he was "cautiously optimistic" the court will affirm the determination that the Congress has made in enacting more than 160 laws affecting native Hawaiians.

Rice vs. Cayetano

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