Saturday, December 11, 1999

Official: Hawaiian independence unlikely

But better relations
can be established, said the
assistant interior secretary

By Pat Omandam


There is nothing the president, Congress or any federal agency can do to allow Hawaii to secede from the union and be led by a native Hawaiian government, as some sovereignty activists have advocated, according to a federal official.

The only way that could occur is if two-thirds of the 50 states voted to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow the secession.

But that's an unlikely scenario at best, especially since much of the country does not even know the history of Hawaii and what was done to its native people, said John Berry, assistant secretary of policy, management and budget at the U.S. Interior Department.

Berry yesterday said he hopes this week's round of reconciliation talks between native Hawaiians and federal officials is the start of such an education for people in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country.

"There is a great ignorance on the mainland to the history of Hawaii, to the history of the sorry treatment of native Hawaiians by the United States, and that needs to be elevated," he said.

"We need to be about educating Americans, because Americans are a justice-loving people."

More than 300 people packed an East-West Center conference room yesterday to discuss native issues such as health and education, housing, land and natural resources, culture and economic development.

Berry said today's final meeting is expected to focus on what the federal government can do under its existing framework to provide greater recognition of Hawaiians, and to give them the ability to establish a possible government-to-government relationship with the U.S., one that empowers Hawaiians to control their destiny.

Berry and Mark Van Norman, director of the Office of Tribal Justice, met with hundreds of native people statewide this past week. Many asked them to push for Hawaiian independence, restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy, redress and reparations.

Although some of these issues are complicated, Berry hopes to have some recommendations ready in February. All this discussion will not become just another "coffee-table" book, he stated.

"We want to see action. I'm not going to focus on producing a tome, a paper report. I'm going to focus on a short report, quick action, things that can be immediately done to improve this relationship," Berry said.

At yesterday's meeting, Hawaiians said issues such as native education are hard to focus on because they consider it intertwined with self-determination.

Jon Osorio, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies, said the federal government needs to recognize Hawaiians as a separate nation whose children have been forced to assimilate with a form of Western-style education that has made many of them feel inferior.

Retired physician Solomon Nalua'i said he is appalled by the health of native people. Hawaiians have the highest rates of respiratory diseases, diabetes and hypertension in Hawaii, according to the Native Hawaiian Data Book.

Others believe Hawaiians are an endangered species and must be saved. Activist Lela Hubbard said the federal government should set up a scientific program that would create a sperm and egg bank for Hawaiians so their genes can be preserved for the future.

As far as the federal requirement of a 50 percent blood quantum to receive Hawaiian homestead land, that should also be put on ice, said former UH Regent Wayne Kahoonei Panoke.

"We are all Hawaiians, no matter the blood quantum," Panoke said. "Blood quantum is an issue that was not decided by us."

The federal government has heard it all before, said Kinau Boyd Kamalii, a former state lawmaker and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee. Kamalii said a 1983 two-volume report submitted by the federal Native Hawaiian Study Commission outlined the problems, but the Reagan Administration study went nowhere.

Kamalii, who led that commission, said it took 20 years for the the U.S. to even acknowledge its involvement in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, which it did in the form of the 1993 apology. It took another six years just to begin the reconciliation talks, she said. "We're frustrated," Kamalii said. "We tell you all these things, and (still) here we are."

Berry said he will not intervene with any actions by Hawaiians to obtain self-determination through either an international tribunal or at the United Nations level.

"We recognize that native Hawaiians are not American Indians. They are unique, and we appreciate that," said Berry, who was sworn in as assistant secretary in November 1997.

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