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Thursday, May 18, 2000

Mink urges
Hawaiians to
have their say
on federal status

She wants feedback
on the proposals before
legislation is introduced

By Pat Omandam


U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink says there must be extensive feedback from the Hawaiian community on any proposed federal legislation that affects them before it is introduced in Congress.

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable And if that means waiting until next year, so be it, she said.

"I don't want people to think that they have to hurry up and give an answer because the clock is running," she said.

Mink said in a telephone interview yesterday that her recent comments about the short June deadline to submit recommendations on a draft bill dealing with the political status of Hawaiians was based on the need for all sectors of the native community to have a chance to comment on it. She didn't want to give the impression Hawaii's delegation was merely "racing the calendar" to get a bill introduced.

"The last thing we want to do is rush it through, and then people in the end come to the Congress and say, 'I didn't have a chance to be heard.' That would be far worse than having different points of view on what direction we ought to be following," she said.

Members of Hawaii's congressional delegation are expected back in Hawaii in early June to gather recommendations from five working groups for the short-form draft bill. The proposal, which is being discussed in the community and at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, recognizes Hawaiians as the indigenous people of Hawaii, acknowledges they have a right to self-determination, and stipulates that the United States has a trust responsibility to help them gain sovereignty.

It creates a federal Office of Native Hawaiian Affairs, as well as an inter-agency council to handle policy on Hawaiian issues. State Rep. Sol Kahoohalahala (D, Lanai) sees the bill as the first step in a two-phase effort toward sovereignty.

"The real meat of the federal recognition is identifying the entity that would be given the federal designation," he said. "That entity is the one that's going to take a little bit more time."

"So if you look at it in that light, then the first step is to establish the relationship between the federal government and the native Hawaiian people," which this bill does, Kahoohalahala said.

The OHA board today was expected to discuss the draft legislation. Trustee Rowena Akana has already sent a letter to Sen. Daniel Akaka asking that the Hawaiian community be given as much input as possible on who represents them at the federal level. She said she is troubled by the language that appoints members to the proposed Native Hawaiian Interagency Council. She said it's important that the Hawaiian community have confidence in and familiarity with those who would serve on that council.

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