The journey to clarify the political relationship between Hawaiians and the federal government is under way. Recently, Sen. Daniel Akaka announced his plan to introduce a fast-track, short-form bill in Congress. It recognizes that Hawaiians are indigenous peoples, that our people have a special relationship to the United States, and that self-determination should be restored to Hawaiians under federal law.
This bill is the first step, as it only deals with the issue of achieving federal recognition. It does not discuss lands, reparations, or blood quantum. These important issues will be implemented in the second phase of this critical process, which will deal with the legislation of a process for Hawaiians to form an organizational entity.
This measure includes the proposed creation of an office to focus on Hawaiian issues within the U.S. Department of the Interior. There have been rumors circulating in the community that this proposed agency would be a mirror image of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, only at the federal level. Let me emphasize that this is not the case, and that the rumors are unsubstantiated.
Rather, the purpose of the office is to have a presence in Washington, D.C., that is focused on Hawaiian issues, and to monitor and enforce the trust responsibility that the United States bears toward Hawaiians. This federal office would in no way be connected to OHA.
At a June 1 board meeting, trustees clarified the role of the proposed federal Office of Native Hawaiian Affairs by approving amendments that would task this office with implementing a process of reconciliation in accordance with the Apology Resolution. It would also "effectuate and coordinate trust relationship policies between Native Hawaiians and the U.S....coordinate its efforts through full, regular, and appropriate consultation with indigenous Native Hawaiian peoples...and assist Native Hawaiians in facilitating a process for self-determination."
These events are precedent setting. The Hawaiian community must come forward to express its feelings on this bill, as it will undoubtedly become a permanent thread in the fabric of our people.
Becoming involved may involve some traveling. I am urging Hawaiians to be prepared to go to Washington, D.C., to support this very important measure. Whether by charter flights, through Hawaiian Civic Clubs, or via other Hawaiian organizations, Hawaiians need to be in the nation's capital to show strong support for this bill.
Preparations are being made for an Aloha March in August in Washington, D.C. This event will feature an educational seminar on Hawaiian rights and entitlements planned at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a 24-hour prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol.
Results from a recent media poll indicate that the majority of those polled are in support of restitution to the Hawaiian people by the United States as a result of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. In addition, three-quarters of those polled said they "want something new, a kind of representation that guarantees Hawaiians self-determination, and one crafted by Hawaiians to meet the needs of Hawaiians."
This proposed federal bill is the framework from which Hawaiians' special political status will be constructed. Now is the time for all Hawaiians to step to the forefront and take part in the re-establishment of our Hawaiian nation. We have waited too long to not be part of this important and historic process.
Rowena M. N. Akana is trustee-at-large
in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable