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David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, November 4, 2000


Redress for Hawaiians

AFTER the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Hawaiians-only voting in Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections, my first impulse was to not vote for OHA trustees.

I had no quarrel with the Supreme Court's ruling in Rice vs. Cayetano -- or with U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor's decision to allow non-Hawaiians to run for the OHA board. Judges couldn't very well sanction racially segregated state elections.

Flag Button art Still, OHA was created to help Hawaiians help themselves and I supported that. I thought I could best be of service by keeping out of their business. I changed my mind when it became clear that if I didn't vote, it would only strengthen the voting power of those like John Goemans and William Burgess who wish to destroy OHA and other programs that serve Hawaiians.

So I decided to take the advice of the Japanese American Citizens League and vote only for Hawaiian candidates. But when I entered the absentee voting booth, I was overwhelmed by the two-page ballot listing 96 candidates for nine OHA seats. I realized that OHA is dead as an instrument for Hawaiian self-determination.

Even if voters pick nine Hawaiian trustees this time, it's unlikely that trustees selected from this potluck stew will truly represent the will of the Hawaiian people. The trend for the future is more worrisome.

Charles Ota of Maui, the first non-Hawaiian trustee appointed by Gov. Ben Cayetano, is spending more than $50,000 to keep his seat -- far more than other candidates.

If this is the way it's going to be, future OHA elections will resemble legislative races with big-money campaigns and candidate endorsements by business, labor and other non-Hawaiian special interests. Hawaiian candidates will have to avoid offending non-Hawaiian voters to have any chance.

The only hope is for Congress to pass Sen. Daniel Akaka's bill to recognize a federal trust relationship with Hawaiians, similar to the arrangement with Alaskan natives and American Indians. Hawaiians could then form a governing body to control OHA's assets that might pass constitutional muster.

But chances of passage are slipping this year and would be dim next year if Republicans regain the White House and continue to control Congress.

Opponents argue that programs for Hawaiians are raced-based preferences that discriminate against Hawaii residents of other ethnic backgrounds.

THIS is bogus. Hawaiians are a native people, not a racial minority -- an important difference. Ours is a great country, but it was partly built at the expense of indigenous people who lacked the military might to defend their lands. American Indians and Alaskan natives have received redress. It's time to do right by Hawaiians.

It doesn't matter that today's voters didn't personally do anything wrong when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893. Our country was wrong for its part in the overthrow and has apologized by congressional resolution. A federal reconciliation group has recommended a measure of self-governance for Hawaiians and other redress.

Nor does it matter that many of us who are not ethnic Hawaiians may be "Hawaiian at heart." While that is admirable, it doesn't entitle us to claim the birthright of Hawaii's indigenous people or to call the shots for Hawaiians in their drive for self-determination.

The longer this drags on, the more likely Goemans and Burgess will get their way. OHA will be corrupted from its original purpose and other programs for Hawaiians will be dismantled by the courts. Shame on us if we let that happen.

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David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at dshapiro@starbulletin.com.

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