Saturday, July 21, 2001

Senate takes up
revised Akaka bill

Hawaiians' status would be like
that of American Indians

By Pat Omandam

A congressional bill giving Hawaiians a process for federal recognition, similar to that given to American Indian tribes, will be heard Tuesday before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The bill also would create a Washington, D.C., office and an interagency group to monitor native Hawaiian policies.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the committee's chairman, scheduled a 10 a.m. EST hearing on S.746, according to yesterday's U.S. Senate Calendar. A companion House bill has already gained committee approval and was prepared for action last Monday on the House floor.

"This is a move forward," said attorney Beadie Kanahele Dawson, a member of the group of Hawaiians who helped draft the original Akaka bill, which failed to pass Congress last year.

"The bill is not perfect. It will either require some adjustments between now and full passage or possibly even in later years," she said.

The proposal was reintroduced last April by Inouye and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii. Recognizing concerns of some Hawaiians raised during congressional hearings in Hawaii a year ago, the modified bill removed any requirement about how Hawaiians should reorganize.

The senators also added language ensuring that gambling, outlawed in Hawaii, will not be authorized under any federal recognition of Hawaiians.

A financial review on the bill by the Congressional Budget Office reports the planned native Hawaiian office within the U.S. Department of Interior and the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group would require five employees at a cost of less than $500,000 a year.

The budget office said the legislation would have no significant impact on the federal budget. It said the transfer of any lands or other assets to this new government, including lands controlled by the state of Hawaii, would be subject to negotiations.

September has been pegged as the target date for a vote on the bill.

If it becomes law, the bill would recognize the right of native Hawaiians to organize "for their common welfare and to adopt appropriate organic governing documents."

By doing so, it would establish parity in federal policies toward native Hawaiians, Alaska natives and American Indians. It would also help protect federal programs that already help Hawaiians against legal challenges spurred by the Rice vs. Cayetano ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' Hawaiians-only elections were illegal.

Meanwhile, supporters acknowledge the biggest challenge may not be in Congress, but at the White House.

A few Hawaiian leaders are worried the measure may be opposed by new U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson. He had argued against OHA in the Rice case.

But Olson would have to go against his predecessor, Seth P. Waxman, who sided with OHA in the Rice case. Waxman had stated the United States has a trust obligation to indigenous Hawaiians because it had a responsibility for the loss of their government and the uncompensated taking of their lands.

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