Friday, December 14, 2001

Revamped Hawaiian
bill aims at compromise

Sens. Inouye and Akaka will push
the legislation next year

By Christine Donnelly

Redefining native Hawaiian in the so-called Akaka bill should make the bill more palatable to political opponents without sharply limiting the number of Hawaiians served by the legislation, said the chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

While philosophically he would have preferred there be no blood quantum requirement in the bill seeking federal recognition for Hawaiians as a distinct indigenous group, OHA Chairman Clayton Hee said he understood the political expediency of tying those covered by the bill to existing federal legislation, in this case the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920.

"I think the issue of blood quantum tends to separate and divide us. I've always believed that a Hawaiian is a Hawaiian, period. That said, I don't think this (new) wording does an awful lot. Very few if any will be excluded by this new definition," said Hee, who supports the bill. "It gives the Congress some political comfort by restating what was codified by the Congress in 1920. For me, it's more for political convenience as opposed to practical effect."

Although the Akaka bill is dead for this year, Hawaii Democrats Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka said they would push it again next spring in the U.S. Senate. Akaka also introduced an alternative version with changes aimed at appeasing concerns raised by the U.S. Interior Department.

Among the changes was defining as native Hawaiian those people eligible for benefits from the Hawaiian Homes Commission in 1921 (who had to be at least 50 percent Hawaiian) and their lineal descendants. By Hee's reckoning, a descendent born in 1995 -- three generations removed from a Hawaiian eligible in 1921 -- could have as little as 6.25 percent blood quantum and be native Hawaiian under the new version of the Akaka bill.

Akaka's spokesman, Paul Cardus, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the revisions. But Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Director Ray Soon said the new version was a trial balloon and the original remained the "operative bill."

Rowena Akana, OHA's vice chairwoman, has been following the bill closely because she oversees all federal and state legislation for the board. She supports the new definition of native Hawaiian, saying it is more inclusive than the original, which she found "ambiguous" and feared would give the federal government a role in deciding who was native Hawaiian.

"This wording satisfies the federal government requirement for a blood quantum but is more inclusive of all Hawaiians," she said.

Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and John Kyl (R-Ariz.), identified as opposing the bill, did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

If approved next year, the bill would pave the way for native Hawaiians to create their own government, with direct relations with the United States and a political status similar to that of American Indian tribes and Alaska natives.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, there are 401,000 native Hawaiians in the United States, with 65 percent of them of mixed race.

Nearly 141,000 people identified native Hawaiian as their sole race, and another 261,000 claimed native Hawaiian in combination with some other race. Hawaii has by far the highest percentage of native Hawaiians, with California a distant second.

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