Civil Rights Commission is blind to Hawaiian history
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has recommended that Congress reject Hawaiian sovereignty.
FEDERAL recognition of Hawaiian sovereignty took a severe hit last week by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The majority of the commissioners issued a report concluding that legislation that would grant Hawaiians their own government would be racially discriminatory. The conclusion is simplistic and off base
In a 5-2 vote, the commissioners maintained that the sovereignty bill sponsored by Senator Akaka would "discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege." That will be the main constitutional argument by opponents if the bill ever reaches the Senate floor, even though the Constitution gives Congress plenary authority to recognize native peoples.
The bill essentially would provide the same status to Hawaiians that is given to American Indians and indigenous Alaskans. Congress has stated in numerous programs assisting Hawaiians that it was doing so not "because of their race but because of their unique status as the indigenous people" of Hawaii.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in Rice vs. Cayetano that keeping non-Hawaiians from voting in elections for state Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees was racially discriminatory was based on the absence of Hawaiian sovereignty. In a 1974 case on the Bureau of Indian Affairs' hiring preference of Native Americans, the high court ruled that "the preference is political rather than racial." Hawaiians deserve equal treatment.
Opponents have pointed out that, unlike Indian and Alaskan tribes, the Hawaiian kingdom was multiracial. It is true that the kingdom was enlightened enough to welcome foreigners into its society and government.
Foreigners had been clever enough to gain possession of four-fifths of the islands' land at the time of the toppling of the monarchy in 1893 but wanted political control.
The overthrow was clearly spearheaded by Americans living in Hawaii and backed by American troops. It was led by Honolulu publisher Lorrin Thurston, in collaboration with John Stevens, American minister under the administration of Benjamin Harrison, who said he would welcome annexation, which came five years later. Congress has apologized.
The implication by opponents of the Akaka Bill is that any sovereign Hawaiian nation should be extended to all people who can trace their lineage to anyone living in the islands at the time of the overthrow, including those who plotted and participated in it. That would turn history on its head.
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