Commission’s findings clarify position on Akaka Bill
In an unusual move, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued its recommendation against congressional passage of the Akaka Bill without including its "Findings" (from the commission's briefing) that led it to recommend against passage. It appears that the commission deleted the "Findings" from its report because of allegations of inaccuracies about Hawaiian history, particularly the existence or nonexistence of a native Hawaiian governing entity after the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Senator Inouye was among those making such allegations, as was the local Civil Rights Advisory Committee. But to my knowledge, no specific inaccuracies have yet been pointed out in print.
Anyone who has been in Hawaii more than a year or two is well aware of the continuing debate about whether or not U.S. armed forces played an active role supporting the revolution or were simply present as neutral peacekeepers to protect the lives and property of American citizens present in Hawaii at the time. In recent years, the local press has been filled with pieces debating which contemporary congressional report on the 1893 events is accurate, and which U.S. president's reaction to the events was the correct one. After more than a century of debate, it is unlikely that the matter will ever be conclusively decided.
But the commission's findings focus on the present and the future, and make only passing references to Hawaiian history. They focus on equal rights for all U.S. citizens going forward, not on any possible injustices in the past. Accordingly, it is appropriate for some of the key findings from the commission's draft report be made available to Hawaii's citizens.
Here are a few of the key findings that were deleted from its final report:
» "Using ancestry as a proxy for race, (the Akaka Bill) would ... establish an impermissible racial preference in the establishment and operation of a governing entity."
» "The Office of Hawaiian Affairs currently administers a racial preference system in the form of a substantial public trust. ... (The Akaka Bill) appears to be an effort to preserve that system in the face of anticipated constitutional challenges."
» "Like numerous Native American groups seeking tribal status, a Native Hawaiian entity would fail to meet several mandatory criteria":
-- Requirement that the entity seeking recognition have continuously been identified as a (tribal) entity since 1900
-- (Requirement that the entity) has existed predominantly as a distinct community
-- (Requirement that the entity) has exercised political influence over its members as an autonomous entity.
» "Allotting benefits on the basis of race, in the situation where a Native Hawaiian entity had not satisfied the regulatory standards for federal recognition (as an Indian tribe), would invoke heightened scrutiny and would likely be declared unconstitutional."
» "For Native Americans, the Indian Civil Rights Act specifically incorporates the constitutional protections of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the civil rights protections of federal legislation. No equivalent protections would extend to Native Hawaiians under the (Akaka Bill)."
The excerpts from the findings cited above are just a few highlights from a closely reasoned summary of conclusions reached by the commission after reviewing voluminous testimony, written and oral, from both proponents and opponents of the Akaka Bill during the past several years.
The full text of the testimony and briefings can be viewed at www.usccr.gov. Under "Recent Commission Reports," click on "Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005."
Tom Macdonald lives in Kaneohe.