[ NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL ]
A chance for justice in Hawaii
Editor's note: This editorial appeared yesterday in the New York Times. A U.S. Senate vote was scheduled today on whether the Akaka Bill will go to the full Senate for debate and a vote.|
FOR NATIVE Hawaiians, the last two centuries have been a struggle against extinction. Not long after Captain Cook sailed up in 1778, disease, poverty and political and economic exploitation began pushing their culture toward the vanishing point. One harsh milestone came in 1893, when American and European businessmen backed by United States Marines overthrew the Hawaiian kingdom. Annexation by the United States quickly followed.
Hawaii has since thrived as a multiracial society, and its native language and arts have undergone a rebirth in the last generation or two. But if there is a common theme in this resurgent culture, it is an abiding sense of loss. The wrongs done to native Hawaiians are a wound that never healed.
A tiny minority in the islands dreams, madly, of correcting this injustice by becoming an independent country. But Hawaii's broad mainstream -- its Legislature, its current governor and her three living predecessors, its United States senators and two House members, and a solid majority of residents -- has lined up behind something far more sensible.
It's a bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka that would extend federal recognition to native Hawaiians as indigenous people. It would create a governing body for the estimated 400,000 native Hawaiians that would negotiate with the state and federal governments over land and other resources.
After languishing for years, the bill is heading for a Senate vote. This has prompted outraged editorials and op-ed articles warning that a Pacific paradise will become a balkanized banana republic.
Those worries are misplaced. The bill's central aim is protecting money and resources -- inoculating programs for native Hawaiians from race-based legal challenges. It is based on the entirely defensible conviction that native Hawaiians -- who make up 20 percent of the state's population but are disproportionately poor, sick, homeless and incarcerated -- have a distinct identity and deserve the same rights as tribal governments on the mainland.
The Akaka bill does not supersede the Constitution or permit Zimbabwe-style land grabs. It explicitly forbids casinos, a touchy subject in Hawaii. Any changes a Hawaiian government seeks would have to be negotiated with state or federal authorities. As has always been the case on those eight little islands, everyone will have to find a way to get along.