Recognition would bring Hawaiians justice, not special treatment
REPUBLICAN Gov. Linda Lingle and Democratic challenger Randy Iwase have been taken to task for their support of federal recognition of native Hawaiians.
Critics attack both the governor and her challenger by lifting talking points from the Grassroot Institute and other conservative blogs whose aim is to stop Hawaiians in their tracks and then strip recognition already granted to other indigenous groups, such as American Indians and Alaska Natives.
And that's just the start of what they want. The eventual goal of many of these groups is to erode or eliminate all civil rights and affirmative action laws and policies designed to bring about equality.
These groups claim they favor social justice and equality, but then attempt to sweep from our hearts and minds the distinct indigenous status of Hawaiians by slamming a federal recognition policy needed to bring us, as a country, closer to social justice and equality.
They try to confuse us by calling the Akaka Bill racist, ignoring the unique political and legal relationship between the federal government, the state of Hawaii and the indigenous, native people of the 50th state.
A recent critic said, "Racial prejudice within a society causes injustice, disharmony and social conflicts. It leads to unequal distribution of power, prestige, benefits or material wealth in society."
I agree. As a matter of fact, there are countless stories all of us in our world community can tell about racial prejudice and unequal access to power and wealth that we have experienced first hand as the target or witness of prejudice and discrimination. While American Indians, Alaska Natives and native Hawaiians often are the targets of institutional discrimination based on racial prejudice, processes of federal recognition address a different social ill.
Federal recognition of the relationship between the United States and Native Americans is designed to eliminate inequality caused by societal policies and practices that terminated or oppressed Native American self-governance and self-determination, and erode access to lands, waters and other natural blessings essential to Native American existence.
Self-determination, self-governance, decision-making and leadership to protect and access lands, waters, natural blessings, sacred places and group well-being are essential to perpetuation of indigenous Hawaiian culture.
Founding leaders who crafted the U.S. Constitution understood the need to co-exist with indigenous people of these lands, and included this in our U.S. Constitution. Those of us who live in Hawaii know about the past use of force, land grabbing and the "no other options" assimilation policies designed to extinguish the native Hawaiian way of life.
History shows us Hawaiians faced forced termination and methodical assimilation, instead of reconciliation policies that would work toward peaceful coexistence and equality for all.
If we just talk about inequality and do nothing to change policies and practices, the inequality remains the same. For all our families in the United States to experience equality, we must have federal, state and local policies that undo the existing inequality caused by hundreds of years of institutionalized discrimination and destruction of indigenous nations within our country.
Disharmony in our communities flourishes when we pretend a traumatic wrong did not occur. Social conflicts become explosive when we acknowledge traumatic wrong yet continue some forms of overt or covert policies and practices eliminating and devaluing Native American cultures and well-being, by eroding indigenous self-determination, and preventing access, systematically destroying or greedily taking full control of their homelands.
American and world history tells us societal disharmony and conflict build exponentially when social injustice is allowed to compound for decades with no "mutually meaningful" reconciliation of the wrong, and there is a glaring absence of permanently integrated societal policies and values to achieve equality and justice for all.
The United States has acknowledged and apologized for the role of its agents in terminating indigenous governance of Hawaii. We should applaud gubernatorial candidates Randy Iwase and Gov. Linda Lingle for standing up for justice and equality through action.
They know they can't talk about their concern for oppression and racial prejudice out of one side of their mouths, and at the same time speak out against any policy to truly bring about equality out of the other.
They know fairness and justice require that we do the right thing to support the congressional establishment of a process of federal recognition of Hawaiian self-determination.
Martha Ross is Washington, D.C., bureau chief for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.