Lawmakers go native with Hawaiian bills
Proper language use, traditional tattooing and taro genetics are top indigenous issues
A renewed push for laws protecting native Hawaiian culture would make sure Hawaiian words are spelled correctly, legalize traditional tattooing and protect taro plants from genetic alteration.
One bill that would require that macrons and glottal stops -- known in Hawaiian as kahako and okina -- be used in the spelling of Hawaiian words in all government documents has already created debate at the Capitol.
"What better way to respect the culture of our land than to spell its words correctly?" asked state Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) in a Senate committee meeting last week. "Is that too difficult a task in this land of aloha?"
The idea, however, was shot down because of the committee's concerns that the wording of the bill would require that all government documents be translated into Hawaiian -- not just that Hawaiian words are spelled correctly when used. Hee said he hopes a new version of the bill will come up later this session.
These pro-Hawaiian measures are being backed by the Hawaiian Caucus, which is taking a more active role this legislative session after falling relatively dormant the last couple of years.
Members of the caucus include all the lawmakers who claim Hawaiian heritage -- two senators and eight representatives.
"There's never been a holistic wellness approach for native Hawaiians in the Legislature," said Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, executive director for Molokai General Hospital. "The native Hawaiian community has too little impact on the rapid development of the state."
The Hawaiian tattoo bill would legitimize the industry, which is currently illegal because it is not regulated, said Rep. Karen Leinani Awana (R-Kalaeloa-Nanakuli). Traditional Hawaiian tattooing uses procedures and tools borrowed from nature, such as bird beaks and claws.
The law would create a board within the Department of Health made up in large part by Hawaiian tattoo masters, whose job would be to establish training requirements and safety standards. It has not been heard by a committee yet.
"It's illegal for our people's traditions to take place," Awana said. "The fear out there is you have people out there claiming to be practitioners who are not practicing it the right way."
One bill that has moved forward would grant a 10-year moratorium on testing, cultivating or growing genetically engineered taro, which some native Hawaiians consider a sacred ancestor from whose roots humans grew.
The proposal passed the Senate Water, Land, Agriculture, and Hawaiian Affairs Committee this week.
"Science doesn't understand Hawaiians' relationship with taro," said Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai). "When you try to restructure taro, for Hawaiians you're trying to restructure the universe. There's a deeply spiritual connection."
Another Hawaiian-focused bill would establish Aha Moku councils across the islands, which would give fishers, farmers and elders a voice in the state's natural resource management.
The councils would meet regularly and make recommendations to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
"Someday lawmakers will get it," Hee said. "Sometimes it takes a while to build the momentum these proposals need."