Akaka Bill gets support in House
The measure has bipartisan backing in a committee vote
The Akaka Bill made headway yesterday in the House, gaining approval by the Natural Resources Committee, which is made up of 49 members -- 27 Democrats and 22 Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a senior member of the committee, said he is hopeful the bill will pass this year.
Meanwhile, opponents continue to criticize the bill, saying it does not represent the views of native Hawaiians and that it will only weaken their rights.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie predicted that a bill that gives federal recognition to native Hawaiians will pass Congress this year after the House Natural Resources Committee advanced the measure yesterday.
"We're very happy today. To think with a brand-new Congress that we had the opportunity to raise the issue again and it succeeded. There were no dissenting votes. There were no amendments," Abercrombie said yesterday during a conference call.
Forty-nine members of the House Natural Resources Committee -- of which Abercrombie is a senior member -- approved the Akaka Bill yesterday in a consensus vote. The bill, officially called the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, is expected to be taken up by the House shortly, Abercrombie said.
Passage of the bill has been an uphill battle since it was first introduced in 2000 by Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye.
Last year in the Senate, Akaka was short of obtaining 60 votes needed for a floor vote.
In yesterday's committee vote, Abercrombie said, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., gave a "ringing endorsement," and former committee Chairman Rep. Don Young, D-Alaska, offered supporting remarks on the measure.
"So this was not a Republican or Democratic issue. It was an issue of equity for native Hawaiians, and that was agreed to by everybody from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats," Abercrombie added.
In a written statement, Akaka said he appreciated Abercrombie's leadership in bringing the bill before his fellow committee members.
"In passing this measure, my colleagues in the House acknowledge the importance of federally recognizing Hawaii's indigenous people, native Hawaiians," Akaka said.
Members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee were to hear the bill today.
Scheduled to testify were state Attorney General Mark Bennett; Micah Kane, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission; Haunani Apoliona, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman; and H. William Burgess, spokesman for the nonprofit organization Aloha for All.
Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, an advocate of native Hawaiian independence, said the bill attempts to describe native Hawaiians as indigenous to the United States. "But we are not indigenous to the United States. We are a separate people. We are a nation that was invaded," he said.
Ikaika Hussey, who represents Hui Pu, a coalition of native Hawaiians who oppose the Akaka Bill, said, "The bill would not accomplish its stated goal, which is to protect Hawaiian rights, and what it will do is erode existing rights."
Both Blaisdell and Hussey, who is in Washington, D.C., to testify against the bill, continue to call for more hearings to be held in Hawaii on the measure.