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Akaka Bill, lacking ban on gambling, is revived


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POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is before Congress again with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka telling his colleagues yesterday it is a necessary step to resolve issues lingering since the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

“;This benefits all the people of Hawaii,”; said Akaka, D-Hawaii. Hawaii's other three federal lawmakers back the measure that Akaka launched in 2000.

The bill would set up a process for native Hawaiians to participate in the creation of a permanent governing entity similar to American Indian tribal governments. This would allow native Hawaiians to negotiate directly with local, state and federal governments over such issues as control of natural resources, lands and assets.

Previous versions have passed the House, most recently in 2007, and the bill also passed a Senate committee in 2007. But Senate leaders shelved it in face of opposition from the Bush administration, which contended the measure would divide Americans “;along suspect lines of race and ethnicity.”;

President Obama, by contrast, declared while campaigning for president that the legislation would fulfill the promise of “;liberty, justice and freedom”; for native Hawaiians.

But some Hawaiians and other Hawaii residents see pitfalls in the measure, which has had the backing of Gov. Linda Lingle, the American Bar Association, the Japanese American Citizens League and the National Congress of American Indians, according to a release from Akaka.

Ikaika Hussey, an organizer of Hui Pu, which opposes the measure, said the bill could lead native Hawaiians to lose their claims on land and resources.

“;One problem is that old versions of the bill required that after negotiations are complete, then no further claims could be brought up,”; he said. “;I can't imagine the state of Hawaii leaving the table with less than it starts with, and the federal government doesn't intend to lose its possession of military bases. What it means, either way, is that the state and federal government win.

“;Hawaiians never relinquished the right to be a free, self-governing country, but if the Akaka Bill were to pass, I imagine some people would let that go,”; Hussey said.

Attorney William Burgess calls the Akaka Bill discriminatory. It “;creates a group of people selected only because of their race and gives them rights, political power and entitlements that it denies to all other citizens.”; The attorney, who founded Aloha for All and has filed lawsuits challenging the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said “;it defies logic.”;

Jamie Story, president of Grassroots Institute, said, “;Depending on how much land is transferred (to a native Hawaiian government), we are talking about the state losing up to $600 million a year in tax revenues. Our main problem is how vague it is.”;

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, a professor in the University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Program, said, “;I hope the Congress will move on the matter immediately and that President Obama will sign it as soon as possible.”;

She said speedy passage would derail a case due to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25. The court will hear the Lingle administration's appeal of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that the state cannot sell or transfer ceded lands until native Hawaiian claims are settled. The state has built on and collected rents from the ceded lands, 1.2 million acres formerly held by the Hawaiian monarchy, for decades.

The 2007 version of Akaka's bill explicitly banned a future native Hawaiian government from taking private land or setting up casinos. Yesterday's version does not explicitly ban gambling, but Akaka aides said that since gambling already is illegal in Hawaii, such a provision is unnecessary.

Similarly, native Hawaiians are not barred in the new bill from forming reservations, but the bill requires a negotiation process with the state and federal governments - and implementing legislation - before any agreements could be reached, including on land issues.

The 2007 version also exempted the Defense Department from the legislation's reach, while the current version treats the Pentagon like any other federal agency.

The rights of native Hawaiians have been an issue since the 1893 coup by American businessmen drove Queen Liliuokalani from the throne.

In 1959, when Hawaii became a state, the federal government pledged to use lands and assets to the benefit of native Hawaiians. In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the coup, Congress approved a resolution apologizing for the illegal overthrow and acknowledging that native Hawaiians never directly relinquished their claims to sovereignty over their lands.

Native Hawaiians would not gain new eligibility under the bill for programs and services now available to American Indians.

 

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski and the Associated Press contributed to this report.