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Hawaii could become No. 1 in Native American population


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POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

There are always some categories in which Hawaii ranks No. 1 among the 50 states. Some statistics are good; others not so.

One, of course, is that we have more Hawaiians living in the islands than live in any of the other 49 states and the District of Columbia.

And, if the Akaka Bill changes the legal status of Hawaiians to make them Native Americans, we might become No.1 in both the percentage of Native Americans in our population, and the total number. Currently, Oklahoma ranks first with 179,524 Native Americans, while Hawaii is 46th, with only 2,663 who show up in the most recent census projections as Native Americans.

But we have more than 200,000 Hawaiians living in the islands. If the Census Bureau uses the 50 percent blood quantum to identify Hawaiians, which was established by Congress when the Hawaiian Homes Act was passed nearly a century ago, we would still be low on the list.

If, on the other hand, all persons with any percentage of Hawaiian blood are counted by the federal government as “;Native Americans,”; Hawaii will have more Native Americans than any other state, followed by Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Carolina, California, Arizona, Washington, Alaska, South Dakota and Wisconsin rounding out the top 10.

Alaska earned its spot in the top 10 because the government does count all Alaskan natives — Indian, Eskimo and Aleut — as Native Americans.

Which states have the fewest Native Americans?

Currently, only Vermont, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, West Virginia and New Hampshire (numbered 47 through 51) have fewer Native Americans than does Hawaii. New Hampshire has fewer than 1,000 Native Americans, based on Census Bureau projections in 2000.

Based on the 1990 census, the largest single group of Native Americans are the Cherokee with 369,035 Americans boasting Cherokee blood. If Hawaiians become Native Americans, they would rank second nationally only to the Cherokees, and would be followed closely by 225,298 Navajos, with Sioux and Chippewa the only other tribes with populations of more than 100,000. Alaska's largest tribes are Tlingit and Alaskan Athabaskans with slightly more than 14,000 each.

There are currently 561 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States.

These tribes possess the right to form their own government, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal), to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone and to exclude persons from tribal territories.

Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states. For example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).

And, based upon the revised bill submitted by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka in March, even if recognized as Native Americans, Hawaiians would not be permitted to establish gambling operations, since gambling is illegal in Hawaii.

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C. Keith Haugen is a musician, composer and teacher who lives in Honolulu.