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Monday, March 13, 2000

Inouye: ‘We can’t
sit around and wait
for someone to act’

The Hawaiian Affairs Task Force
knows it's 'taking on a hot potato'
in the wake of Rice vs. Cayetano

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


WAIMEA, Kauai -- Hawaii's congressional delegation is fully aware it may be rushing in where wise men fear to tread by deciding to form a Hawaiian Affairs Task Force, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in an interview on Kauai this weekend.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has agreed to chair the group, and announced its formation Friday.

"Somebody may say, 'Who do you think you are to form this task force?' but we can't sit around and wait for someone to act. The anger that the court's decision caused in many Hawaiians cannot be allowed to fester," Inouye said.

"The delegation realizes it's taking on a hot potato. It would be an understatement to say it will be a challenge," Inouye said.

The delegation formed the task force in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Rice vs. Cayetano. The high court held that because it is a state agency, the election of Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees cannot be limited to the vote of native Hawaiians.

OHA logo The immediate question is how to replace or reconfigure OHA in a way that gives native Hawaiians sole authority over the administration of the money they receive for the lease of ceded lands, Inouye said.

Creating a separate entity that solely represents native Hawaiian interests may require changes to the statehood act, federal law or even the state and federal Constitutions, he added.

"Clearly, there's some work ahead of us. I don't think at this point anyone has a clear picture of what this final entity will look like. The one thing that is clear is that it should not be dictated and should be the result of a concerted effort by all."

The lack of any treaties or agreements at all between the United States and Hawaiians, coupled with the court's ruling, leaves a blank slate, he said. "There is no real precedent to fall back on."

Inouye said the most hopeful thing he saw in the court case has gone almost unnoticed: an argument filed with the court by the U.S. Solicitor General's Office stating that the federal government considers native Hawaiians to be native Americans and affords them the same status of sovereignty.

"That's the first time anyone in the government has made that statement, and I was glad to see it. It's true, Indian sovereignty is based on treaties, and the Hawaiians have no treaties with the United States, but the important point is that the federal government is officially recognizing the Hawaiians' right to self-determination," Inouye said.

Inouye made his comments following a luncheon hosted by the Kauai Economic Development Board. Inouye and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, were on Kauai to tour the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility, which has received a flood of new federal funding for testing of the Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program.

Stevens buoyed the spirits of his hosts by announcing that, based on the cutting-edge technology he saw at the base, the Navy and Kauai can expect even more funding in the future.

OHA Special

Rice vs. Cayetano arguments

Rice vs. Cayetano decision

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