Monday, March 20, 2000

The Hawaiian Roundtable


Holo I Mua

Several ways to
approach sovereignty

By Christine Donnelly


THE Rice vs. Cayetano ruling invalidating Hawaiians-only elections as an illegal racial exclusion has rallied native Hawaiian activists to push harder for special political status from the U.S. government.

Federal law forbids most racial exclusions except when they meet "strict scrutiny" - for example, to address past wrongs to indigenous peoples who have largely autonomous status.

Native Alaskans and American Indians have this special status in a "trust" relationship with the United States, and with it wide latitude to run their own affairs (commonly referred to as sovereignty or self-determination).

With the Rice ruling opening the door to more legal attacks on programs favoring Hawaiians, activists have stepped up their campaign for political status for Hawaiians based on the overthrow and annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Here are some of the approaches to achieving sovereignty:

Bullet Incremental approach

More than 150 pieces of federal legislation already include native Hawaiians as having a special relationship with the federal government, and that has been worth millions of dollars a year in federal funding for Hawaiian housing, education and health grants.

Proponents of this approach say the quickest and most politically feasible way to preserve current entitlements is to add language to circulating federal bills that makes the legal and political relationship more explicit with each new law.

But detractors say that already strong language - including the U.S. Solicitor General's argument that "the United States has concluded it has a trust relationship to indigenous Hawaiians because it bears a responsibility for the destruction of their government and the uncompensated taking of their lands" -- was not enough to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold OHA's elections. In this era of high court rulings eroding affirmative active programs, they advocate unmistakable legislation recognizing native Hawaiians as indigenous people with dual U.S. and Hawaiian nation citizenship rather than the step-by-step approach.

Bullet Nation-within-a-nation

This integration model is similar to native governments on the U.S. mainland and in Alaska. Information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Interior Department and the National Congress of American Indians shows that details vary greatly depending on the tribal government. But in general, the land base for the sovereign nation is negotiated between the new nation and the U.S. government.

In Hawaii's case, discussion usually starts with the Hawaiian Homelands, a portion of the ceded lands, and Kahoolawe (which the state is holding in trust with the agreement that the island be given to an independent Hawaiian nation if one ever forms). Tribal governments have direct government-to-government relations with the United States and broad latitude to create their own governments, legal systems (police, courts, prisons, etc.), schools and other institutions. They control their own natural resources and zoning. Tribal business enterprises are exempt from federal and state income tax, as are members who live and work on tribe-owned land. The nation defines its own membership and can hold closed elections.

The National Congress of American Indians has passed a resolution supporting the rights of native Hawaiians and their push for such recognition. But they are sure to face opposition in Congress as well if such a bill is introduced. The two sides can be seen within the Rice ruling: one justice from the majority argues native Hawaiians have no "trust" relationship with the U.S. government and don't resemble an Indian tribe; one dissenting justice writes that they very clearly do.

Bullet Total independence

The most radical sovereignty activists want to break away from the United States altogether, and condemn the federal "wardship" that nation-within-a-nation status imposes. They reason that the 1959 vote for Hawaii statehood was invalid and believe the United States should recognize and support reinscription of Hawaii on the United Nations List of Non-Self-Governing Territories eligible for decolonization. Then they'd seek a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite with no interference from the United States.

But John Berry, assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior, said secession from the union "is not an option as far as the United States government is concerned. It's not going to happen." Berry noted that at hearings last year, some Hawaiians asked if returning Hawaii to a kingdom could be done while preserving federal benefits such as Social Security. "The answer is no," Berry said.

Project Hawaiian Justice

Seven steps to nationhood

By Christine Donnelly


PROJECT Hawaiian Justice, the action plan and educational initiative mentioned by several of the roundtable participants, has seven major elements aimed at getting federal legislation passed for Hawaiian nationhood.

Here are the major proposals:

Bullet Public education and support: The goal here is to provide native Hawaiians and other residents of the state with practical data so that fears can be alleviated and realistic goals achieved.

Bullet Native voter registration drive: Aims to register more native Hawaiians to vote, by passing out voter registration material, having a door-to-door voter registration drive and sponsoring voter registration booths on each island.

Bullet Exposure to other native groups: Aims to teach native Hawaiians and their leaders about the realities of other native groups, especially in the United States.

Bullet Hawaiian gathering to build unity: Aims to provide a forum for all native Hawaiians, whether they are interested in the sovereignty movement or not, to talk about about existing programs and services for native Hawaiians.

Such an inclusive gathering could lead to more consensus on what political status to try to achieve.

Bullet American Indian support: Seeks the support of hundreds of native groups already recognized by the federal government on the mainland and in Alaska. The national Congress of American Indians last year issued a resolution in support of native Hawaiians. Such support translates into political muscle when those native groups lobby their own congressional delegations on Hawaii's behalf.

Bullet Federal legislation: The goal here is to have as many native Hawaiians as possible share their visions of self-determination and get the consensus view into whatever federal bill is eventually promoted.

More than 35 community workshops have been held so far.

Bullet Congressional and federal administration support: Aims to develop a congressional lobbying presence that helps secure passage of bills considered good for native Hawaiians and kill ones considered bad.


Defining the terms in Hawaiian issues

Here is a glossary of some terms used in the transcript:

Bullet Ali'i trusts: Trusts bequeathed by Hawaiian royalty that today provide health, educational and social services. Includes Kamehameha Schools, Queen Lili'uokalani Trust, Queen Emma Foundation and Lunalilo Home.

Bullet Ceded lands: Roughly 1.8 million acres of crown, government and public lands ceded to the U.S. government after the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in 1893 and annexed in 1898. In 1921, about 200,000 of these acres were set aside as Hawaiian Home Lands for native Hawaiians with at least 50 percent blood quantum, who pay $1 a year for a 99-year lease. And upon statehood in 1959, another 1.2 million acres of the total was conveyed in trust from the United States to the new state government. The Admission Act stated that the lands and revenues they generated were to be used for "one or more" of five listed purposes, including education, public works and "the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians."

Bullet Kanaka maoli: Indigenous people of Hawaii.

Bullet Reconciliation: A process, including a series of hearings held by the U.S. government in Hawaii last year, to let native Hawaiians express their feelings and seek solutions. Called for in the 1993 apology resolution expressing regret for U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Bullet Sovereignty or self-determination: Government of Hawaiians by Hawaiians.

Bullet Native Hawaiian Bank: Maui bank that is applying for a federal charter and aims to serve native Hawaiians as well as low- and moderate-income families of any race. Plans in the partnership with Bank of America and Chase Manhattan Bank call for native Hawaiians to own the majority stake and to vote their shares via a nonprofit holding company. It is modeled on similar institutions created for American Indians on the mainland.

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