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Thursday, April 6, 2000

Hawaiian Homes
leader sees need
for protection

He wants to send a unified
native voice to Congress to
keep government-funded
programs from being lost

By Pat Omandam


The head of the Hawaiian Homes Commission believes there is an urgent need to send a unified native voice to Congress to protect government-funded native programs.

Although the Rice vs. Cayetano opinion has only a "marginal direct impact" on the 80-year-old federal homestead program for native Hawaiians, there is a strong likelihood that subsequent lawsuits could threaten it, said Raynard C. Soon, commission chairman and director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable "If you read the decision closely, you'll see that there's a lot of rich language there that may in fact lead to "Rice 2," the next set of lawsuits having to do with Hawaiian programs, and (which are) in fact, direct hits on them as measured against the 14th amendment," Soon said yesterday.

"I think that that's the logical next step. ... And I think that we can either spend millions of dollars defending or we can be proactive today and get the federal recognition necessary in order to limit the impacts," he said.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ordered the U.S. District Court in Honolulu to begin new proceedings on the Rice vs. Cayetano case to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's Feb. 23 opinion that struck down the state's Hawaiians-only voting restriction for Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections.

The justices' majority opinion focused on the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states citizens can't be denied the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.

But the opinion also discussed the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws.

Soon believes others will use that amendment to legally challenge all race-based programs. John Goemans, the lawyer who represented Harold "Freddy" Rice, has said he would mount broader attacks on Hawaiian benefits and is seeking plaintiffs to challenge the requirement that OHA trustees be of Hawaiian ancestry.

Acknowledging the urgency, the state Legislature proposed resolutions urging Congress to recognize native Hawaiians and to amend the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 to give them status similar to American Indians. The former measure remains alive; the latter was scuttled.

Soon said it was premature to consider recognizing the commission as a sovereign entity and that it could not serve as a foundation for one but declined to elaborate. Such talk could be divisive within the Hawaiian community.

"Right now, the issue is first on making sure we obtain the recognition. How the final form takes, how the benefits are delivered. ... I think those are left to future discussions," Soon said.

The State Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations has not taken a formal position on what to do in the wake of the Rice decision.

But it has set a goal as being recognized as a sovereign entity, says Tasha Kama, council vice chairman.

Kama, a minister at the Christian Ministry Church in Wailuku, said yesterday that the intent of the Hawaiian Homes Act was to grant self-governance and self-determination to Hawaiians who were displaced from their lands when Hawaii became a territory of the United States.

As a result, the council, at past annual conventions, has approved resolutions that called for the end of government wardship of Hawaiians and sought federal recognition for them, she said.

But with the Rice decision, Kama said, those goals of protecting the homestead trust must be balanced with the needs of the entire Hawaiian community.

OHA Special

Rice vs. Cayetano arguments

Rice vs. Cayetano decision

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable

E-mail to City Desk

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