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Thursday, December 14, 2000

Rougher D.C.
road lies ahead
for Akaka bill

Akaka and Inouye plan to
reintroduce the bill, but the
Republican presidential victory
has increased the odds against it

Presidential candidates praised here

By Pat Omandam

A Republican administration and a split Congress will make it very hard for Hawaii's all-Democratic delegation to secure passage of a native Hawaiian recognition bill, say Hawaiians who support the Akaka bill.

"I'm going to work harder than I ever have before, because the odds are now huge," said attorney Beadie Kanahele Dawson, a member of one of several working groups that helped shape the legislation over the summer.

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable "We can't count on a sympathetic Democratic president. And the Congress being so split and chaotic as they are, I believe this rancor and polarization that has developed over the presidential challenge will have long-lasting effects and it certainly will not help in terms of this bill," Dawson said.

Hawaii senators Daniel K. Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye announced yesterday that the presidential recount in Florida, the split in the next 100-member Senate and unpassed spending appropriation bills have shut all windows of opportunity this session to discuss legislation that clarifies the political status of native Hawaiians.

That acknowledgment is especially disappointing to supporters, since President Clinton said he would sign the Akaka bill if it got out of Congress. The House passed an identical bill in late September that raised hopes the Senate would soon follow.

Now, both senators said they will re-introduce the bill in January when the next Congress convenes. But with the Republicans in control, Hawaiian community leader Roy Benham believes passage will be difficult.

"This means we're going to have to work harder to convince the parties that be that this is not a racial thing, but this is a recognition of indigenous people."

Rowena Akana, trustee-elect at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said she's also concerned the new Bush administration may give Washington attorney Ted Olsen a position in the Judiciary Department, a move she fears could threaten existing native Hawaiian rights and entitlements.

Olsen was one of the attorneys who argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Harold "Freddy" Rice and against the state in the Rice vs. Cayetano case.

"And that is a very scary thing for us -- not just for Hawaiians, but for native Americans in general," Akana said.

Meanwhile, Inouye said federal recognition is not the only path for Hawaiians because indigenous people states do not require federal authorization to reorganize their native governments.

"This process can proceed without the involvement of the federal government, and indeed, many have suggested that the process of reorganizing a government to represent the native Hawaiian people should proceed without the involvement of the United States," Inouye said.

Opponents, including some Hawaiian groups, said their rights and claims for sovereignty at the international level would be voided if the measure becomes law.

The Akaka bill, which was introduced in Congress July 20, was created to protect Hawaiian rights and entitlements following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last February that struck down OHA racial restrictions that for 20 years had allowed only Hawaiians to vote and run for OHA.

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable

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