Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Civil rights
report supports

The advisory group wants the
U.S. to move on native issues

By Pat Omandam

The U.S. government needs to move faster on granting federal recognition to native Hawaiians, an advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said yesterday.

The Hawaii Advisory Committee's findings mirror recommendations made in October by the U.S. departments of Justice and Interior on federal reconciliation with native Hawaiians.

"I find it compelling that two comprehensive, thoughtful inquiries have reached the same conclusions: Native Hawaiians should have self-determination within the framework of federal law over their own affairs," U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said in response to yesterday's report.

Akaka is the author of a bill that would give federal recognition to native Hawaiians similar to that granted to American Indian tribes. The bill is before Senate and House committees and no action on it is expected until September.

Akaka said federal recognition of a reorganized Hawaiian government is essential for Hawaiians to participate in federal policies affecting their lands, natural resources, language, culture and traditions.

In concurrent press conferences in Honolulu and Washington yesterday, the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the commission issued the 56-page report, "Reconciliation at a Crossroads", which looked at the implications of the 1993 Apology Resolution and the Rice vs. Cayetano U.S. Supreme Court decision on federal and state programs benefiting native Hawaiians.

Yvonne Y. Lee, a commissioner with the Civil Rights Commission, said President Bush and all Americans need to understand the history of native Hawaiians.

"We believe very strongly that this is a very serious issue," said Lee, who attended the Honolulu press conference.

The federal report will be sent to the Bush administration, Congress and throughout Washington, D.C. The Civil Rights Commission does not have enforcement powers, but the report could be used as congressional testimony to support the Akaka bill or as legal arguments to protect native Hawaiian entitlements.

Panel calls for more federal funds

The Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission yesterday made recommendations for regaining momentum for reconciliation between the federal government and native Hawaiians. They include:

>> The U.S. government should accelerate efforts to formalize the political relationship between native Hawaiians and the United States.

>> State and federal funding should be increased.

>> The United States should implement the October recommendations on reconciliation made by the departments of Interior and Justice.

Those include legislation to clarify the political status of native Hawaiians and the creation of a native Hawaiian federal office and advisory commission.

>> Diverse viewpoints within the native Hawaiian community should be respected.

>> Administrative rules and policies to support the principles of self-determination should be adopted pending formal recognition of a sovereign Hawaiian entity. Appoint a special adviser for Indigenous Peoples to the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

Source: "Reconciliation at a Crossroads: The Implications of the Apology Resolution and Rice v. Cayetano for Federal and State Programs benefiting native Hawaiians. June 2001."

Lee said one of the commission's goals is to share Hawaii's history with the American public so they know of the struggles facing native Hawaiians.

She said the reconciliation process called for in the 1993 resolution, which apologized to native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, hit a snag on Feb. 23, 2000, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Rice vs. Cayetano case that the Hawaiians-only voting restriction for Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections was unconstitutional.

The Rice decision created an obstacle toward recognition and reparations for Hawaiians. And it forced a review of the reconciliation process, as well as of the programs designed to assist Hawaii's indigenous people, she said.

"Something had to be done to educate the American public of the compelling history of the native Hawaiian people, their plight, the causes of these problems and what needs to be done," said Lee, a San Francisco public relations consultant who has served on the commission since 1995.

Of its nine findings, the advisory committee recommended the federal government speed up efforts to formalize the political relationship between native Hawaiians and the United States.

Member Alan Murakami said this is the basis for many of the problems facing Hawaiians, and is a necessary and long overdue first step toward fixing it.

The committee also suggested respect of the diverse viewpoints within the native Hawaiian community -- which some say prevents the Hawaiian community from moving forward together -- and that alternatives to restoring a sovereign Hawaiian entity be supported.

Law professor Jon M. Van Dyke, an expert on international and constitutional law, said many countries have progressed in the human rights area and now recognize and protect the rights of their indigenous people. He said the international dimension is an important avenue native Hawaiians need as they move toward self-determination.

Civil Rights Commission report on Hawaiian sovereignty

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