SENATOR Akaka's bill to provide U.S. recognition of the Hawaiian people at the same level as indigenous peoples on the mainland has received strong, if implicit, backing by the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The committee recommended that it "urge Congress to pass legislation formally recognizing the political status of native Hawaiians" with the understanding that it will be an endorsement of the Akaka bill, a realistic proposal that should become law.
Hawaiians get boost
toward federal recognition
The issue: A U.S. Civil Rights Commission
advisory committee has supported a federal
bill to formalize the status of Hawaiians.
The advisory committee arrived at its recommendations on the basis of testimony heard at community forums held in Honolulu in the past three years. Its deliberations were jolted by last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice vs. Cayetano, in which the court declared that elections of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency, to be discriminatory against non-Hawaiians.
The court decision "has occurred during a flourishing movement for self-determination and self-governance, fueling feelings of anger and frustration within the native Hawaiian community," committee chairman Charles Maxwell Sr. advised the commission. Instead of reflecting that anger, the report envisioned reachable goals without cutting off the improbable ambitions of some Hawaiians seeking international recognition as a separate nation. Legislation, it said, should not preclude efforts by some Hawaiians who seek an independent nation.
While Hawaiians disagree on sovereignty and what form it should take, they stand "united in their desire for action to address the wrongs that have been committed against them," the committee concluded. In addition to legislation granting Hawaiians political status "like Native Americans and native Alaskans," the committee urged government action that would benefit Hawaii's indigenous people.
It called for regular evaluations of government programs in which "poor management has resulted in inadequate distribution of the benefits earmarked for native Hawaiians," including OHA and the Hawaiian Homes Commission. It also recommended increased state and federal funding for higher education, Hawaiian language cultural centers and language immersion programs, medical services, job training and housing.
Unlike American Indians and indigenous Alaskans, Hawaiians have no direct control over their rightful resources or assets, the report said. Formal status as "a distinct political class of people," it added, would enable them to seek federal housing assistance, sue the federal government for breaches of trust, place their children in "a culturally appropriate environment" and qualify for favorable tax treatment.
U.S. recognition of the Hawaiian people is the central point of the report, just as it was the main recommendation of a joint report by the Departments of Justice and Interior last October. Without it, or at least a process leading to that status, the committee's report said, "it is clear that the civil and political rights of native Hawaiians will continue to erode."
The federal government's effort to reduce its share of funding for beach-building projects would unfairly penalize Hawaii and ignores the state's particular island needs. Government leaders should recognize that while other states may not benefit directly from such programs, Hawaii's economic and environmental concerns remain valid for the nation, not just this state.
Attempt to cut funding
for beaches falters
The issue: A House committee
has turned back an attempt to cut
beach erosion funding.
There are numerous government-funded programs, such as coal-mining subsidies, that don't do Hawaii much good, and just as the administration would not deny the states that reap those dollars, so it should not deny Hawaii funds to sustain beaches.
Further, Hawaii's congressional delegation should be working harder to obtain its constituents a fair piece of the pie.
Under the current funding formula, the federal government pays 65 percent of a beach project's construction cost while state and local governments put up the rest. The Bush administration, as did President Clinton, wanted to reverse those percentages to reduce the federal share to 35 percent.
The White House had also proposed spending $88 million on beach projects, but the House Appropriations Committee rejected the change and added $62 million for a budget of $150 million.
Of that increase, California will get $6 million and Florida a whopping $34.5 million while Hawaii's portion will be a meager $410,000. Although each of those other states has about 1,000 miles of coastline, compared with Hawaii's 750, the fact that shores are our only borders should be taken into account.
Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink were able to boost Hawaii's allotment from the $150,000 Bush proposed, but that's still not enough. Even New York and New Jersey will get bigger portions, $5.9 million and $4.7 million respectively.
All too often, Hawaii's carefully cultivated image as a carefree paradise works against recognition that the state has serious problems that may directly affect our economic stability. Our representatives should remind their Capitol Hill colleagues and the White House that the state, while out of sight, should not be out of mind.
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