Sunday, July 8, 2001

Summit heralds new
Hawaiian council

By Jean Christensen
Associated Press

Dozens of the native Hawaiian community's most influential leaders gathered Friday to establish what they vowed will be a powerful, united front in the push for federal recognition of Hawaiians.

They announced the creation of a native Hawaiian umbrella group modeled after a coalition that successfully pushed for passage of landmark federal legislation benefiting Alaska Natives.

Veterans of the battle for the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act joined native Hawaiian leaders and Hawaii's congressional delegation at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Friday for the 1st Annual Native Hawaiian-Alaska Native Summit.

Participants included Kamehameha Schools trustee Robert Kihune, Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman Haunani Apoliona, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Hawaiian Homes chairman Ray Soon, and former Hawaii Supreme Court justice Robert Klein.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie called the summit "the single most important meeting of the contemporary period in which the final resolution of native Hawaiian governance is taking place."

"That is because we have our friends from Alaska here," Abercrombie said. "Our friends from Alaska are living, breathing, three-dimensional creatures who have been through the cauldron of fire, which is how to change legislation into organized actions that (benefit) native people."

U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink said the gathering was an "awesome beginning."

In 1971, Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which conveyed 44 million acres of Alaska lands to more than 200 native villages and set up native corporations to manage the land.

Meanwhile, Hawaiians have found themselves defending more than 150 federally funded programs that benefit their community in the aftermath of last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Rice vs. Cayetano.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, sponsor of Friday's summit, was formed to help Hawaiian groups defend those programs and ultimately achieve a form of sovereignty. Its members include representatives of nonprofit organizations, foundations, private and public native Hawaiian trusts, service agencies and businesses.

The council's members were inspired by the Alaska Federation of Natives, which represents 178 villages, 13 regional native corporations and 12 regional nonprofit associations. It was formed in 1966 when Alaska Natives came together for a statewide conference to address the need for a settlement of aboriginal land claims.

"So many of us have differences," said Soon, who is a member of the Hawaii council's board of directors. "This is an opportunity to leave those differences at the door and find out where we can come together."

Although the idea for the council has been "kicked around" for years, Soon said its formation was spurred by legal challenges to Native Hawaiian programs in the aftermath of Rice vs. Cayetano.

The decision -- which invalidated a state law barring non-Hawaiians from voting for OHA trustees -- is being used by Oahu resident Patrick Barrett to challenge the constitutionality of OHA itself, the Hawaiian Home Lands program and Native Hawaiian gathering rights.

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