Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Attorney Emmet Lee Loy, far left, and Lela Hubbard of Na Koa
Ikaika discussed the Akaka bill yesterday at Iolani Palace.

U.S. Senate to
consider Akaka bill

It would clarify the political
ties between native Hawaiians
and the fed government

By Pat Omandam

A Senate bill that clarifies the political relationship between native Hawaiians and the federal government, is set for full consideration by the full U.S. Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, cleared the Senate Indian Affairs Committee today by a voice vote. A House companion bill also is set for a floor vote.

In a statement Akaka said the measure "does not establish entitlements or special treatment for Native Hawaiians based on race. It focuses on the political relationship afforded to Native Hawaiians based on the United States' recognition of Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal, indigenous peoples of Hawaii."

But a few Hawaiian activists say there is no urgency.

That is because the Patrick Barrett case, which challenged the constitutionality of native entitlements, was dismissed earlier this month.

"So there should be no rush for Congress to pass the revised Akaka bill," said Kekuni Blaisdell of Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike. "We need this opportunity to determine our options. Is this bill our only option? We don't think so."

What is needed, they say, is another round of congressional hearings here to give the Hawaiian community a chance to comment on the current bill, said attorney and former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Mililani Trask.

Trask said the measure has been "radically altered" since congressional hearings were held in Honolulu last August. A much more focused Akaka bill was reintroduced in April, but it strips native Hawaiians of their rights and claims as indigenous people, she said.

Among the changes of concern in S. 746 is deletion of language that states native Hawaiians have a right to attain economic self-sufficiency and that native Hawaiians would oversee and participate in a transparent and inclusive process to re-establish a governing entity, Trask said.

Also omitted was language that gave the U.S. Justice Department oversight in Hawaiian issues before the federal government. Trask said the Justice Department should be involved because of former U.S. Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman's support for Hawaiians-only elections in last year's Rice vs. Cayetano appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, Trask said, the bill requires the U.S. secretary of the interior to certify and recognize a native Hawaiian governing entity only if it is supported by the state of Hawaii, essentially ensuring it will be a state-created entity.

"They're pushing a scam through, trying to have a mark-up to push it into law (without a hearing). ... The bill radically amends what Hawaiians supported last year," she said.

But Hawaiians remain actively involved as the legislation progresses, countered Paul Cardus, spokesman for Akaka.

Cardus said S. 746 reflects the voluminous testimony from last August's hearings, most of which focused on the process for native Hawaiians to form their own government.

Cardus said public hearings are not required again since they were held for the original bill.

And, he said, Hawaiians have always had the right to begin formation of their own government entity without a federally mandated process.

"The legislation has evolved over the course of the past year, and each change is reflective of community sentiment," he said.

Akaka described the bill's changes during a private speech in April in Honolulu. He said the reorganization process was removed from the bill because the Hawaiian community was fully capable of forming a government entity without a federally mandated process.

He said state approval of a native Hawaiian government was added because of concerns by colleagues the states be heard in this process.

Akaka added that the bill no longer requires a Justice Department official designated to work on Hawaiian issues because it is covered by the proposed native Hawaiian interagency coordinating group.

About a dozen people gathered yesterday afternoon on Iolani Palace grounds to discuss ways to force Hawaii's delegation to hold hearings on the bill.

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