Akaka bill’s proponents
admit uphill battle in Senate

A Honolulu attorney close to
the cause sets sights on 2003

By Pat Omandam

Supporters say Congress may not pass a bill that sets out federal recognition for native Hawaiians this year because of little movement in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka is working on passing the bill before Congress adjourns in October, said spokesman Paul Cardus. He said national and aviation security issues following Sept. 11 have occupied Congress this year.

But Beadie Dawson, a Honolulu attorney who has spent more than two years working closely with Hawaii's congressional delegation on the Akaka bill, said she now believes it may be better to rewrite the bill and try again in 2003.

"This political climate in the Congress is something that is extremely hard to change," Dawson said yesterday.

"It needs massive education, and it certainly needs a lot more understanding than exists now (about the Akaka bill). The issue is a native issue; it is not a minority issue. But unfortunately, so many people see it very simplistically as a minority issue," she said.

The bill, S.746, recognizes, among other things, the right of native Hawaiians to adopt governing documents through the organization and election of a native Hawaiian government.

Once certified by the U.S. secretary of the interior, the native government would be extended federal recognition under the proposed law.

A reintroduced Akaka bill was approved last July by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee after the measure stalled in 2000. Last November, Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's senior senator, attached the legislation to a defense appropriations bill to find out who continues to oppose the measure.

After extensive hearings on the issue, Inouye was angered that the measure continues to be held up by a few Republicans.

Still, Dawson believes political conditions today are not favorable for the measure. For example, she has heard informally that the Interior and Justice departments favor extensive amendments that would weaken the Akaka bill. It may be better to try again next year rather than have an ineffective bill passed, said Dawson, who was among those on an advisory committee that helped draft the original Akaka bill.

"Bottom line ... I think we should go back to ground one, and I think we should rewrite the bill. There's much of it that can be carried over," she said.

Opponents of the bill continue their own efforts to lobby Congress. Honolulu Attorney Paul Sullivan wrote a 55-page analysis entitled "Killing Aloha," which explains why he believes the bill is wrong for Hawaii and the United States.

Sullivan, who sent his report to the leadership in Congress, said the bill is almost certainly unconstitutional and is replete with ambiguity and uncertainty that leaves vital questions unanswered. He said it sets a dangerous precedent for other nontribal entities in the country.

And it is "morally, politically and socially wrong," Sullivan added.

"Its basic premise is that race and ancestry are valid grounds for the permanent political and social segregation of American citizens," he wrote.

"By law it divides forever not only the people of Hawaii, but the people of the United States, on the grounds which the U.S. Supreme Court has termed 'odious to a free people.'"

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