Senate to discuss
native Hawaiians

A roundtable will be held to gain
support for the Akaka bill

By Pat Omandam

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will host a national roundtable on native self-determination July 15, hoping to raise awareness of the plight of native Hawaiians and support for the stalled Akaka bill.

The discussion will involve leaders of the Congress of American Indians, the Alaska Federation of Natives, federal officials and a group of local leaders from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaiian Homes Commission.

OHA and DHHL officials are expected to announce the roundtable meeting next week.

"It's primarily for purposes of public education," said Patricia Zell, the committee's majority staff director and chief counsel. "It will be carried on the Internet and possibly on C-SPAN."

The roundtable will be between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. EDT in the committee's meeting room, which is Room 485 of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Zell said yesterday the roundtable will be in two parts. The first part focuses on contributions native Americans made to the armed services of the United States.

What's noteworthy, she said, is that native people, on a per-capita basis, served in larger numbers in every military action since World War II than other portions of the American population.

U.S. Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Ted Stevens, R-Ark., will open up those talks, while Anthony J. Principi, U.S. secretary for Veterans Affairs, will discuss the contributions of native American veterans. A panel of native military veterans will share their experiences.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka will open the second portion of the roundtable, which will focus on federal policy of self-determination and self-governance for native people.

"Sen. Akaka looks forward to it. It seems like it's going to be a very interesting as well as informative, touching gathering," said Paul Cardus, Akaka spokesman.

Zell said one of the subjects will be the Akaka bill, which sets up a process where native Hawaiians can gain federal recognition.

Native Hawaiians see federal recognition as one way to address the legal challenges of alleged race discrimination being brought against Hawaiian agencies such as OHA and DHHL. Those types of cases gained legal momentum when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Rice vs. Cayetano decision, opened OHA's Hawaiians-only election to all Hawaii voters in February 2000.

OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona and Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman Rey Soon will participate in the roundtable.

While the Senate committee is the event's main sponsor, OHA is helping with preparation, which has raised concerned from at least one OHA trustee.

At an OHA board meeting Tuesday, trustee Rowena Akana criticized leadership for not getting approval from the board before committing agency resources to the roundtable, which many trustees did not know, she said.

Akana was equally critical of one of the reports produced, in part, by OHA that outlined native Hawaiians' quest for self-determination.

That booklet will be sent to members of Congress as part of the lobbying effort for the Akaka bill.

There is no reason for the board to be left out of these discussions, Akana said.

Apoliona said on Tuesday that the roundtable is a collaboration of various groups and government agencies.

The Akaka bill remains pending before the U.S. Senate because of opposition from a few Republican senators. There also remains local opposition to the bill -- from Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians -- for a variety of reasons.

Nevertheless, Hawaii's congressional delegation wants to get the measure passed before Congress adjourns in October.

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