Hawaiian hero makes a
pitch for Akaka bill

A roundtable argues native recognition
and patriotism can coexist

By Pat Omandam

As a federal police officer at the Pentagon and a military veteran, Isaac Ho'opi'i is proud to be an American.

But that has not stopped the Oahu native and Sept. 11 hero from trying to educate people in Washington, D.C., about his native culture and his heritage.

Ho'opi'i, who saved several lives after a hijacked jetliner crashed into the Pentagon, was among the panelists at a national roundtable discussion organized by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Monday to discuss the role America's native people have had in the military, and native peoples efforts toward self-determination.

"I'm here at this roundtable because I believe it's important for others to know that this legislation is widely supported by native Hawaiians both in Hawaii and on the mainland," Ho'opi'i said about a bill pending before the Senate that provides a process of federal recognition for native Hawaiians.

The event concluded last night with a gathering of indigenous groups in Washington, D.C., to honor the late Myron "Pinky" Thompson.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said the roundtable demonstrated the collaborative effort among the native groups, all of which support federal recognition for native Hawaiians as described in the so-called Akaka bill.

"It was a good day, a good beginning, and I think it will be the first step of many that indigenous people -- native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives and American Indians -- will work with and work together going forward," she said.

The recurring theme appeared to be that there is widespread support for the Akaka bill in Hawaii.

Panelist Irwin Cockett, a retired Army brigadier general and Kauai native, said the patriotism of native people is sometimes questioned because of the value placed on their culture and language. It is a misconception to think that native people cannot retain their customs and traditions while being proud Americans, he said.

"We live in a day and age where it is important to preserve the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors," he said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka added that the federal recognition bill is being mischaracterized as raced-based.

"Misinformation is being spread in Hawaii regarding this bill as precluding sovereignty for native Hawaiians," Akaka said. "This cannot be further from the truth."

Jaqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said a 260-tribe coalition supports native Hawaiian self-determination.

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