Akaka Bill to go
to Senate with changes

An amendment to be filed today in the U.S. Senate addresses the U.S. Interior Department's concerns about a bill granting federal recognition to native Hawaiians as an indigenous people.

U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye wrote this week to the Senate leaders advising them of the substitute to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, known as the Akaka Bill.

They asked that it be scheduled for floor action before the Memorial Day recess, Paul Cardus, Akaka's spokesman, said yesterday.

The major change in the bill would be the establishment of a commission of native Hawaiians appointed by the Secretary of Interior that would develop and maintain the base roll of participants eligible to participate and vote in the reorganization of the native Hawaiian governing entity.

The commission was part of the bill in 2000 and was deleted to streamline the measure, Cardus said.

"Sen. Akaka is pleased it's back in there. It's seen as something helpful," he said.

Robin Danner, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said, "The fact that there is movement on this legislation is a very positive sign.

"The substitutes don't appear to change the original direction of S. 344. From my personal reading, the substitute provides a deeper clarification of things already in the bill."

Cardus said the amendment clarifies that the definition of native Hawaiian applies only to establishment of the list of people eligible to participate in the reorganization process.

After the Hawaiian governing entity is established, it would be able to define membership.

Cardus said the amendment also clarifies issues subject to future negotiations between the native Hawaiian governing entity and the state and federal governments, because some senators felt what was going to happen after federal recognition was vague.

"It gives native Hawaiians a seat at the table for negotiations," he said.

The state and federal governments would negotiate with the native Hawaiian governing body to address issues such as the transfer of lands, natural resources and other assets, and to reach agreements regarding governmental authority.

Recommendations would be made to Congress and the state Legislature for any legislation necessary.

Danner said the appointment of the federal commission is the most significant addition to the bill. The second major addition is a 20-year statute of limitations to file any claims against the United States, but the bill continues to protect existing claims, she said.


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