U.S. Senate panel to vote
on Akaka bill next week
Lingle and other isle officials
testify for Hawaiian recognition
WASHINGTON » Gov. Linda Lingle and other leading Hawaii officials yesterday won a promise of prompt Senate action on longstanding legislation to give native Hawaiians the same rights of self-government enjoyed by American Indians and Native Alaskans.
"This bill is vital to the survival of the native Hawaiian people, it is vital to providing parity in federal policy for all native peoples in America and it is vital to the continued character of the state of Hawaii," the Republican governor said in testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
The committee's chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the panel would vote on the bill, commonly called the Akaka bill after sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka, next Wednesday, giving some impetus to a measure that has stalled in the past three sessions of Congress.
The legislation would formally recognize the country's 400,000 native Hawaiians as an indigenous people and set up a process under which the native Hawaiian governing entity could negotiate with federal and state governments over land, resources and other assets.
Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, sponsor of a companion bill in the House with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, called it "the most vital single piece of legislation" for Hawaii since statehood in 1959.
Self-determination for native Hawaiians has become a more prominent issue since Congress in 1993 passed the "Apology Resolution" in which the United States acknowledged wrongdoings in the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893 and recognized the inherent sovereignty of the indigenous islanders over their land.
Self-determination, said Akaka, D-Hawaii, a native Hawaiian and author of the Senate bill with his Hawaii colleague, Sen. Daniel Inouye, "holds the promise for all of us in Hawaii to come to terms with Hawaii's unique and often painful history."
Akaka said Lingle's support demonstrates that addressing the conditions of Hawaii's indigenous peoples is a nonpartisan priority.
"The aloha spirit, for which the people of Hawaii are known, is grounded in the culture and tradition of Hawaii's indigenous peoples," Akaka said. "For that reason, Hawaii's citizens, whether or not they are native Hawaiian, appreciate and support efforts to preserve the culture and tradition of native Hawaiians."
Akaka said his bill provides the structure for a process of reconciliation between native Hawaiians and the United States called for in the 1993 Apology Resolution.
Akaka was "pleasantly surprised" with McCain's announcement of a prompt committee vote on the bill, and is optimistic it will win approval, said Akaka's press secretary, Donalyn Dela Cruz.
Inouye submitted testimony supporting the bill. He did not attend the hearing because he has a cold, said his press secretary, Mike Yuen.
The legislation in the past has been held up over such issues as whether it would sanction race-based preferences, an argument that Lingle rebutted.
McCain, who said he was keeping an open mind on the legislation, expressed concern that self-governance could result in depleting already inadequate federal funds for American Indian programs.
But Lingle and others testifying, including the chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Haunani Apoliona, and Jade Danner of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, gave assurances that the costs would be minimal.
They also stressed that the bill would specifically rule out the legalization of native Hawaiian gambling enterprises and that it would take an act of Congress to recognize gambling.
BACK TO TOP
Lingle optimistic on
Akaka bill passing
After testifying before a U.S. Senate committee and meeting with its chairman, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday she is optimistic that the native Hawaiian recognition bill will be approved.
Lingle said the bill will go up for a vote next Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which must approve the measure before it goes to the full Senate.
Lingle said she also is optimistic that if the so-called Akaka bill, which has stalled in the past three sessions of Congress, is passed by both the Senate and House, the Bush administration will support it.
"But we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," the Republican governor said in an interview from Washington, D.C. "We first need to get it through the Senate and House."
Lingle said she stayed at the White House Monday night and had the opportunity to mention the bill again to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. She said she also talked to Karl Rove, Bush's senior political adviser.
Lingle said she was still meeting with Senate Republicans to make them aware of the bill and perhaps sign them on as co-sponsors.
"We are trying to talk to as many Republicans as we can in both the House and Senate," she said.
The governor said she is leaving it to the four Democrats in Hawaii's congressional delegation -- Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye and Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case -- to talk to congressional Democrats.
Lingle said she met privately with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate committee who, in the past, has said he was opposed to the bill.
"He pledged to be open-minded and I think he has done that," she said. "He asked good questions (at the hearing)."
The question of how the bill would affect non-Hawaiians has come up only in issues such as land use and taxation, Lingle said. Any changes in those areas would require agreement by Congress, the state Legislature and the native government entity, she said.
"We have removed that as an issue," she said.
She also said the question of how the bill would affect Native Alaskans and American Indians is no longer an issue.
"Both groups testified and said our bill would not have an impact on them," she said.
In her testimony, Lingle said she was speaking on behalf of the people of Hawaii for a bill that overwhelmingly is supported by people of all ethnic backgrounds.
"We are seeking justice for the native Hawaiian people, who have been made to wait too long for the kind of recognition that Congress has granted to America's other indigenous peoples," she said.
"You are not being asked to extend the ability to establish a self-governing structure to the native Hawaiians because of their race," Lingle said. "Rather you are being asked to do so because of their unique status as the indigenous people of a once sovereign nation to whom the United States has a recognized trust responsibility."