Lineage justified
for Hawaiian recognition


The Akaka Bill appears headed for Senate consideration after its August recess.

JARRED this month by a large bump in the road, the Hawaiian sovereignty bill appears back on track for consideration by the U.S. Senate following its August recess. Proponents of the bill should be prepared for a vicious battle on the Senate floor over a core issue that cannot easily be cast aside: race.

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and other opponents of the Akaka Bill have called it "race-based" because it would include only indigenous, native Hawaiians -- instead of descendants of all citizens of the kingdom that was overthrown in 1893 -- in a sovereign entity. For the most part, proponents have simply denied that the bill is race-based without addressing the issue head-on.

In a position paper leading up to this month's debate, Governor Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett denied that it "sets up a race-based separate government in Hawaii. It provides a simple measure of justice and fairness to native Hawaiians." That is not an answer.

Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, accused Kyl of "attempting to rewrite history." She added, "'Race-based' is an easy thing to stir up fear and mistrust in the community." The word "race" does not appear in the Akaka Bill, but "lineage" does.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano observed that the bill could be considered as race-based because it limits eligible Hawaiians to those who can trace their genealogy back beyond Captain Cook's discovery of the islands. He pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Rice vs. Cayetano case that "genealogy can be a proxy for race."

It may have taken an inflammatory column by Bruce Fein in the Washington Times to evoke a direct -- and strong -- response. Fein, a lawyer and conservative Times columnist, had written that the Akaka Bill "would deny equal justice to non-Hawaiians" by limiting the sovereign state to "only persons with at least 'one drop' of native Hawaiian blood," even though the Hawaiian kingdom was multiracial.

The Fein column, comparing the Akaka Bill to Jim Crow laws, apparently got Mark Bennett's blood boiling. "The fact native Hawaiians, more than 100 years ago, were enlightened enough to maintain a government open to participation by non-Hawaiians should not deprive native Hawaiians today of the recognition they deserve," Bennett wrote for the Times.

"Indeed," Bennett added, "it is extremely ironic that one who opposes the Akaka Bill because it is, in his mind, racist, would use native Hawaiians' historical inclusiveness, and 'aloha' for all races, as a reason to deny native Hawaiians their deserved recognition."

Finally, an advocate of Hawaiian sovereignty has provided a powerful rationale for basing eligibility on Hawaiian lineage: Essentially, native Hawaiians were the precursor and essence of the Hawaiian kingdom and should not be denied sovereign status because they embraced other races. Such a consequence would be unfair and unjust.

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