In 1993, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian ex-convict, blocked off the Makapuu Beach on Oahu to traffic until the governor gave him a 45-acre parcel of land on which to found an ethnic Hawaiian entity. To people in the continental U.S., the appeasement of Bumpy is outrageous. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, however, has a plan to help people like Bumpy that should anger them even more.
Bumpy’s separatist movement has some traction among the 20 percent of Hawaii residents who are ethnically Hawaiian. August 16 of this year marked the 49th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood, but there was no celebration in Hawaii. Instead, a group of separatist ethnic Hawaiians broke into Iolani Palace, the traditional seat of the Hawaiian monarch, in protest of Hawaii’s membership in the U.S.
Sen. Akaka hopes to mollify the sovereignty movement while maintaining U.S. statehood. He has proposed a bill that would establish a race-based Native Hawaiian government within Hawaii, with powers and rights similar to those of autonomous Native American tribes. A House version of the “Akaka Bill,” sponsored by Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie, also of Hawaii, passed last October. The bill works under the assumption (codified in the spurious 1993 Apology Resolution signed by President Bill Clinton) that the U.S. wrested control of the islands from an ethnic Hawaiian nation in 1893, and is in Hawaii as an occupying force today.
The Akaka Bill would allow the Native Hawaiian government to negotiate with the U.S. government as a foreign entity. It would set up a council staffed by Native Hawaiians who would determine the constitution of their native government as well as the criteria for citizenship — most likely a “one-drop” rule whereby anyone with any ethnic Hawaiian blood is eligible. The bill would limit some votes — impacting everyone in the state — to ethnic Hawaiians.
The new government would also supervise the transfer of wrongfully taken lands and resources to ethnic Hawaiians. The transfers would likely include state and federal lands as well as the Kamehameha School system, an ethnic-Hawaiians-only school system bequeathed by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop — and the largest landowner on the Hawaiian Islands, boasting an endowment of over $9 billion.
According to Ken Conklin, a retired schoolteacher who was a plaintiff in a case against OHA — the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a major advocate of such land transfers — the main backers of the bill are “huge, powerful, racially exclusive institutions like Kamehameha Schools, the OHA, and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. There are over 160 federally funded racially exclusive programs, all of which are unconstitutional.”
Of these institutions, OHA is the biggest. It was created in 1978 to administer the land ceded to native Hawaiians after Hawaii became a state in 1959. Since then it has overstepped its mandate, redirecting billions of dollars from public spending to ethnic Hawaiians, fostering a system of cronyism under the guise of multiculturalism.
This system was threatened when in 2000 the Supreme Court, in Rice vs. Cayetano, decided against OHA, forcing OHA to allow non-ethnic Hawaiians on its board. The Akaka Bill would ensure that OHA and other such programs would never be at the mercy of the law again.
IN ORDER TO KEEP the handouts coming, the originators of the bill aren’t afraid to inject racialism into Hawaii’s famously harmonious multiculturalism. Furthermore, the bill’s premise — that the U.S. is a foreign force oppressing a marginalized ethnic group — is shaky.
Jamie Story, president of the Grassroot Institute, a Hawaii-based public policy center, thinks so. She told TAS, “The Kingdom of Hawaii was never purely native Hawaiian.” Rather, “it was created by a multi-racial coalition and finally unified in 1810, and the United States remained completely neutral throughout the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893.”
Nor are native Hawaiians a tribe. “Assigning all native Hawaiians to a single tribe would be similar to combining the Navajo, Cherokee, Sioux and Crow tribes into a single governing entity,” Story noted. The Native Hawaiians wouldn’t have anything in common with the tribes of Native Americans recognized by Congress. They would share the same corrupt basis as casino tribes, without any of the legitimacy.
Instead of restoring a usurped nation, Story says, the bill is “an unapologetic attempt to undo the holdings of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
The Akaka Bill’s effects would devastate Hawaii: it would shatter the racial harmony of the most diverse state, and would flout the ideals of the Constitution. It would make a mockery of property rights, both public and private, while laying the groundwork for secession.
The fallout would not be limited to the Hawaiian Islands. The bill’s passage would assert that “Congress has the authority to single out any indigenous people and to help them create a government,” warned Conklin.
That would set a dangerous precedent for the mainland U.S. Conklin gave as an example the MEChA movement, a group of ethnic Chicanos who claim that most of the American Southwest was stolen from them in the Mexican-American War — and whose case may be more legitimate than the Native Hawaiians’.
THAT DIRE SCENARIO may be tested soon. Although the Akaka Bill likely won’t reach a vote in the Senate before the new president is installed, it came perilously close to passing in 2006, falling just four votes short of a final vote. A large Democratic majority in the Senate could easily pass the bill. Republican opposition, unfortunately, could waver — the Republican governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, endorsed the bill for no apparent reason, which earned her the “Dunce of the Week” from Forbes.
John McCain has stated that he opposes the Akaka Bill and would likely veto it. Barack Obama, however, often called “Hawaii’s third Senator,” benefited from early funding from Hawaiian sovereignty groups and pledged in January to support the Akaka Bill’s passage.