Special Report

Aloha Oy Vey!

A movement is afoot to set Hawaii aside.

By 3.15.10

Hawaii, the 50th state will become the 49.6th state if U. S.1011, a bill creating the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, passes the Senate. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) has introduced it in one form or another regularly since 2000. This time it was passed by the House, after its terms were negotiated behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

If the Akaka Bill passes, it would recognize and authorize the creation of a sovereign Native Hawaiian governing entity. In effect, it would be an Indian tribe. To be eligible to be part of this group, an individual would have to show proof of Hawaiian blood in his/her ancestry. Hawaiians are a distinct racial group, just as Indians are; however, Sen. Akaka and the other supporters of this bill do not want to run afoul of anti-discrimination laws as they grant special privileges to Native Hawaiians. Hence, the designation as a "tribe." By law, Congress cannot discriminate in favor of one race over others. 

Congress cannot create Indian tribes, it can only recognize ones that exist, provided they can prove their history. Furthermore, a large percentage of tribal members live on reservations, whereas Native Hawaiians are scattered throughout the Hawaiian Islands and some live on the mainland. Approximately 20 percent of Hawaii's residents would become part of this "governing entity," and it would have jurisdiction over members residing in other states. The bill would give them racially exclusive rights, thus discriminating against their fellow citizens of other races.

The constitutionality of this measure will almost certainly be called into question if it passes.

Over the years various statutes conferred federal benefits on Native Hawaiian people. A 2000 Supreme Court ruling (Rice vs. Cayetano) led many to believe that this ruling jeopardized these benefits because they amounted to racial set-asides. 

Thus, in order to avoid the truth -- that Native Hawaiians are a distinct racial group -- Congress has tortured the facts by, in effect, re-creating them as a new Indian tribe.

The approximately 400,000 Hawaiians who could claim Native blood, would be living under an organization with its own laws and one not subject to state tax, zoning or environmental laws. Many complications will arise. Here is one: A local business is owned by a Native Hawaiian. In the next block is a similar one owned by a non-Native. The former has a competitive edge because of his exemption from state taxes and other laws. The latter is subject to all those, so he loses business because he can't compete on price. Isn't that racial discrimination?

Is this measure widely supported in Hawaii? Last year, the Zogby polling organization asked residents to tell them if they favored such a measure. Only 34 said "yes," while 51 percent said "no." 

Is there something else behind this effort? Yes. It is a cherished dream of a small but vocal and active group that wants Hawaii to become an independent nation. Sen. Akaka tipped his hat, so to speak, to this group when he said to a National Public Radio reporter, "I've spoken to those in Hawaii who want to have Hawaii be independent and I've told them, hey, you can use the [new] governing entity to discuss it...and the governing entity will make a decision as to what happens to, uh, independence or returning to the monarchy."

While that may have been a sop to mollify Akaka's more hot-blooded supporters, the idea of breaking away from the United States is real. The State of Hawaii's Office of Hawaiian Affairs until recently posted a document that highlighted the idea: "While the federal recognition bill authorizes the formation of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, the bill itself does not prescribe the form of government this entity will become. S344 [an earlier number on the legislation] creates the process for federal recognition. The Native Hawaiian people may exercise their right to self-determination by selecting another form of government, including free association or total independence."

And there you have it. Aloha.

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About the Author

Peter Hannaford, who died on September 5,  was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. His most recent book, Washington Merry-Go-Round: The Drew Pearson Diaries, 1960-69, of which he is editor, has just been published.