By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer
KAHULUI – A debate about whether Native Hawaiians need federal recognition left some confused with most speaking against it Thursday night at a public forum at Maui Community College.
Among those speaking out were taro farmer Oliver Dukelow, who gave a warning as he stated his opposition to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the Akaka Bill.
"Steadfast, we're headed for a collision course," Dukelow said. "Our culture cannot be negotiated."
Lahaina resident Foster Ampong said he'd rather be identified as a member of the Kingdom of Hawaii than a citizen of the United States and opposed the Akaka Bill "mind, body and soul."
Meanwhile, audience member Keala Han denounced a handout issued at Thursday's forum that referred to the Akaka Bill as the "kaka bill."
Han said handouts like the one distributed at Thursday's forum only provided those suing against Hawaiian entitlement programs more evidence of the lack of unity among Native Hawaiians.
"Maybe when we lose our entitlements, then we can get together as a Hawaiian people," said Han, one of only two audience members Thursday who spoke in support of the Akaka Bill.
The Akaka Bill has been a source of contention ever since its legislative sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, first introduced the measure in Congress six years ago.
Akaka has had the most success with his proposal this year when the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a public hearing March 1 in Washington.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote in the nation's capital on a cloture motion, which would force a vote on the bill. Akaka has said he and Sen. Daniel Inouye believe they have the 60 votes needed to act on the cloture motion. If the motion is approved, Akaka hopes a Senate vote on the bill would follow soon thereafter.
Thursday's forum on Maui had an audience of about 100 people listening intently as Maui Community College instructor Kalei Ka'eo, spokesman for Hui Pu and NOA (Not For America), and Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a Native Hawaiian cultural specialist, each presented their positions on the Akaka Bill.
Ka'eo encouraged audience members to read the proposed bill. "You'll clearly see that an educated person cannot support the bill," he said.
Using an overhead projector, Ka'eo cited a string of events and documents dating back to 1843 to show that an independent Hawaiian nation existed and had been recognized by international panels.
"Have we not been recognized already?" Ka'eo asked.
Listing his reasons for opposition, Ka'eo said the legislation calls for the creation of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, not a Native Hawaiian government. Soliciting examples from the audience, Ka'eo said such entities would be like the Maui County Council, the Department of Land and Natural Resources or a community neighborhood association.
Ka'eo also pointed out Justice Department concerns over the Akaka Bill, including its insistence that the legislation not interfere with the operation of U.S. military facilities and that a new governing entity be prohibited from establishing gambling.
Maxwell acknowledged that Ka'eo had provided an accurate description of Hawaii's history and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Maxwell also said that he had issues with parts of the Akaka Bill, but still supported it for its overall intent and impact. He said he's spent the last 34 years leading and participating in protests of the United States treatment of Hawaiian lands and people.
"I'm an old warrior. I've been at this for a long time," Maxwell said.
He said despite protests, Hawaiians have been unsuccessful in getting their lands returned and today they're faced with lawsuits that threaten Hawaiian entitlements.
In the month of August alone, a federal three-judge panel ruled against Kamehameha Schools' preferred admissions policy for Native Hawaiian children, and another set of federal judges just this week ruled that non-Hawaiians can sue to stop state funding for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The reality, Maxwell said, is that the United States "will not leave Hawaii" and many more non-Hawaiians may be waiting in the wings to sue to invalidate other Hawaiian entitlements including the federal law that created the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
"The problem is we have no seat at the table," Maxwell said.
With federal recognition, Maxwell said Native Hawaiians will have legal standing and a means to protect their own entitlement programs.
Maxwell said he's visited Alaska where some Native Alaskans there have prospered under federal recognition. A similar type of federal recognition bill was approved more than 30 years ago and has been amended repeatedly over the years.
Native Hawaiians, too, can amend the Akaka Bill if needed, he said.
Maxwell said he does not disagree that Hawaiians have been wronged by the American government.
"It's frustrating. As a Hawaiian, this is the worst time in history for us," Maxwell said. "But at least we have a chance now to have a seat at the table."
"I see both sides," Tiffany Kesaji-Murakami, a part-time Maui Community College student, said after listening to both Ka'eo and Maxwell. She said she had not made up her mind whether to support the Akaka Bill.
"It's confusing. It's damn confusing," said Christopher Edward Kauikaiaolani Tam, who had a copy of the 38-page text of the Akaka Bill.
Tam questioned what part of the legislation specifically protected Kamehameha Schools or the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Both Ka'eo and Maxwell responded that the bill provided a process in which Native Hawaiians would set up and protect its own programs within the governing entity, but also acknowledged the process could be lengthy.
Lehua Clubb, the only other outspoken supporter for the Akaka Bill Thursday night, read from a text prepared by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. The group has held forums in the past to provide information about the Akaka Bill and prepared written answers to the most frequently asked questions about the legislation including the definition of federal recognition.
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was working Friday to have the questions and answers on the Akaka Bill posted this weekend at its Web site: www.hawaiiancouncil.org/akaka.
Clubb said she's been involved in federal recognition efforts for some time now. "The gist of all this is for us to govern ourselves," she said. "This is a foot in the door."
Maxwell said the bill does not prohibit Hawaiians from mingling with other nations and forming a sovereign nation at some point.
"My question is when it is going to happen?"
Ka'eo said efforts by various organizations to form an independent Hawaiian nation have not received a lot of media attention, but he knows that the groups have been working diligently to make it happen.
Lahaina kupuna Evalani Shim said despite all the differences aired Thursday night, she believed the 2?-hour forum was well worth her time.
"I think this was very educational for the Native Hawaiian people," Shim said. "A lot of Hawaiian people are confused. But tonight was very good, and I'm very happy we're learning more about this."
Another presentation on the Akaka Bill will be held today at noon at Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley. Participants are invited to come as early as 9 a.m. for a walk through the park and a newly constructed traditional Hawaiian hale.
The actual panel discussion is scheduled to begin at noon and will feature Kalei Ka'eo of Hui Pu; retired 2nd Circuit Judge Boyd Mossman, trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; and Leon Siu, minister of foreign affairs for the Hawaiian Kingdom.
MCC forum moderator Malia Davidson said Friday she was pleased with what transpired.
"I believe those in attendance walked away wanting to know more and will probably engage family and friends about this issue," she said. "It was also obvious last night that regardless of the split of views this issue brings to our people, we are still united in spirit and aloha as shown by the respect that was given to all."
Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.
Original article URL: http://www.mauinews.com/story.aspx?id=12074