The issue: A U.S. Civil Rights Commission advisory committee has supported a federal bill to formalize the status of Hawaiians.
SENATOR Akaka's bill to provide U.S. recognition of the Hawaiian people at the same level as indigenous peoples on the mainland has received strong, if implicit, backing by the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The committee recommended that it "urge Congress to pass legislation formally recognizing the political status of native Hawaiians" with the understanding that it will be an endorsement of the Akaka bill, a realistic proposal that should become law.
The advisory committee arrived at its recommendations on the basis of testimony heard at community forums held in Honolulu in the past three years. Its deliberations were jolted by last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice vs. Cayetano, in which the court declared that elections of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency, to be discriminatory against non-Hawaiians.
The court decision "has occurred during a flourishing movement for self-determination and self-governance, fueling feelings of anger and frustration within the native Hawaiian community," committee chairman Charles Maxwell Sr. advised the commission. Instead of reflecting that anger, the report envisioned reachable goals without cutting off the improbable ambitions of some Hawaiians seeking international recognition as a separate nation. Legislation, it said, should not preclude efforts by some Hawaiians who seek an independent nation.
While Hawaiians disagree on sovereignty and what form it should take, they stand "united in their desire for action to address the wrongs that have been committed against them," the committee concluded. In addition to legislation granting Hawaiians political status "like Native Americans and native Alaskans," the committee urged government action that would benefit Hawaii's indigenous people.
It called for regular evaluations of government programs in which "poor management has resulted in inadequate distribution of the benefits earmarked for native Hawaiians," including OHA and the Hawaiian Homes Commission. It also recommended increased state and federal funding for higher education, Hawaiian language cultural centers and language immersion programs, medical services, job training and housing.
Unlike American Indians and indigenous Alaskans, Hawaiians have no direct control over their rightful resources or assets, the report said. Formal status as "a distinct political class of people," it added, would enable them to seek federal housing assistance, sue the federal government for breaches of trust, place their children in "a culturally appropriate environment" and qualify for favorable tax treatment.
U.S. recognition of the Hawaiian people is the central point of the report, just as it was the main recommendation of a joint report by the Departments of Justice and Interior last October. Without it, or at least a process leading to that status, the committee's report said, "it is clear that the civil and political rights of native Hawaiians will continue to erode."
© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin