Courtesy Kevin K. Washburn
Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs

Working on Acknowledgment – Interior’s New Hawaiian Recognition Initiative

Gale Courey Toensing

On June 18, the Interior Department issued a press release announcing it is taking “a first step to consider reestablishing a government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian community.” The purpose, the release says, “would be to more effectively implement the special political and trust relationship that currently exists between the Federal government and the Native Hawaiian community.”

Interior issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) – a sort of notice of a possible coming notice of a proposed new rule – that lays out a series of public meetings and consultations in Hawaii and Indian country over the next 60 days, beginning June 23 in Honolulu. The meetings are to solicit comments to help Interior decide if it will move ahead and develop a formal, administrative procedure for “reestablishing” an official government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community and if so, what that procedure should be.

The issue is fraught with complexities, including a growing Hawaiian sovereignty movement that wants its country back. While Interior considers “reestablishing” a government-to-government relationship with Hawaii, the last time one existed was before the U.S. government's illegal military-backed regime change in Hawaii, a sovereign independent state, in 1893 and its backing of a U.S.-controlled ''provisional government'' in violation of treaties and international law.

RELATED: Native Hawaiians maintain their inherent sovereignty

The illegality of the U.S. actions is affirmed in An Apology to the Hawaiian people, a 1993 joint resolution of the House and Senate. The key statement in the apology tacitly acknowledges Native Hawaiians’ continuing rights to their land and independence: ''The indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.”

While the sovereignty movement looks to restore the independent Hawaiian nation, many Native Hawaiians want recognition and a relationship with the federal government that would likely bring millions of dollars in federal funding for health, education and housing as it does to federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Natives.

Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn talked to ICTMN about Interior’s initiative.

The interview began with Washburn’s introduction to the initiative as follows.


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