Hawaiian Islands From Space

Native Hawaiian Recognition Suffers Latest Setback

Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – Native Hawaiians who want to be federally recognized as sovereign entities, much like American Indian tribal citizens, have suffered another setback from a U.S. Congress that just doesn’t seem to want to reconcile the unique history of the indigenous population of the island state.

Despite all their attention to payroll tax cuts and pipeline provisions, U.S. House members the week of December 12 still managed to notice and then hamper a provision attached to a bill that could have started the ball rolling toward federal recognition for Native Hawaiians. And they quickly found a way to weed it out by linking it to other provisions that could not pass the Senate.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, had inserted a provision into a draft of a funding bill for the U.S. Department of the Interior in October. The provision referenced legislation passed this year by the Hawaii legislature that called for state recognition of Native Hawaiians as the indigenous people of the Hawaiian islands. That measure was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie in July.

Importantly, the state-focused legislation established a process for registering Hawaiians—a step that would be needed under any federal recognition plan as well.

Inouye and other supporters saw the provision as a way to build momentum toward the well-known Akaka bill, which unabashedly calls for Native Hawaiian federal sovereign recognition, and has been stalled in Congress in one form or another since 2000. Some Republicans have called that bill controversial and racially dividing. The possibility of an introduction of Native gaming on the island has also been a concern raised by some detractors.

Inouye lamented the failure of the latest bill in a statement, saying, "The Hawaiian recognition provision embraced the excellent work of the State Legislature in beginning the process of Native Hawaiian self-determination and recognition…. Unfortunately, it was opposed by members of the House, who wanted a variety of devastating anti-environmental riders which, if the Senate accepted, would have set back our nation’s air and water protections for many years to come.

"I am very disappointed to report that I was compelled to give up our recognition provision at the end of the Conference," added Inouye. "It was very difficult, but it needed to be done to conclude the negotiations and send an Omnibus appropriations package to the President for his signature. I will continue to fight for federal recognition for Native Hawaiians and I will work with the other members of the Hawaii delegation to plan our next move."

Pushes for recognition are ongoing in the state, with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs recently calling for renewed federal recognition efforts. As reported by the Honolulu Civil Beat publication, OHA Chair Colette Machado recently said in a speech, "OHA spent 10 years pursuing the passage of the 'Akaka bill' and dealt with multiple obstacles along every step. We will not give up. We are committed to gaining federal protection of Kanaka Oiwi rights."

Machado reportedly added that OHA has been working with Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, "to open up alternate legislative and executive routes" and would "aggressively pursue these legislative and executive paths throughout the next year."

Akaka will retire from the Senate at the end of his term in January 2013, and he is expected to strongly push his Native Hawaiian federal recognition effort in 2012. He currently chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“I will continue to educate my colleagues and seek every option for passing this bill,” Akaka told Indian Country Today Media Network in an interview. “I have worked on this bill for over a decade, on this cause for over two decades, and I will fight until my last day in office to secure passage of this bill.”

If Akaka for some reason proves unsuccessful, Democrats Ed Case and Mazie Hirono and Republican Linda Lingle are thus far the top contenders to replace Akaka in the Senate. They all support Native Hawaiian federal recognition, though Lingle is concerned about sovereign immunity lawsuit issues for Native Hawaiian entities.

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newworldman's picture
Submitted by newworldman on
All that I can say is, good luck to the Native Hawaiians with that endeavor. As an American Indian whose native tribe has never been Federally recognized, I can certainly empathize with them. My people (the Chickahominy tribe) are from one of the few states -- in our case, Virginia -- that has no Federally recognized tribes. We consequently receive no benefits, financially or otherwise, from the Government, and we have no chance of constructing casinos. In short, we have never received anything at all from the Government in the form of compensation to right some of the wrongs that were committed against us. That makes my resentment toward this Government and the preponderance of the people here much more intense than that of members of other tribes who at least do receive some form of financial compensation. So, again, good luck with your efforts, my Hawaiian brethren. Hopefully, the Government will see the light and do the right thing by you, even if they refuse to do so by us. The Government and these people have yet to learn the lesson that, since they created their country by destroying thousands of native cultures and killing millions of native people, while stealing practically all of our land, then they have a responsibility to make ammends with the survivors of those cultures. As the people of my tribe have witnessed, they have failed miserably to do the right thing, and to me, the current economic troubles imbuing this country are not unrelated to their stubborness on this issue.

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
It really is a shame that all the Native American/aboriginal tribes have not all been compensated for the terrible losses that took place when America was taken over by Congress. I think the Vatican should open some of it's resources as well as any other missionary groups who strove to change the aboriginal people's ways. The people who settled this country were few and far between who really cared about the people who were here before them. All they wanted was land and later on the gold and other resources. I remember reading stories where there were signs erected that read, "Every Dead Indian is a Good Indian". That used to and still does make me sick to my stomach. I've read books and talked to Cherokee's about The Trail of Tears. Our government was so kind in trying to keep the Cherokees warm that they gave them blankets infected with smallpox killing off even more Indians than had already been killed. Until the 1970's or so, Native Americans were not allowed to live in West Virginia and other states didn't "recognize" them. No wonder my birth grandmother did so much to hide her aboriginal side and claimed on each census that she was white. Aboriginals, Black Americans and the Amish have a lot in common. The Amish are striving hard to keep living as they have since they arrived in America and were given rights by the government to do so, only having to attend school till the 8th grade and attending their own schools, where German and English were spoken and read. The Amish are a very secretive bunch and don't let many people in because theirs is a world entirely different and they don't want anyone messing with it. Then we have Black Americans brought to this country as slaves. Of course slavery wasn't something new to many Native American tribes who often raided other villages to replace the people that had been killed by the other tribe. Some were adopted as family members and others were used as slaves. However, a war was fought to free the slaves, although it took many decades until civil rights were accorded to Black American's and then there was the Klu Klux Clan who tried to keep exterminating both Blacks and Indians. There have been laws passed to protect the rights of Black Americans and they are able to get jobs and benefits, but the same privileges have not been accorded to the Native Americans. It's too bad more TV stations don't take notice of Native American rights. I only found out this year from my birth aunt that my birth grandmother was Cherokee. How sad I felt that she couldn't be proud of that fact but she was born in a time when it was safer to break away from a tribe and be with a white man. She was the happiest when she visited with her sister. I am proud to be part Cherokee. I don't know my percentage yet, but am sad for so many tribes who are not recognized. I will never get anything out of being Cherokee by the government and really don't deserve to. I'm not a whole Cherokee. But for those of you all over our great nation who have been put on reservations on lands no white man wanted, or have smaller tribes, some of which I am just learning about, it's time you were recognized and given the privileges that recognized tribes have been given, as little as that is. All we can do is hope that history books are rewritten and include all the terrible things done to aboriginals in the USA. There is very little that is positive for school children to read about Native Americans other than the classic story about the first Thanksgiving, Pocahontas, and Sacajawea(SP?) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I'm sorry I've seen it spelled so many ways I may have spelled her name wrong. I wish all the tribes much luck with being recognized as they should be. The Federal government must right this wrong or we they won't be any better than those who thought Native American's had no rights and didn't deserve any and kept making promises to tribes, yet kept pushing them off their lands. History has a way of repeating itself and unfortunately it sounds like Native Americans are still striving to be recognized in a day and age where this should have been done so so much sooner and has yet to be done. It's shameful and sad that this has yet to be taken care of.