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The Akaka Bill

March 10, 2010

Although I’ve heard mention of the Akaka Bill, formally known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, I do not know much about it.  I should though.  It is an extremely polarizing issue deeply concerned with Native Hawaiians (and thus, thanks to the annexation, Native Americans) and, as someone passionate about the overlap of America and the Pacific, I feel like I should have an opinion on this bill. I don’t yet, but I have done some research.  Here is what I’ve found.

The bill was first introduced by Daniel Akaka in 2000 with the purpose being “to provide a process for the reorganization of the single Native Hawaiian governing entity and the reaffirmation of the special political and legal relationship between the United States and that Native Hawaiian governing entity for purposes of continuing a government-to-government relationship”.  While the recognition proposed is similar to the recognition Native Americans receive federally, it is different.  First off, Native Hawaiians would be prohibited from participating in services aimed to help Native Americans and they would not be included on the Secretary of the Interior’s list of Tribes eligible for federal benefits because of their status as Indians.

So what is a Native Hawaiian? According to Section 3 of the bill:

(i) an individual who is 1 of the indigenous, native people of Hawaii and who is a direct lineal descendant of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who–

(I) resided in the islands that now comprise the State of Hawaii on or before January 1, 1893; and
(II) occupied and exercised sovereignty in the Hawaiian archipelago, including the area that now constitutes the State of Hawaii; or
(ii) an individual who is 1 of the indigenous, native people of Hawaii and who was eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (42 Stat. 108, chapter 42) or a direct lineal descendant of that individual.

Straightforward enough.  Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown in January of 1893 by mostly white, American businessmen, thus this date in the bill.

Supporters of the bill wish to protect the programs assisting Native Hawaiians concerned with education (namely the Kamehameha Schools), health-care and housing for the Hawaiian population. Supporters include President Obama, the Hawaiian State Legislature, and the National Congress of American Indians, among many others.

Detractors of the bill claim it to be racist because the programs that would be maintained by the bill exclusively serve Native Hawaiians, and see the Akaka bill as an attempt to subvert the February 23, 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice v. Cayetano, which ruled that limiting participation in OHA elections to Native Hawaiians was an unconstitutional restriction on the basis of race.  However, Senator Akaka counters that, “This measure does not result in race discrimination. But discrimination will occur if this measure is not passed. It is undisputed that Native Hawaiians are the aboriginal, indigenous people of Hawaii. Yet some of my colleagues want to discriminate against them and treat them differently from other Native Americans — the American Indian and the Alaska Native.”

I’m going to mull this issue over and do some more research, but I want to know what you think?

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