By Susan Roth
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Hawaii Sens. Daniel Akaka and Dan Inouye reintroduced the Native Hawaiian recognition bill yesterday, the first day of legislative activity in the Senate.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said he plans to reintroduce the measure in the House when he returns to Washington next week. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, has indicated her support for the reintroduction, but it remains unclear whether she will co-sponsor the bill.
The lawmakers say they realize yesterdays actions may be the start of a long process, but they remain optimistic that the bill, exactly the same as last years version, can pass in the 107th Congress. Initially introduced last July, the bill passed the House in September but a group of Republicans blocked it in the Senate.
Akaka has said he believes that the 50-50 partisan split in the Senate and an early reintroduction will work to the bills benefit this year.
|Sen. Daniel Akaka's statement addresses the concerns of Republican senators who blocked the measure last year.
Advertiser library photo Sept. 12, 1998
|Sen. Dan Inouye is optimistic that the bill will pass.
Advertiser library photo Aug. 30, 2000
"This measure does not establish entitlements or special treatment for Native Hawaiians based on race," Akaka said in a statement submitted for the record with the bill. "This measure focuses on the political relationship afforded to Native Hawaiians based on the United States recognition of Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal, indigenous people of Hawaii."
Akakas statement directly addressed the concerns of the Republican senators who blocked the bill last year. Based on information sent to them by opponents from Hawaii, the lawmakers said they believed the measure would amount to a federally sanctioned system of racial preference for Native Hawaiians.
The bill intends to clarify the existing political relationship between the United States and Native Hawaiians, and it aims to establish parity in federal policies toward all native American peoples: American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, Akaka said.
The bill would establish a federal process to allow Native Hawaiians to set up their own government within the state of Hawaii, similar to American Indian nations, which have government-to-government relations with the United States.
The bill would recognize Native Hawaiians right to self-determination, and it would require them to formally define themselves. Similar bills that have recognized Indian tribes or Alaska Native groups have taken years to move through Congress.
The bill also aims to protect current programs and services for Native Hawaiians in the wake of last years Rice v Cayetano Supreme Court decision. That decision allowed non-Hawaiians to vote for trustees for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, but did not address the programs that are now threatened by other legal challenges.
Both Hawaii senators have said they hope the bill can come to the Senate floor for a debate and vote, where a handful of senators would not be able to stop it. Last year, that was impossible because the bill was introduced so late in the legislative session.
Once again, the measure will have to move through the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where Inouye is vice chairman, before reaching the Senate floor, and the House Resources Committee will have to approve it before it can pass the House.
Abercrombie, a senior member of the Resources Committee, said yesterday that he continues to have "good working relationships" with House leaders, including the new chairman of the committee, Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah. "Hes a good friend who is always open and ready to listen to any propositions," Abercrombie said. "Im sure hell be as helpful as he can be."
Members of the delegation plan to meet soon to map out a new strategy for passing the bill, which is expected to include much more lobbying on Capitol Hill by supporters from Hawaii. Inouye already has met with advocates in Hawaii who want to spend considerable time in Washington this year helping to educate lawmakers about the bill, said Patricia Zell, Democratic staff director of the Indian Affairs Committee.
Officials from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Kamehameha Schools, as well as other Hawaiian organizations have said they want to take a more active role this year, said Zell.
As early as next month, the congressional delegation may meet again with supporters in Hawaii to offer them guidance, Zell said. They also plan to approach the Bush administration on the issue, including the president and key staff at the Interior and Justice departments, as soon as the staffers are all on board. Some positions in the federal agencies may not be filled for months, however.
[back to top]