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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, October 14, 2002

OHA plans sovereignty campaign

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is gearing up to start planning its first initiative since assuming "the lead role" in the drive for sovereignty: a campaign to educate Native Hawaiians about their nationhood options.

Clyde Namuo, OHA administrator, said the office has been concentrating on its push to restore state payments owed to Hawaiians for the use of ceded lands, but he said he hopes community discussions about sovereignty will begin by the end of the year.

The OHA board of trustees attempted to jump-start the sovereignty process last week when they officially claimed a "lead role in guiding self-determination, federal recognition and nationhood for Hawaiians."

That claim drew criticism from some sovereignty advocates who said the push should arise from the grass-roots level, not a state agency.

The measure approved unanimously Thursday by the board of trustees was an endorsement of the OHA administration's strategic plan to carry out an education campaign on issues of self-determination, federal recognition and nationhood for Hawaiians.

Trustees adopted the strategic plan in April, but the endorsement was intended to send a signal to the Bush administration that Hawaiians will decide on the form of nationhood they seek, Namuo said. That signal was designed as an answer to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who last month said the federal government wants such a decision before it will recognize a sovereign Hawaiian nation.

The OHA strategic plan includes a series of forums on Hawaiian rights, entitlements and self-determination and with lobbying efforts at both the federal and state levels.

The trustees' endorsement, which acknowledges the need for assistance by Hawaiian civic clubs and other Native Hawaiian organizations, was not echoed by sovereignty advocates H.K. Bruss Keppeler and Lela Hubbard, who questioned the wisdom of casting a state agency in a lead role.

Keppeler, who represented the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs at the meeting, said some interpretations of federal law suggest a sovereignty move must come from an established tribal leadership or, if that is lacking, from the grass roots.

"Nation building should be a people process," he said. Then he suggested the proper OHA role should be as financial backer.

"If 'lead role' means in Hawaiian 'kala' (money), we have no problem," Keppeler said.

Hubbard, speaking for the group Na Koa Ikaika, said some of the grass-roots discussion will take place next month at a convention of the Hawaiian civic clubs in Las Vegas.

"OHA needs to build a community of Hawaiians, rather than being 'the lead,'" Hubbard said.