Lingle lobbying for Hawaiian recognition bill
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By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Gov. Linda Lingle, making the case with the Bush administration that Native Hawaiians deserve federal recognition, is trying to overcome a perception among some Republicans that the sovereignty movement is mainly about racial preferences.
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"This is just about fairness, justice and treating all indigenous people in our country the same," Gov. Linda Lingle said.
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At the same time, the Republican governor is asking lawmakers not to let the courts unravel decades of work in Congress to help Native Hawaiians through land, health, education and housing programs.
"This is just about fairness, justice and treating all indigenous people in our country the same," said Lingle, who will testify today on a Native Hawaiian recognition bill before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "Native Hawaiians have faced discrimination because they have not been treated the same as other indigenous people."
The legislation, sponsored by the Hawai'i congressional delegation, would establish a process for the United States to recognize a Native Hawaiian government, much as it does American Indian tribes and Native Alaskan villages. The bill also would set up a Native Hawaiian office within the Department of Interior and an interagency group to follow Native Hawaiian issues at the federal government.
The Supreme Court, in Rice v. Cayetano, decided in 2000 that it was unconstitutional for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs to bar non-Hawaiians from voting in trustee elections, a ruling that has led to other legal challenges to Native Hawaiian programs as unfair race-based preferences. Federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian government might provide some protection for Hawaiian programs, although legal opinions vary.
The Senate committee hearing today is timed to coincide with Lingle's attendance at a National Governors' Association meeting and the official opening here of an Office of Hawaiian Affairs bureau. Sen. Dan Inouye is the ranking Democrat on the committee and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, is a member.
Lingle and Hawai'i Democrats will tell lawmakers at the hearing that Hawai'i's leaders are united behind federal recognition, while most of the important political outreach is happening behind the scenes.
During the Clinton administration, the Department of Interior and the Department of Justice recommended that Congress adopt a recognition bill, but the Bush administration has not taken an official position.
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Hawai'i Sens. Daniel Akaka, left, and Dan Inouye, both Democrats, attended an open house for the new bureau of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in Washington, D.C., yesterday.
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Micah Kane, chairman of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, hopes to talk with aides to Senate Republicans, including Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who has opposed recognition. Kane, former chairman of the Hawai'i Republican Party, said he also would reach out to his political contacts.
"What we need to do is turn back the clock and reframe the issue," Kane said, referring to Republican objections to race-based preferences. "We have to tell them our story. You've got to be persistent. You've got to have a presence here. This is the beginning of our dialogue."
Rowena Akana, a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a Republican, said she has talked with aides to key Senate Republicans such as Trent Lott of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona.
"I see this bill as a mechanism where we can stop the legal assault," said Akana, who has had her own concerns about the legislation. "It's not a Republican or Democratic issue. It's a justice issue. It's a human rights issue."
Meanwhile, aides to Hawai'i Democrats held a private briefing on Hawaiian recognition yesterday afternoon for congressional staff, targeting aides to lawmakers on committees that have jurisdiction over the bill.
The House approved a version of the bill in 2000, but it did not advance in the Senate. House and Senate committees passed a version of the bill in the last session of Congress, but it never received a floor vote in either chamber.
"The opposition to this bill, in my mind, is not with the Democrats or even most of the Republicans in Congress," said Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i. "It's a couple of Republican members of Congress and the administration."
The congressional delegation, in introducing a bill identical to the one that stalled last session, has not addressed requests by some Republicans for more details about a Native Hawaiian government. Hawai'i Democrats have stressed that the bill would only create a process for federal recognition and that it should be left up to Hawaiians to decide the shape and scope of a new government.
Many Hawaiians have serious reservations about federal recognition, and some condemn it outright as a sell-out that could threaten independence and the restoration of the kingdom of Hawai'i. But most Hawaiians active in the sovereignty movement have generally agreed to support the bill as imperfect but necessary.
At a blessing here yesterday for the new bureau of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said Hawaiians will now have a greater presence in the capital. Federal recognition, she said, is "a journey of many footsteps."
Anticipating today's hearing, a coalition of Hawaiian sovereignty groups yesterday issued a statement opposing the federal recognition bill on the grounds that it "seeks to establish a puppet Hawaiian governing entity to represent the interests of the Hawaiian people."
The groups Ka Pakaukau, Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific, 'Ekolu Wale No, Ho'okipa Network, Ahupua'a Action Alliance, Not of America and Na Maka O Ka 'Aina criticized particularly the placement of a Hawaiian government body within the Department of Interior, making Hawaiians "wards of the federal government."
Longtime sovereignty activist Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele said he supports the groups' insistence on independence from federal control. However, he said, federal recognition shouldn't worry those who believe Hawai'i is an illegally occupied independent nation; it is an exercise of U.S. law.
"I hear them, and I'm confused," he said. "They're still concerned about what's going on in American law."
Staff Writer Vicki Viotti contributed to this report
Correction: The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hear testimony today on a Native Hawaiian recognition bill. The name of the committee was not correct in a previous version of this story.