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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 10:35 a.m., Tuesday, April 6, 2004

'Akaka bill’ amended for greater clarity

By Frank Oliveri
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Native Hawaiian recognition took a step forward today with the issuance of an amendment to the so-called "Akaka bill" that reflects collaboration between legislators, the Interior Department and the state.

The streamlined amendment appeases concerns raised by Interior Department officials, who were concerned the bill needed more clarity in the process of how Native Hawaiian governance is formed. The amendment provides a less wordy and more specific description on how the process would occur.

But it preserves the objectives of the bill: authorizing federal recognition of Native Hawaiians; initiating the process by which a governing authority can be formed and recognized; and addressing creation of a mechanism by which that governing authority negotiates with the state and federal governments on the disposition of lands, natural resources and other assets.

"The Department of the Interior sincerely appreciates all of the effort

the congressional delegation and the governor have made regarding a number of provisions… " said a department statement. "We look forward to continuing productive communications … as the Administration develops its position on this legislation."

Native Hawaiians seek recognition on par with recognition granted to American Indian tribes and Native Alaskan villages.

"I just want to be sure that people know the amendment reflects many discussions we had with colleagues and officials at the Department of Interior and they know that the amendment remains true to the original purpose," said the bill’s author, Sen. Daniel Akaka.

The bill must be passed by the time Congress adjourns in October or the arduous process will start again in 2005.

Akaka and Sen. Dan Inouye have written another letter — their third — to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., requesting floor time to debate and pass the bill. The letter states that Akaka and Inouye have the 60 votes in the Senate to override a filibuster.

Frist said recently that the Senate calendar is too jam-packed to find time for Native Hawaiian recognition, but promised he would try to find time.

But colleagues in the Senate, who placed an anonymous hold on the recognition bill, allowed under Senate procedures, still find parts of the bill objectionable, Akaka said. "They question the congressional power to recognize and authorize recognition of Native Hawaiians," Akaka said. "Some are very adamant about what they feel about this."

Regulations governing Indian Affairs explicitly excluded Native Hawaiians from the Indian recognition process.

Akaka said he continues to consult with his colleagues on the issue, hoping to negotiate for their support, or at least a release of the hold.