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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:48 a.m., Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Akaka bill passes panel

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

As expected, a U.S. House of Representatives committee today approved federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

The unanimous decision by the Resources Committee means its version of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act could be voted on by the full House before Congress adjourns next month.

The House bill is identical to the one introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i.

There is no guarantee that a vote will occur, said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, (D-Hawai'i), author of the House version of the bill.

"There is no assurance that just because it passes a committee it will make it to the floor," said Michael Slackman, Abercrombie's spokesman.

Abercrombie today said the committee vote sends "a clear signal of approval" to his colleagues.

"We just took a big step forward," Abercrombie said. "It took hard work and mana'o from the community to get this far and I think we're going to achieve our goal of justice for Native Hawaiians."

It has been seen as a means to give Hawaiians a protected, political status that would derail lawsuits that challenge as unconstitutional programs or benefits targeting them.

The bill would allow Native Hawaiians to re-establish self-government and affirm the special political and legal relationship they have with the federal government.

Akaka spokesman Paul Cardus said the senator, who is in Hawai'i recuperating from surgery last month, was told this morning of the vote.

Cardus said Akaka was pleased by the vote.

"The action by the committee reinforces what the senator has said all along — that there is strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress," Cardus said.

Jonathan Osorio, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, feels that the House decision will probably influence the Senate.

"I'm assuming that if the House approves it, the Senate will have less reason to object to it," Osorio said. "And since it must be headed for the floor, the chances of it being passed are better than they have been in years."

Osorio does not support the bill, however, adding that many Hawaiians oppose it.

He said the bill does not adequately address the issue of self-determination or "the taking of Hawaiian independence" by the United States when it overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. It also does not address the ownership of former crown lands, he said.

"Whether it gets passed this year or not is based entirely on what suits the Congress and not at all on whatever the public wants," Osorio said.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.