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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Akaka bill gaining higher profile

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau


The legal threat to Kamehameha Schools' admissions policy has raised awareness about the sovereignty movement, bringing more attention to a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill before the U.S. Senate.

The marches and rallies over the weekend in support of Kamehameha's Hawaiian preference in admissions were the most visible displays of Hawaiian unity, while activists who oppose what they see as illegal racial discrimination say that more people are learning about the potential dangers of recognition.

"If anything has brought the Hawaiian people together, it's the Kamehameha decision," said Rod Ferreira, who lives on the Big Island and is president of I Mua, a Kamehameha alumni group. "It's really had an effect on people."

Ken Conklin, a researcher in Kane'ohe with Aloha for All, which opposes federal recognition, said he also detects more awareness. "I think the more sunlight there is on this, the more opposition there will be," he said.

The recognition bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own government. That body would represent the Hawaiian people in negotiations with the federal and state governments over land use and other issues. Some legal scholars say that a Hawaiian government could absorb and protect some existing Hawaiian-only programs that have been challenged in the courts as discriminatory, including the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and, possibly, Kamehameha.

A federal appeals court ruled last week that the school's admissions policy was illegal under federal civil rights law.


Activists say they doubt that the ruling will have much influence on people who have already made up their minds on the Akaka bill, but it could bring people who were unaware or ambivalent about the bill into the debate. A procedural vote on whether the U.S. Senate should move forward on the bill is scheduled for early September after senators return from a summer recess.

Public hearings on the bill were held in Hawai'i in 2000, shortly after it was introduced, but the issue has largely stayed in the background aside from periodic reports of its slow movement through Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives passed it in 2000, but conservative Republicans have stalled it from coming to a vote in the Senate.

The combination of an expected Senate vote this year and the Kamehameha court ruling has brought the concept of recognition back into focus. Supporters said the ruling shows what could be lost if the Akaka bill fails, while opponents say it is a reminder that the foundation of the bill is based on racial separation.

"The appeals court decision, I believe, awakened us all," said Hamilton McCubbin, former chief executive of Kamehameha Schools. "More people, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike, have come to realize that the Akaka bill, while imperfect, is at this critical point in our history, our most viable hope for a better future for Hawaiians."

Conklin, of Aloha for All, said the ruling has "taken out one of the bricks in the wall of apartheid that we have had in Hawai'i for a long time."


Articles about federal recognition and Kamehameha Schools have appeared in the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages and on the Fox News Channel, which reach large audiences nationally, particularly among conservatives. Akaka needs 60 votes to break the procedural delays in the Republican-dominated Senate and bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and public opinion could have an effect on senators as they read and hear about Hawai'i.

"There is no question that more Hawaiians now see the necessity of the Akaka bill, and why it's so important that it pass. It's unfortunate that we have some people who have been very problematic, because clearly they really don't understand what this bill means," said Rowena Akana, a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

State Sen. Sam Slom, R-9th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), supports Kamehameha Schools' admissions policy because, he said, trustees are carrying out a private will at a private institution. But he has opposed the Akaka bill as an expansion of government, not — as others have — as race-based separatism. He said people should be given more information and the opportunity to hear greater debate on the potential impact of the bill on state land and money.

"It's amazing that there has been more debate on the Akaka bill in Washington, D.C., than in the state of Hawai'i," Slom said.