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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:53 p.m., Thursday, January 6, 2005

McCain says he will oppose Akaka bill

Associated Press

The new chairman of U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee says he will oppose legislation that would allow Native Hawaiians to seek federal recognition.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has taken over as chairman of the committee that will consider the legislation also known as the Akaka bill. He replaces retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who had supported the bill.

"When Hawai'i became a state there was an implicit agreement at that time that Native Hawaiians would not receive the same status as Native Americans," McCain told Stephens Media Group's Washington bureau.

He said he would prefer to increase funding for existing Native Hawaiian programs.

"I would be much more supportive if there was an increase in the budget which would reflect the needs of Native Hawaiians than take it from the federally recognized tribes," McCain said.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, said he was surprised by McCain's remarks, and he said he plans to talk to him. Akaka said he still intends to reintroduce the bill.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle said today that she also hadn't spoken with McCain about his issues with the bill.

"But he's certainly someone on my visit list when I'm up (in Washington) in February," said Lingle, who plans to be in the capital for the National Governors' Association national meeting next month. In November, Lingle hosted McCain, in town on a personal matter, at an informal luncheon at Washington Place, the governor's mansion.

In December, Hawai'i senators struck an agreement with Republican leaders to bring the bill to a floor vote before Aug. 7.

"We have the word of Sen. Frist that he's going to do what he can," Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, referring to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told Stephens Media Group.

Inouye said he would pursue the bill through McCain's committee.

"I'm going to try and do this according to the rules," Inouye said. He declined to say whether he would seek to bypass McCain if necessary.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman Haunani Apoliona, who was in Washington this week with OHA administrator Clyde Namuo, said McCain isn't informed about Hawaiian history.

"I don't know why he would separate Hawaiians from other indigenous groups," Apoliona said. "We are prepared to walk through the history and brief him or his staff on our perspective."

OHA has lobbied in support of the Hawaiian recognition bill.

Akaka said last summer that he and Inouye have worked for five years to enact the recognition bill. Akaka said the bill has been blocked from consideration by "a handful of senators who refuse to acknowledge Native Hawaiians as indigenous peoples."

Akaka said then that he and Inouye had the votes to pass the legislation, which provides a process for the recognition by the United States of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

The Akaka bill would establish an office in the Department of the Interior to address Native Hawaiian issues and create an interagency group composed of representatives of federal agencies that currently administer programs and policies affecting Hawaiians.

In effect, the federal government would recognize Hawaiians as a native population, as they already do American Indians and Native Alaskans.