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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 8, 2005

Opponents ask OHA's aid to derail Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer


Native Hawaiian groups that oppose the Akaka bill say they want the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to use some of its resources to thwart the legislation's passage rather than lobby for it.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for a separate group seeking to stop the federal recognition bill said he wants Gov. Linda Lingle, a supporter, to debate him on the merits of the legislation.

Both demands were made yesterday as the countdown continued toward a vote on the Akaka bill, which sets up a process that would lead to the U.S. government's recognition of the nation's 400,000 Native Hawaiians in the same way that it recognizes American Indians and Alaska natives. A Senate floor vote on the measure is expected in the next few weeks.

Lingle, OHA and other supporters say the bill is an important step toward making right the injuries suffered as a result of the overthrow of the monarchy and is necessary to stave off challenges to Hawaiian-only programs.

About 20 members of the "Hui Pu," or gathering, of Native Hawaiian groups that oppose the Akaka bill on a number of grounds, showed up yesterday at OHA's regularly scheduled meeting in Honolulu, demanding that OHA spend money to explain the positions of those against the controversial measure.

Ikaika Hussey, a spokesman for Hui Pu, said OHA has spent millions promoting the Akaka bill through an advertising campaign, hiring a Washington-based lobbying group and other efforts. "We're saying they also need to put up a balanced perspective," Hussey said after the visit with OHA leaders.

What's more, the native Hawaiian groups want OHA to hold a statewide series of hearings on the bill to allow the public to air their views. Anti-Akaka groups do not believe a majority of the public supports the bill, Hussey said.

No public hearings on the measure have been held in Hawai'i since August 2000, and since both Congress and the state Legislature have refused to do so, it is up to OHA to convene the hearings, he said.

OHA administrator Clyde Namu'o said trustees' support of the Akaka bill does not mean opposition to independence from the United States, which many of the Hui Pu groups want.

Namu'o said many of those in the independence movement are concerned that once federal recognition is achieved, a drive for independence may be diminished. "But that remains to be seen," Namu'o said. "If, truly, the Hawaiian community feels independence is the noblest of goals, regardless of whether federal recognition comes about, it could still be pursued."

Namu'o noted that OHA has given some support to the independence movement, including sponsoring a visit from a noted scholar who has argued that Hawaiians should not seek the same federal recognition as achieved by the other indigenous groups.

Since May 2003, OHA has paid the lobbying group Patton Boggs about $650,000 to push Congressional members for passage of the Akaka bill, Namu'o said. Namu'o said he is uncertain exactly how much more OHA has spent on the Akaka bill, although he acknowledged that a recent scientific poll and OHA's Kau Inoa project to get Native Hawaiians on a registry are somewhat related to the Akaka bill.

Some who support the Akaka bill, including Hawaiian homestead groups and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, may get funding for specific projects from OHA, Namu'o said, but not to lobby for federal recognition.

Also yesterday, Washington-based attorney Bruce Fein called on Lingle to debate him on the bill. Fein has been hired by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a conservative nonprofit organization opposed to federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, "to get the Mainland educated about the Akaka bill and its ramifications," according to Grassroot president Richard Rowland.

Fein, in his letter to Lingle, said she is wrong in suggesting that the Akaka bill could not result in Native Hawaiians being allowed to ignore the U.S. Constitution or U.S. laws in favor of their own.

Fein and the Grassroot Institute believe the Akaka bill is race-based and, therefore, unconstitutional.

"I think you would agree that the people of Hawai'i, whether supporters, detractors or neutral on the Akaka bill, would be disserved and deprecated by the absence of an informative and mutually respectful debate over the legislation," Fein wrote.

The governor's office yesterday did not respond to a request for a comment on Fein's letter.