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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Hawaiian association still backs Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs reaffirmed its endorsement of the Akaka bill at its annual convention over the weekend, but not before two member organizations sought to have that support withdrawn.

In the end, those association members attending their annual convention in West Hawai'i voted 146 to 39 to continue supporting the Akaka bill, formally known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005.

The Akaka bill would establish a process for the United States to formally recognize the nation's 400,000 Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people. Native Hawaiians would then decide whether to pursue a sovereign government that could negotiate with the United States and the state over land use and other rights.

The bill has been stalled in the Senate, although proponents hope it will move out before the end of this year's Congress.

Ka Lei Maile Ali'i Hawaiian Civic Club and the Queen Emma Hawaiian Civic Club jointly introduced a resolution urging the association to withdraw its support of the bill.

The two clubs are among the 47 organizations from Hawai'i and the Mainland that make up the 87-year-old association, which strives to support programs and other efforts that benefit the Hawaiian community.

Keoni Agard, vice president for the Queen Emma group, said proposed amendments designed to address concerns raised by the Department of Justice preclude Native Hawaiians from filing claims against either the state or federal government without their consent.

"We feel that we have land claims to the ceded lands that won't even get to first base because no one's going to consent," he said.

Agard, an attorney, said he and others also are disturbed by new language that would allow the U.S. military to conduct operations in Hawai'i without consulting Native Hawaiian interests.

Ipolani Tano, corresponding secretary for the Lanihuli Hawaiian Civic Club, was among those who spoke in favor of the Akaka bill.

"The Supreme Court has acknowledged that Congress has plenary power over Indian affairs, including the authority to organize a formerly sovereign indigenous people, and that happens to be the Hawaiians."

Toni Lee, president of Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, said the matter was discussed fully both before the Benefits and Trusts Committee on Thursday, as well as before the full delegation on Saturday.

Lee said she takes exception to the argument by one Akaka bill opponent who charged that debate was cut off on the issue Saturday, noting that at least two hours were devoted to discussing pros and cons of the bill.

Lynette Cruz, president of the Ka Lei Maile Ali'i organization, said she was not surprised at the outcome of the discussion, given the Hawaiian civic clubs' longstanding support of the Akaka bill.

Nonetheless, she said, the debate that took place was "a good and healthy thing to do" for the delegates.

"We knew when we went in there that it was overwhelmingly in their favor and not ours," Cruz said. "Our primary goal is education."

Tano agreed that the exchange was healthy. "It's good to understand what their concerns are."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.