Poll: Sovereignty support eroding
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Support for an independent Native Hawaiian government may have stalled over the past six years, according to the latest Advertiser Hawai'i Poll.
Results from last month's polling show 63 percent of respondents support a recognized Hawaiian entity — marking a decline from the 73 percent who supported it when virtually the same question was asked in November 2000.
The margin of error for the latest poll was 4 percentage points, while the 2000 poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
While a majority of respondents supported the idea of a Hawaiian entity "similar to the special recognition given to American Indian tribes," support falls to less than half when a preface to the question refers to "a sovereign Hawaiian nation."
Regina Tauala, 54, of Halawa, is among those polled who supports a Native Hawaiian government.
"We gotta start somewhere, and the only way to be recognized is by the United States so that (the Hawaiians) can form something here and so that they can have some kind of rights ..." said Tauala, who is part-Hawaiian.
"I know you cannot change history, but at least they should have something," Tauala said. "Just so that there's some respect and dignity for the Hawaiian people."
Andrea Kolander, 66, of Kane'ohe, was among those who disagree with the notion of a Native Hawaiian government separate from the state.
Kolander, who moved to Hawai'i in the 1970s, said she previously lived in Arizona and saw how Native Americans have not fared well with special benefits they receive.
"I realize things have been done to ruin the Hawaiian people's lands, some of their beliefs and customs," Kolander said. "How do I put this so that it doesn't sound callous? It's just one of those things in life that I just don't think you can do anything about. I just feel like yes, it's unfair ... I just don't think you can go backward."
WANTS MORE AGREEMENT
Magnolia Soares, 61, of 'Ewa Beach, said she cannot support a Native Hawaiian entity, at least not until there can be more agreement among the indigenous people here.
"The Hawaiians, they can't get it together," said Soares, who is also part-Hawaiian. "They're always fighting among themselves. They don't agree, and unless you get the Hawaiians together, it'll never happen."
Soares said that, in general, she does not particularly support programs designed to help Hawaiians only. While the monarchy was overthrown, "we still had the opportunity to progress like everyone else," Soares said. "We weren't denied our rights."
Some observers said much of the poll's results arose from the way the questions were asked.
"It's a pretty scary thing for a lot of people, to create a nation within a nation," said Donald Clegg, a longtime Hawai'i pollster. The question referencing a sovereign nation, he said, "appears to give more independence to the Hawaiian people" than the second question, which poses recognizing Hawaiians as a distinct group, similar to what Native Americans now receive.
Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, also believes the phrasing of the "sovereign Hawaiian nation" question was a key reason the "agree" votes were not higher.
"You would need to secede from the union to have a sovereign nation," he said, adding that neither federal nor state law allows that.
"Clearly, there's a lot of work still to be done in terms of educating our community about what a Native Hawaiian governing entity would look like and how it would affect everyone's lives."
But Thurston Twigg-Smith, who is affiliated with Aloha For All, a group opposed to special federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, contends that the question, in which 48 percent of respondents supported a sovereign Hawaiian nation, was skewed in favor of those who support the concept.
Twigg-Smith, a former publisher of The Advertiser, said the preface to the question should not have referred to sovereignty as a proposed benefit for Native Hawaiians.
"That's a really loaded question," he said. "It implies that (the federal recognition bill) is a good bill and that being opposed to it means you're opposed to helping Native Hawaiians."
Twigg-Smith said he believes the percentage of respondents supporting sovereignty would be much lower if the description of a Hawaiian government were not part of the question.
On a third question, the poll shows overwhelming support for Kamehameha Schools and its Hawaiians-first admissions policy.
'A LITTLE BIT OF ANXIETY'
Those on various sides of the issue of a Native Hawaiian entity agree that the 10 percent drop in support for a federally recognized Hawaiian entity similar to Native Americans from 2000 to 2006 is not a good sign for those who support the movement.
"I think that people are beginning to understand the problems of the Akaka bill," said Twigg-Smith. When the question was first asked in 2000, he said, not much was known about federal recognition and what it meant.
Now, he said, people are more familiar with the pitfalls of the argument for a Native Hawaiian entity "and people are beginning to react to that."
Namu'o, the OHA administrator, acknowledged Twigg-Smith's argument and countered, "With clarity comes a little bit of anxiety" about the powers and authorities such an entity may hold. Supporters need to do a better job of allaying those fears, he said.
Despite the apparent decline in support, "60 percent is a respectable number," Namu'o said. "We're very pleased that there are that many people who still support the concept of federal recognition of Native Hawaiians."
Charles Rose, former president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, attributes the decline to changing demographics.
There are many more residents in Hawai'i who were not born here and are more likely to have less empathy for the plight of Native Hawaiians, Rose said.
Nonlocals, he said, don't understand that "Hawaiian people need to have their culture preserved and protected." Native Hawaiians, he said, haven't done a good job explaining that.
Longtime Hawaiian activist Kekuni Blaisdell, who rejects the model of a Hawaiian government within the existing U.S. framework, also believes there is less support for it now that the issue has been widely debated.
He said people are starting to realize that a federally recognized entity would be no more than a "puppet government."
"It's not really Hawaiian at all, it's American."
An effort to force debate on the Akaka bill on the Senate floor failed this year.
Poll respondents, by a more than 4-to-1 margin, favored keeping the existing Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiians-first admissions policy.
Ronald Okura, 63, of lower Makiki, said Kamehameha Schools should be left alone. "The princess made it in the will. And what's in there, they shouldn't change it."
A challenge to the admissions policy is under way in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org.