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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Akaka bill under fire in civil rights report

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill should be rejected, says a draft report that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights might vote to endorse tomorrow.

The commission's draft report, obtained by Gannett News Service, portrays the Akaka bill as discriminatory and divisive, echoing the objections of the bill's critics.

The report, which the commission could change at its meeting tomorrow, says granting Hawaiians the right to form their own government would "discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."

Originally introduced in Congress six years ago by Hawai'i's congressional delegation, the bill has been stalled in the Senate but could come up for a vote in the chamber late this month.

Its prime sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, has been trying to bring the bill to the Senate floor since it was introduced.

Akaka said in a statement yesterday that the report had "biased conclusions" and was produced "without consulting with (the commission's) Hawai'i Advisory Committee, the experts of Hawai'i's history and on federal policies toward indigenous peoples."

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said he would be "extremely disappointed" if the commissioners adopted the recommendation.

"It appears to me that the draft recommendation is based on a complete lack of understanding of federal policies that involve native peoples and the history of Hawai'i," he said. "In the past, when commissioners have consulted with its Hawai'i Advisory Committee, they have voiced their support of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians."

The Hawai'i State Advisory Committee to the Commission on Civil Rights, one of 51 state committees designed to serve as the "eyes and ears" of the federal panel, issued a written statement yesterday saying it was "outraged" by the commission's failure to take its views under consideration.

NO LOCAL INPUT

State chairman David M. Forman said the national group has not sought input from the Hawai'i committee, has failed to respond to formal requests for information the committee has sent to it and has not adequately considered reports the committee has submitted in the past.

Supporters and opponents of the Akaka bill legislation briefed the commission which has four Republicans, two Democrats and an independent in January. The commission has no enforcement power but can make recommendations on the basis of a majority vote.

The draft report drew on the briefing and additional comments the commission received since then.

H. William Burgess of the group Aloha for All, who was among those who testified before the commission, said what's in the bill speaks for itself. "I don't see how anyone could genuinely or sincerely argue that it's not (advocating for) a race-based government," he said.

'COMPLETE MISREADING'

Burgess said he believes a negative recommendation by the commission would carry considerable weight in Congress. Given that it would go against the advice of the commission, he said, "I think that it would be very difficult for them to explicitly adopt a government or program that would allow one racial group to create their own separate government."

Commissioner Michael Yaki, a Democrat and part Hawaiian, said he objected to the report because it was based on limited information and a "complete misreading" of the bill and the history of special treatment for indigenous people in the Constitution.

"To proceed from a limited information base to a recommendation on important legislation is, I believe, a procedural misstep," said Yaki, a San Francisco attorney. "I think what you find are critics going a long way to deny the indigenous government and sovereign Kingdom of Hawai'i as if it never existed or never mattered. "

The Kingdom of Hawai'i existed from 1810 until its overthrow in 1893.

Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, a sponsor of the bill in the House, said the report's recommendation did not surprise him. Case said he believes the current commission's agenda is to dismantle more than a century of federal efforts on behalf of minorities and indigenous people.

"This same commission has issued three previous reports that were in some form in support of federal efforts on behalf of Native Hawaiians up to and including a report just five years ago supporting federal recognition," he said. "Clearly, what we have is a particular manifestation of this commission that is adverse to Native Hawaiians and adverse to the much bigger picture."

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, a sponsor of the bill in the House, said the draft report's recommendation reflected the commission's commentary throughout the process.

"I wish they had taken a more objective approach based on history and the context of the cause that is involved with Native Hawaiians," he said. "It's very difficult sometimes for people who have a political agenda to be able to actually step back and give an objective evaluation."

GOP OPPOSITION

The Akaka bill would create a process for a Hawaiian government to be recognized by the U.S. government, similar to the political status given to Native Americans and Alaska natives.

A number of conservative Republicans in the Senate and House oppose the bill over concerns that it was unconstitutional because it would create a race-based government.

Other points from the draft report:

  • The Hawaiian government created by the bill could treat non-Hawaiians differently than Hawaiians based solely on race.

  • The bill does not require Hawaiians to adopt a democratic form of government or the protections that other Americans have, although the secretary of the interior would have final say on the documents creating the new government.

  • Land and other assets administered by Hawai'i's Office of Hawaiian Affairs for the benefit of Hawaiians are a "racial preference system" that the bill seeks to preserve if it is challenged constitutionally.

  • The current system of preferences for Hawaiians, and the Akaka bill, may be found in violation of the Constitution's Fifth and 14th Amendments.

  • Congressional approval of 160 federal programs now aiding Hawaiians is not intended to imply recognition of a distinct Hawaiian political entity.

    In an interview last night, state chairman Forman said the commission has been influenced by politics.

    "The acronym USCCR apparently now stands for the United States Commission on Conservative Rhetoric," he said. "There is an agenda and that agenda is being carried out regardless of the facts."

    Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, former chairman and longtime member of the Hawai'i State Advisory Committee, said he is considering resigning in protest.

    "I'm tired of the politics in the U.S. Civil Rights Commission," he said. "We're being played as puppets here in Hawai'i."

    Staff writers Gordon Y.K. Pang and Karen Blakeman contributed to this report.

    Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.