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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lingle lobbies for Akaka bill

 •  PDF: State's response to U.S. Civil Rights Commission
 •  PDF: Gov. Linda Lingle's letter to Republican Senators
 •  PDF: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' report on the Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Gov. Linda Lingle has sent out a letter urging U.S. Senate Republicans to support the Akaka bill, describing a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report recommending against it a "misguided action."

The letter was sent to Republican senators this week and is accompanied by, among other materials, a three-page response to the commission report by state Attorney General Mark Bennett.

Lingle said in her letter that Native Hawaiians, like American Indians and Native Alaskans, "have been regarded as native peoples for purposes of numerous federal Indian programs." But Native Hawaiians, she wrote, "do not enjoy the same sort of federal recognition" as the other two groups.

"It is a very simple matter of justice and fairness that Native Hawaiians receive the same treatment that America's other indigenous people enjoy," she wrote. "There is no basis, in law or justice, to deny them this fair treatment."

A cloture vote, which would force senators to debate the bill, is expected to be argued on the Senate floor in the first week of June.

A vote on the bill had been expected last summer, but half a dozen Republican senators blocked it. Republican leaders promised a vote on cloture during the fall, but the Senate became preoccupied with Hurricane Katrina relief.

A cloture procedure, if approved, would open the way for up to 30 hours of Senate debate, essentially halting other business.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission voted to recommend that senators reject the legislation. A draft of the commission's report said the measure "would discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."

Two of the seven commission members rejected the conclusion, and members of a local advisory panel also denounced it for failing to consider their views.

Bennett, in written comments accompanying Lingle's letter, said the report "ignores the undisputed history of suffering, and political and cultural devastation foisted upon the Native Hawaiian people."

Ikaika Hussey of Hui Pu, an umbrella group of organizations that oppose the Akaka bill, said the measure is not enough.

"Federal recognition is a way that the United States has maintained hegemony over indigenous peoples for the last two centuries, and they've used federal recognition to legitimate and institutionalize the genocidal actions of the U.S.," Hussey said.

"For Mr. Bennett and Gov. Lingle to say that we should have federal recognition is to say that the history of the United States and North America is just, and we disagree with that fervently."

H. William Burgess of the group Aloha For All, which opposes the bill saying it is race-based and discriminatory, said state officials unfairly say Native Hawaiians would get the same treatment as Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

Burgess said that unlike federally recognized Indian tribes, the government of Hawai'i has not had "a continuous, longstanding, pre-existing tribe or quasi-sovereign government of some kind to be recognized."

He added: "There has never been a government for Native Hawaiians separate from the government of the rest of the citizens, even during the kingdom."

Bennett rejected that argument. "The fact that Native Hawaiians, over 100 years ago, were enlightened enough to maintain a government that was open to participation by non-Hawaiians should not deprive Native Hawaiians today of the recognition they deserve," he wrote. "Indeed, it is quite ironic that those who oppose the Akaka (b)ill as racist would use Native Hawaiians' historical inclusiveness as a reason to deny Native Hawaiians the recognition other native groups receive."

A cloture vote would require 60 of 100 senators in order for the Akaka bill to be placed on the calendar for debate. If successful, such a debate could begin as early as June 8.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would still need to pass the House before the end of the year.

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