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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fear not: Akaka bill can be beneficial to all

By George Ariyoshi


The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which supports the Akaka bill, is sponsoring a roundtable discussion on the Akaka bill that will be aired at 7 tonight on KGMB 9.

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The U.S. Senate will soon vote on a bill providing federal recognition to Native Hawaiians. The Akaka bill has generated emotional and sometimes bitter debate, with much of the rhetoric coming from the extremes of the political spectrum.

This is what happens in a democratic society. But in the end, what results should be good public policy that benefits a greater community.

The question we should ask is: What will federal recognition do to Hawai'i and all its citizens?

If we broaden our thinking to look into the Hawai'i of our grandchildren, we can avoid the political labels that divide us into intransigent positions. This is not easy, but we need to build from diversity, because that is the uniqueness of Hawai'i.

To keep our community united in its diversity, every cultural group in Hawai'i has a responsibility to retain and nurture its own culture.

As a Japanese-American, I proudly trace my roots back to a country with ancient traditions that we practice even today — generations removed and thousands of miles from our homeland.

Since the days of my grandparents, the Japanese have shared their practices with all who arrived in Hawai'i, so today, we all take omiyage to visit friends, we take off our shoes when we enter homes, we pound mochi every year to strengthen family and neighborhood bonds.

Every ethnic group celebrates its traditions, and by sharing its history with others, enriches the entire community.

Native Hawaiians are the host culture of our Island community. They welcomed all the immigrants and treated the newcomers with respect and fairness. But their own cultural practices were almost lost with the overthrow of the kingdom in 1893, and a century of assimilation imposed by those who neither understood nor respected the ways of the kanaka maoli.

Native Hawaiians are asking Congress for federal recognition to begin the process of reviving their unique and sovereign heritage. It is no different from the rights given to the other indigenous peoples of the United States — the American Indians and Alaska Natives.

With federal recognition, the Native Hawaiians can begin a process that will involve all of us. The Akaka bill calls for a Native Hawaiian governing entity to work with the state and federal governments to identify the resources that will be dedicated to Native Hawaiians.

This is an inclusive approach that allows diverse groups to share their ideas of a special place. No one loses and everyone gains in a community that respects and preserves the Native Hawaiian culture. No private land, home or property will be taken away unjustly, no group will lose the benefits of citizenship, no government will harm our environment or community values.

Instead, we become a stronger and more vibrant community that celebrates the diversity that makes Hawai'i special.

Federal recognition for Native Hawaiians is not to be feared. It can be our future.

George R. Ariyoshi, chairman and co-founder of Convergence CT and Cellular Bioengineering, is the former president of Prince Resorts Hawaii Inc. An attorney by profession, Ariyoshi was governor of Hawai‘i from 1973 to 1986 and was the first Japanese-American to be elected a governor in the United States. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.