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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 4, 2007

5 non-Hawaiians seek to join sovereignty list

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By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

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Five non-Hawaiians are asking that they be allowed to register with the Kau Inoa Native Hawaiian Registration program that's being sponsored and promoted by the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

But they have yet to receive "Kau Inoa" T-shirts and, judging by what a top OHA official said, they shouldn't be expecting them anytime soon.

Kau Inoa is the highly publicized effort led by OHA to collect names and signatures for a registry of Native Hawaiians locally and abroad to help form the voting base for a new government. Applicants must be able to prove they have Hawaiian blood, although there is no specific blood quantum requirement.

Four of the five non-Hawaiian applicants, as well as their attorney, H. William Burgess, were previously involved in legal challenges against Native Hawaiian programs and funding. They argue the programs discriminate based on race.

Burgess said yesterday that his clients want to register for Kau Inoa because "we're standing up and saying that if there's some important decision to be made about the future of Hawai'i, we certainly want our voice heard."

The most notable of the applicants is former Honolulu Advertiser publisher Thurston Twigg-Smith, long a critic of Hawaiian preference policies. The others are Earl Arakaki, Patricia Ann Carroll, Toby Michael Kravet and Garry Paul Smith. Only Smith was not part of the Arakaki v. Lingle lawsuit that sought unsuccessfully to dismantle the funding base for OHA and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Applying for the registry does not signal support for creating a Hawaiian entity, Burgess said. But he and his clients expect the registry to be used to discuss creation of a new Hawaiian government, he said.

"And since we're all Hawaiian that is, we are citizens of the state of Hawai'i we should be entitled to participate in anything that would create a new government in the state of Hawai'i."

Burgess said his clients have received letters from Hawai'i Maoli, the nonprofit arm of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, which is being paid $232,491 annually to serve as Kau Inoa's repository and processing entity, informing them that their information had been added to the database.

However, "they didn't send us T-shirts," Burgess said, a reference to the distinct black with red logo "Kau Inoa, To Build a Nation" T-shirts given to registrants. The T-shirts have become a source of pride to some Hawaiians and a symbol of sellout to others who feel the forming of a government within the existing state does not go far enough.

OHA administrator Clyde Namu'o said applications from non-Hawaiians are kept in a separate file and are not added to the Kau Inoa database.

"The Hawaiian community will need to weigh in on the process, which will be followed for an election of delegates," Namu'o said. "It is highly unlikely that non-Hawaiians will be allowed to participant in delegate election."

Namu'o added: "Mr. Burgess may consider himself Hawaiian, but I do not believe that he is indigenous to Hawai'i. The process of building a Native Hawaiian governing entity will be limited to the descendants of the indigenous people of Ha-wai'i. This is consistent with the creation of other Native American governments."

Kau Inoa's Web site says registrants "will be part of the new Hawaiian nation and receive benefits provided by the new government. Registrants may also declare their intent to participate in the creation of the governing entity."

OHA officials estimate more than 70,000 Hawaiians have signed up with Kau Inoa, up from about 57,000 last year. The goal is to register about 118,000 people, which is about two-thirds of the total number of Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians in the state.

The sign-up began in January 2004.

The request of the applicants, and their likely rejection, is expected to lead to a lawsuit.

"I'd say that's certainly a possibility, maybe even probable," Burgess said. "If the registry to be used for creating a new government entity is racially exclusive, or if it's restricted by race, that would be the very same problem that the (United States) Supreme Court took care of in Rice v. Cayetano. You cannot do that and it would be very likely that a challenge would be made to that."

The 2000 Rice v. Cayetano decision by the high court struck down the requirement that only voters of Hawaiian ancestry could cast ballots in elections for OHA trustees.

Discussion of a lawsuit is "extremely premature since no one has been harmed," Namu'o said. Nonetheless, he said, "if a lawsuit is filed, we believe that we will prevail."

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