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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 13, 2008

Obama not born in U.S., say some

 •  Hawaii Democratic Caucuses 2008

By Mark Niesse
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sen. Barack Obama

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Some Native Hawaiians think Hawai'i-born Barack Obama can't be president of the United States because he was born in an independent sovereign nation: the Kingdom of Hawai'i.

A few independence advocates claim that Hawai'i legally remains a country today, making Obama and hundreds of thousands of others born in the Islands over the past 50 years not "natural-born" citizens or eligible to be president.

Their claim won't go far, though: Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961, two years after statehood.

"Obama was born in the Hawaiian kingdom," said Leon Siu, a Native Hawaiian and musician who brought up the issue in a column he wrote on a news Web site. "Not only was the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom illegal, it was admitted to be illegal by the United States."

Siu was referring to the "apology resolution" passed by Congress in 1993 acknowledging wrongdoing in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy 100 years before and recognizing the inherent sovereignty of the indigenous Islanders over their land.

John McCain has faced more questions than Obama over whether he meets the legal requirement to qualify for the nation's highest office because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936.

Both McCain and Obama appear to qualify for the presidency because they were born in United States lands, said University of Hawai'i constitutional law professor Jon Van Dyke.

"It would be unlikely that any court would take seriously an argument that Senator Obama was not a natural-born citizen," Van Dyke said. "For the moment, Hawai'i is a state ... and the people of Hawai'i taken as a whole seem not to be seeking secession, as a few people are."

Even those who believe in Hawai'i's inherent sovereignty don't deny that the world recognizes it as part of the United States, allowing their argument no effect on the presidential election.

People who consider themselves part of a Hawaiian nation don't need to get involved in U.S. politics anyway, said Jonathan Osorio at the University of Hawai'i's Center for Hawaiian Studies.

"We don't have to get involved in it because it's the Americans' problem," Osorio said. "Why should we care if this is an election that is for the United States and not Hawaiian nationals?"

Obama supports a proposal pending in the Senate that would formally recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people, but he's definitely a U.S. citizen eligible to become president, said campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gilson.

"The constitutionality of being Hawaiian-born and being a citizen is pretty clear," she said.

Siu maintains that Obama's actions in the Senate show he takes the citizenship issue seriously.

Obama is co-sponsoring a bill meant to clarify McCain's eligibility by defining a "natural-born citizen" as anyone born to any U.S. citizen while serving in the active or reserve components of the U.S. armed forces.

If questions arise about Obama's citizenship, he could count on similar accommodations from his fellow senators, said Siu, who has revoked his U.S. citizenship.

"The fact that he may be trying to cover some bases here means there's at least some seriousness to the allegations that we're an independent nation," Siu said. "I don't think it's going to affect the election at all, though."