66% of Hawaii residents favor recognition for Native Hawaiians
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i residents still favor federal recognition of Native Hawaiians by a 2-to-1 margin, the latest Advertiser Hawai'i Poll numbers show.
Polling conducted last week found that 66 percent of the participants support Native Hawaiians being "recognized by Congress and the federal government as a distinct group, similar to the special recognition given to American Indians and Alaskan Natives."
Such recognition could come about under a process created by the Akaka bill, formally known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009. The bill passed the U.S. House in February and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The Hawai'i Poll appears to indicate that, in recent years, a large segment of Hawai'i residents have settled into how they think about federal recognition and the Akaka bill. In 2000, the Advertiser Hawai'i Poll showed 73 percent in favor of federal recognition. That support appeared to dip in the latter part of the decade, when in 2006 the poll showed 63 percent of respondents in favor of recognition.
The poll was conducted by locally based Ward Research Inc. with a sampling size of 604 respondents.
Over the course of the last decade, during the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Obama, language in the Akaka bill has been widely debated and amended in the effort to get it passed.
Gov. Linda Lingle and her administration oppose the current version of the bill. Lingle had been a strong and influential supporter of the bill, but now believes this version grants too much authority to the Native Hawaiian entity at the onset of negotiations that would take place among the entity and the state and the federal governments.
For instance, it would grant "sovereign immunity" to the entity and its employees from the state's criminal, public health, child safety and environmental laws.
Clyde Nāmu'o, administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said he is "not surprised and actually pleased" by the latest poll numbers, especially given the new opposition by Lingle and others.
"It's fairly consistent with the polls that we did," Nāmu'o said. "Obviously, there's still a majority of the people who still support" federal recognition.
Two of three major candidates in the 1st Congressional District special election, Democrat Ed Case and Republican Charles Djou, have said they do not support the current language of the bill that passed the House, leaving Democrat Colleen Hanabusa as the sole staunch supporter.
Longtime opponents of the Akaka bill and/or federal recognition said the Hawai'i Poll numbers show only that a majority of Hawai'i's residents don't know what federal recognition means.
"I think the big problem is nobody knows what's inside the bill," said Thurston Twigg-Smith, former Hono- lulu Advertiser owner. "They keep changing it, people don't have a chance to read it."
Congress should hold hearings on the measure in Hawai'i so the public can get a better understanding of the language, he said.
Hawaiian rights activist Dennis Pu'uhonua "Bumpy" Kanahele said the poll "only tells me that people aren't even aware of what the Akaka bill is all about."
The state's politicians and "mainstream Hawaiian organizations" support the bill and not other models of self-determination, such as complete independence from the U.S. government, he said.
Kanahele said that's why he's been pushing for a constitutional convention, so Hawaiians can look at the different models and determine what's best.
Among the 115 poll respondents who identified themselves as Native Hawaiians, 82 percent said they support federal recognition. Among other ethnic groups, 66 percent of those describing themselves as Japanese support it, while 61 percent of Filipinos and Caucasians indicated support.
Only 58 percent of those who identified themselves as 55 and older support federal recognition, while 72 percent of those ages 35 to 54 support it, and 79 percent of those under 35 do.
Source: The survey of 604 O'ahu registered voters was conducted April 23 to 28 by Ward Research Inc. of Honolulu. The margin of error is 4.0 percentage points, which means a survey of all O'ahu registered voters would not be likely to produce a result more than 4.0 percentage points above or below the poll results.
And regarding federal legislation recognizing Hawaiians as an indigenous people: