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Senator Akaka reintroduces native Hawaiian bill


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) today introduced the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2011 (S.675). The bill would extend the opportunity to build a government-to-government relationship with the United States, a right already enjoyed by 565 federally recognized tribes across the U.S. mainland and in Alaska, to Native Hawaiians. Representatives Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) introduced an identical companion bill (H.R. 1250) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill introduced today is based on the amended bill (S.1011, 111th Congress) which passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on December 17, 2009. Introducing this bill allows the committee to build upon existing testimony and reports, enabling Chairman Akaka to expedite consideration by the full Senate. This version of the bill has the strong support of the Obama administration and is the strongest bill against potential legal challenges because it closely parallels existing federal Indian law.

The full text of the bill is available here: LINK

Senator Daniel K. Akaka said: “This bill would simply put Native Hawaiians on equal footing with American Indians and Alaska Natives. As Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people is a top priority. I am pleased to have the strong support of Native communities across the United States, the State of Hawaii, and the Obama Administration, and major native organizations across the country. I encourage all of my colleagues to stand with me and support this legislation providing parity in federal policy towards indigenous people.”

Senator Daniel K. Inouye said: “I fully support the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, and commend Chairman Akaka for his steadfast and unwavering leadership. Native Hawaiians enjoy a political status and special legal relationship with the federal government which is evidenced in well over 188 federal laws dating back to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and the Hawaii Admissions Act. Inherent in these laws and explicit in the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act we introduce today is the right to self-determination and self-governance. This measure begins a process of establishing a government to government relationship between the federal government and the native people of Hawaii. Federal recognition is long overdue. We have debated this issue for more than a decade. There is broad support – from the White House, Washington Place, native country and in Hawaii. I would like to believe that it is, in large measure, in recognition of the great gift of aloha which the native people gave to all who came to Hawaii’s shores and their homeland over the centuries. Now is the time to act.”

Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono said: “The House has supported Native Hawaiian recognition in past years, however many in the new House Majority do not support Native Hawaiian issues. I will be reaching out to the many new members who are not familiar with Hawaii’s history and do not know Native Hawaiians had their own sovereign nation, with their own language, culture, religion and traditional economy. We are fortunate to have Senator Akaka as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee as he is able to set the Committee’s agenda and will be able to push the bill forward in the Senate and work with the new House Majority.”

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa said: “Native Hawaiians are the foundation of our state and our values. They deserve the same opportunity for self-determination and inherent rights as the rest of America’s indigenous people – and this bill will allow them to continue on the path towards reconciliation with the United States. I look forward to working with the Hawaii delegation on this important piece of legislation, and I thank Senator Akaka for his leadership and unwavering faith that justice will prevail for Hawaii’s host culture.

Governor Neil Abercrombie said: “The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act passed in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis when I was a Member and I continue to stand by this bill as Governor. This measure is long overdue as enabling legislation allowing Native Hawaiians and the State of Hawaii to resolve outstanding issues fairly and comprehensively. I will work with the Congressional delegation to seek Congressional approval.”

President Barack Obama and the U.S Departments of Justice and Interior support the bill, along with the American Bar Association. The bill also has the support of the National Congress of American Indians, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and groups throughout the Native Hawaiian community including the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, the Native Hawaiian Bar Association, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and two state agencies which represent the interests of the Native Hawaiian people, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

A poll published by the Honolulu Advertiser in May of last year reported that 66 percent Hawaii resident support federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, and 82 percent of Native Hawaiians polled support federal recognition.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would begin a process to re-form a Native Hawaiian government that could negotiate with the state and federal government on behalf of Hawaii’s indigenous people. Any agreements would require implementing legislation by the state or federal government; no jurisdiction would be changed without approval.

While Congress has traditionally treated Native Hawaiians in a manner similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives, the current federal policy of self-governance and self-determination has not been fully extended to Native Hawaiians. Upon enactment, the bill authorizes the process for federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, a necessary component to advancing the current federal policy and efforts towards reconciliation.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does three things:

  • It establishes the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations in the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States.
  • It establishes the Native Hawaiian Interagency Task Force to be composed of federal officials from agencies which administer Native Hawaiian programs, intended to increase coordination between the Native Hawaiians and the federal government.
  • It provides a process of reorganization of the Native Hawaiian government for the purpose of a federally recognized government-to-government relationship with the United States.

Opponents to the bill have sought to spread misinformation about the legislation. It is important to clarify that:

  • The bill does NOT allow Hawaii to secede from the United States.
  • The bill does NOT allow private lands to be taken.
  • The bill does NOT authorize gaming in Hawaii.
  • The bill does NOT create a reservation in Hawaii.

This inclusive, democratic negotiations process represents both Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians. Negotiations between the recognized Native Hawaiian government, the United States, and the state of Hawaii will address issues such as criminal and civil jurisdiction, historical grievances, and jurisdiction and control of natural resources, lands, and assets. There are many checks and balances in this process and any agreements reached will require implementing legislation on the state and federal levels. While the bill provides structure, it also provides the Native Hawaiian community with the flexibility to truly reorganize a government of its own choosing.

The Senate bill is now referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the House bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Senator Akaka’s floor statement introducing the bill today is available here: LINK

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