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Schatz: ‘It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to regain their right to self-governance’


Sen. Brian Schatz has delivered a major address on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need for the federal government to treat Native Hawaiians fairly, and apply to them the same federal policy of self-determination available to other Native groups in the United States.

“The reason that I have chosen to carry forward this fight on behalf of Native Hawaiians is simple: it’s right to seek justice,” Schatz said. “It is long past time for Native Hawaiian people to regain their right to self-governance, and that’s why we must all work together and join in the fight for justice for Native Hawaiians.”

Following his remarks, several of his Senate colleagues voiced their support for his efforts on behalf of Native Hawaiians.

“Sen. Schatz is already providing immediate leadership on Native Hawaiian issues in his role on the Indian Affairs Committee. His knowledge and enthusiasm will be a key asset in getting laws passed to benefit Native Hawaiians. As Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I look forward to working with Sen. Schatz and the Hawaii delegation to support opportunity and economic growth for Native Hawaiians and across Indian Country,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“The relationship between the Alaska and Hawaii delegations represent a special bond between two states whose histories are intertwined,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the senior member of the Alaska-Hawaii Senate coalition. “The Alaska delegation has always stood shoulder to shoulder with the Hawaii delegation on establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians and the United States. We will continue to support our Hawaii colleagues until justice for Native Hawaiians has been achieved.”

“It’s a well-known fact in the Senate that the Alaska and Hawaii delegations have a special bond as the country’s two youngest states. We have a long tradition of working together specifically to advance the unique needs of our Native populations. I’m grateful to Sen. Schatz for highlighting some of these issues during his first Senate floor speech today and I look forward to working with him on Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian issues in the future,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK).

“As we address the disparities faced by indigenous populations across the country, I’m glad Sen. Schatz is making the strong case that we must remember to include Native Hawaiians,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). “As a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, I have worked with Sen. Schatz on a number of issues to ensure that all Native peoples are treated equally and benefit from the federal policy of self-determination.”

Schatz’s full floor speech:

June 11 marks a public holiday in the State of Hawaii – King Kamehameha Day – celebrated since 1872. We hold a statewide festival and mark the day with lei draping ceremonies, parades, hula competitions and other festivities. It is a day to honor Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Kingdom of Hawaii, and to celebrate the rich culture and traditions of the Hawaiian people.

I chose this day to come to the Senate Floor to talk about an issue of great importance to me and to my state: Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization. It was a top priority of my immediate predecessors in this body – Sens. Inouye and Akaka. For more than three decades they worked together in the Congress to advance priorities important to Hawaii and the nation.

They made history at almost every step of their careers – securing dozens of “firsts” in the House and Senate. But for the indigenous people of the United States – Sens. Inouye and Akaka will be forever remembered for their work as members and then chairs of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and for their advocacy on behalf of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

I want to acknowledge their legacy and to thank Sen. Akaka for the role that he continues to play in the great State of Hawaii and in the Native Hawaiian community in particular. And, here is the reason that I have chosen to carry forward this fight on behalf of Native Hawaiians. Simply stated: because it is right to seek justice.

Native Hawaiians are the only federally recognized Native people without a government-to-government relationship with the United States and they deserve access to the prevailing federal policy of self-determination. Opponents have argued that Native Hawaiians are not “Indians” as if the word applies to Native people of a certain racial or ethnic heritage or is limited to indigenous people from one part of the United States, but not another. This is misguided.

In the U.S. Constitution, it is clear our Founding Fathers understood it was the tribal nations’ sovereign authority that distinguished them from others. It was the fact that tribes were Native groups with distinct governments that predated our own, that justified special treatment in the Constitution and under our federal laws.

In what is now the United States, European contact with Native groups, began in the 15th and 16th centuries on the East Coast, and the 16th and 17th centuries on the West Coast; while in Alaska and Hawaii, European contact was delayed until the 18th century. Throughout the centuries a myriad of factors influenced how various Native groups were treated.

The historical timeframe when policies and programs were applied to various Native groups may have been different. But what was consistent throughout, were the federal policies and actions intended to strip Native Americans of their languages, weaken traditional leadership and family structures, divide land bases, prohibit religious and cultural practices, and break communal bonds. And, these policies were as harmful and unjust to Native Hawaiians as they were to Alaska Natives and American Indians.

There was a thriving society that greeted Captain James Cook when he landed on the shores of Hawaii in 1778. Prior to their first contact with Europeans, Native Hawaiians had a population of at least 300,000. They were a highly organized, self-sufficient society and they had their own rules, laws, language and culture.

In his journals, Captain Cook referred to the indigenous people of Hawaii as “Indians” because it was the established English term in the 18th century to describe Native groups –regardless of their race, ethnicity or their governmental structure. But, just like many Native Americans and Alaska Natives on the continent, the name Native Hawaiians chose in their own language was –Kanaka Maoli – The People.

From 1826 until 1893, the United States recognized the independence of the Hawaiian Government as a distinct political entity. We extended full and complete diplomatic recognition, and entered into five treaties and conventions with the Hawaiian monarchs to govern commerce and navigation. These treaties are clear evidence that Native Hawaiians were considered a separate and distinct nation more than a century after contact.

But, on January 17, 1893, the legitimate government of the Native Hawaiian people was removed forcibly, by agents and armed forces of the United States. The illegality of this action has been acknowledged in contemporary as well as modern times by both the Executive and Legislative branches of our federal government.

An investigation called for by President Cleveland produced a report by former Congressman James Blount. The report’s findings were unambiguous: U.S. diplomatic and military representatives had abused their authority and were responsible for the change in the government. As a result of these findings, the United States Minister to Hawaii was recalled from his diplomatic post and the military commander of the United States armed forces stationed in Hawaii was disciplined and forced to resign his commission.

In a message to Congress in December of 1893, President Cleveland described the events that brought down the Hawaiian Government as an “act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress.” And, he acknowledged that “by such acts, the government of a peaceful and friendly people was overthrown.” President Cleveland concluded that “a substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character –as well as the rights of the injured people – requires we should endeavor to repair” and he called for the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The Provisional Government refused to relinquish power and in July of 1894, declared itself to be the Republic of Hawaii. TheProvisional Government advocated annexation of Hawaii to the United States and began to lobby the Congress to pass a treaty of annexation.

Hawaii’s monarch at the time, Queen Liliuokalani, presented a petition to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a formal statement of protest to the Secretary of State. The petition, signed by more than 21,000 Hawaiian men and women, represented more than half of the Hawaiian census population and was compiled in less than three weeks. It also included the signatures of approximately 20,000 non-Hawaiians who supported the return of the islands to self-governed rule. The “Petition Against Annexation” was a powerful tool in the defeat of the annexation treaty in 1897.

In the next year, however, proponents of annexation introduced the Newlands Joint Resolution, a measure requiring only a simple majority of votes to gain passage. The annexation of Hawaii passed with the much reduced threshold of votes, and was signed into law by President McKinley in July of 1898.

For almost two centuries after the founding of our nation, federal policies of removal, relocation, assimilation and termination, decimated Native communities and worsened the socio-economic conditions for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The policy of banning Native language use in the schools was adopted by the territory of Hawaii. Native children were punished for speaking Hawaiian, just as American Indians and Alaska Natives were punished for using their own languages in school. The policy of allotting parcels of land to individual Indians began in 1887, as a way to break up the reservations and communal lifestyles. In 1906, it was expanded to include Alaska Natives. In 1921, it was applied to Native Hawaiians.

In an attempt to reverse the damage done by these policies, since the 1920’s, the Congress has established special Native Hawaiian programs in education, employment, health care and housing. And, the Congress has extended to Native Hawaiians many of the same rights and privileges accorded to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Congress has consistently recognized Native Hawaiians as native peoples of the United States on whose behalf it may exercise its powers under the Constitution.

In 1993, the Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, legislation known as the Apology Resolution – a formal acknowledgement and apology by the Congress. This legislation recognizes that the overthrow of the Hawaiian government resulted in “the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people” and “the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination.”

It has been 20 years since the passage of the Apology Resolution, but the federal government has not yet acted to provide a process for reorganizing a Native Hawaiian governing entity. This inaction puts Native Hawaiians at a unique disadvantage. Of the three major groups of Native Americans in the United States – American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians –only Native Hawaiians currently lack the benefits of democratic self-government.

An extensive Congressional legislative and oversight record created over the last two decades, and dozens of Congressional findings delineated in federal statutes establish these facts: Indigenous Hawaiians, like tribes on the continental United States, formed a Native community with their own government; this political entity existed before the founding of the United States; and, Native Hawaiians share historical and current bonds within their community. Like tribes in the continental United States, Native Hawaiians, have certain lands set aside for their benefit pursuant to Acts of Congress, including: 200,000 acres of Hawaiian Homes Commission Act land and share an interest in the income generated by 1.2 million acres of public trust lands under the Hawaii Admission Act.

Although the Congress has passed more than 150 statutes to try to address some of the negative effects of earlier federal actions and policies, data reveal persistent health, education and income disparities. Native Hawaiians experience disproportionately high rates of unemployment and incarceration; and, Native Hawaiian children are over represented in the juvenile justice system. Hawaiian families rank last in the nation in average annual pay and face the highest rates of homelessness.

Separate is not equal, and that is why I urge the federal government to treat Native Hawaiians fairly. It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to regain their right to self-governance.

Two years ago the State of Hawaii passed a historic measure to explicitly acknowledge that Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population of Hawaii and to establish a Native Hawaiian Enrollment Commission. My good friend and the former Governor of Hawaii, John Waihee, was appointed Chairman and is leading the effort to register Native Hawaiians. This landmark effort is widely supported by the State of Hawaii, our Congressional delegation and our citizens.

I want to acknowledge the Commission, commend its vital work, and urge Native Hawaiians to take advantage of this opportunity to help reorganize a representational government. The actions and commitments of the State of Hawaii and the Roll Commission are crucial. But, in order to reach our goal – we must all work together.

That is why today – on King Kamehameha Day – I call upon all of us to join in the fight for justice for Native Hawaiians.

Thank you.

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