Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he was disappointed with the U.S. Senate’s decision on Thursday, June 8 not to allow S. 147, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005, known as the “Akaka Bill,” to move forward for a vote in the Senate.
“For my colleagues in the Senate to refuse to consider this issue by arguing that it is unconstitutional ‘race-based’ legislation is absolutely ludicrous,” Faleomavaega continued. “I simply cannot believe that such educated people do not understand the fundamental soundness and urgent need for this legislation to benefit our Native Hawaiian community. Instead, the opponents of the Akaka Bill prefer to espouse completely inaccurate information to incite fear in the community at large with spurious claims of secession, racial preferences, and the denial of civil rights that would occur if this bill passed.”
“Of particular concern to me is the tactic opponents of this legislation have employed in this debate of questioning the patriotism of Native Hawaiians who would support the bill as well as those who introduced it. Thousands of Native Hawaiians have proudly served in the U.S. military – Senator Akaka served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Senator Inouye, cosponsor of the Akaka Bill, is a Medal of Honor recipient. My friends in the Native Hawaiian community are proud to be Americans and this bill has absolutely nothing to do with their patriotism.”
“It appears to me that the Republican Party and this Administration have orchestrated this effort to deny justice to our Native Hawaiians and damage the credibility of Hawaii’s Senators Inouye and Akaka. On June 7, the eve of the Senate’s debate considering whether to proceed with consideration of the Akaka Bill, the Department of Justice issued a letter opposing passage of S.147, undermining Senator Akaka’s position that the Administration had been working with his office to address Administration concerns for the past years.”
“In addition, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, nominally an independent, bi-partisan fact-finding agency, issued a curiously-timed recommendation to Congress not to support passage of S. 147, suggesting that it would discriminate on the basis of race. This hasty, poorly reasoned decision willfully ignored the facts at issue and chose instead to rubber stamp the Administration and Republican Policy Committee’s position, thus denying Native Hawaiians the civil rights and equal protection the USCCR was designed to protect.”
“There are only three indigenous, aboriginal groups of people within the Fifty States, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians,” Faleomavaega said. “To not include Native Hawaiians in legislation that protects the rights and culture of our other two indigenous groups is pure discrimination, in my opinion.”
“The 1971 enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act provided protection for Native lands, the benefit of human services, and the promotion of Native government, illustrating that Congress has the power to legislate in broader terms than just for the indigenous people fitting the narrow description of ‘Indian’ or ‘tribe.’ The efforts of Hawaii’s Senators are only an attempt to extend these same indigenous rights to Native Hawaiians.”
“One need only look at the history of the Hawaiian Islands to see that the Akaka Bill provides an equitable solution to this dilemma. Before the illegal and unauthorized overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by an agent of the United States government in 1893, the Hawaiian Islands were a sovereign nation. In a message to Congress dated December 18, 1893, President Grover Cleveland decried the illegal actions taken by the U.S. Minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens and refused to submit the Hawaii provisional government’s petition for annexation to the U.S. Senate for consideration.”
“In her desire to avoid bloodshed during this illegal overthrow, Queen Lili’uokalani surrendered, not to the provisional government, but to the United States, trusting in the U.S. government to right the injustice perpetrated by Minister Stevens and the U.S. Marines. In 1898, however, President William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution, providing for the annexation of Hawaii and the cession of sovereignty over the islands to the United States.”
“Given that Native Hawaiians have been waiting for 113 years now for fairness and justice, what are the implications to be drawn from this latest refusal by the U.S. Senate to consider their plight? One clear implication is that it is very difficult to pass any legislation through Congress that addresses the rights of indigenous or native people. For example, it took Congress some 29 years before finally accepting and ratifying the two treaties of cession the traditional leaders of Tutuila and King Tuimanu’a issued in 1900 and 1904, respectively.”
“For all these years since the illegal overthrow of the Native Hawaiian government, very little has been done to address the dispossession of the Native Hawaiian people from their lands. Over twenty-five years after the overthrow, Congress finally passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (1921) in an attempt to return land to the Native Hawaiians for housing and agriculture. This was an admirable effort led by Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole, Hawaii’s delegate to Congress. Due to the lobbying power of the business interests in Hawaii, however, the 200,000 acres given over to the Hawaiian Homes Commission for distribution to Native Hawaiians included the worst, least accessible land in the islands.”
“Of note -- in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, a Native Hawaiian is defined for purposes of the Act as ‘any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.’ For my colleagues in the current Congress who have criticized the Akaka Bill for being race-based or for relying on blood quantum to determine who participates in the Native Hawaiian government, it is convenient for them to ignore the fact that blood quantum requirements are a racist U.S. government policy designed to limit participation in government programs, not a preference developed by indigenous groups to discriminate against others.”
“The next major action impacting Native Hawaiians, over thirty-five years after the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, was the Hawaii State Admission Act of 1959. As a condition of Hawaii’s admission as a State of the Union, the State was required to hold the lands conveyed by the federal government as a public trust, with one purpose of the trust being to benefit the conditions of Native Hawaiians. As a result of state difficulties administering this trust responsibility, the Hawaii State Convention of 1978 established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a semi-autonomous state agency, to manage the proceeds generated by trust lands for the benefit of Native Hawaiians.”
“Although over 160 laws have been passed by the U.S. Congress related to the social, educational, economic and cultural needs of Native Hawaiians, this bill especially addresses the more fundamental need for Congress to allow the Native Hawaiians to establish a procedural process whereby Native Hawaiians are to be treated in the same category as that of the two other indigenous groups recognized by Congress as sovereign nations within the overall sovereignty of the U.S. – Native American Indians and Native Alaskans.”
“The Hawaii Congressional delegations should be commended and also Governor Linda Lingle for their tireless efforts to have this bill considered on a bi-partisan basis. I want to especially commend Chairperson Haunani Apoliona and members of the Board of Directors of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for their support and in educating the public and the Hawaiian community on the importance of this legislation for generations to come,” Congressman Faleomavaega concluded.