STATEMENT OF THE
HONORABLE ENI F. H. FALEOMAVAEGA
IN SUPPORT OF SENATE BILL 344 (H.R. 665)
…expressing the policy of the United States regarding its relationship with native Hawaiians and to provide a process for recognition by the United States
Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee:
Mr. Chairman, I want to personally thank you for your sensitive and the outstanding leadership you have demonstrated over the years whenever the questions of the rights of indigenous peoples of our nation are in question.
Over the years, it has been my privilege to have worked closely with you when we were members of the House Interior Committee prior to you becoming a U.S. Senator. As a Native American, you can appreciate the anger, frustrations and tribulations that the Native Hawaiian people have had to endure for over a hundred years now—not only having lost their identity as a sovereign people, but not having to organize themselves in such a way that this unique relationship that they now seek is in accordance with the Constitution and federal laws of the United States.
I also want to express my deepest appreciation to the senior senators from the state of Hawaii including Senator Daniel Inouye who is Vice-Chairman of this Committee, and Senator Daniel Akaka, for the outstanding service and leadership that they have demonstrated not only to the people of Hawaii whom they represent but especially for their sincere efforts to assist the Native Hawaiian people.
I commend also my colleague and good friend, Congressman Neil Abercrombie, for his tireless efforts in addressing this most important issue for the past several years. I also commend a new member of the Hawaii Congressional Delegation, Congressman Ed Case, whom I knew well when he served as a former staffer to the late Senator Spark Matsunaga.
Mr. Chairman, as you are aware, the bill that is now before you and the members of the committee, is not new subject matter. However, members of both chambers of Congress raised certain issues that I believe the Hawaii Congressional Delegation has tried earnestly to resolve. One issue was the question of whether or not current federal funding would decrease if the financial needs of Native Hawaiians were to be included in the funds specifically allocated for American Indians and Native Alaskans.
I believe, Mr. Chairman, that this important issue was addressed by the Hawaii Congressional delegation quite adequately in the previous Congress—given the fact that proceeds that have been received for the benefit of Native Hawaiians were derived from ceded lands that were under both the federal government and the state of Hawaii. It should also be noted that whatever additional federal assistance programs provided for Native Hawaiians are not taken from American Indian and Native Alaskan funds.
Mr. Chairman, there are also those who make the argument that American Indians are specifically cited under the provisions of the Constitution as a sovereign entity and that Congress is directed to conduct commerce and trade with the “Indians” but nowhere in the Constitution does one find “Native Hawaiians” as being inclusive of the definition of “Indian”. To those that argue this point, I would like to say that neither was there any mention in the Constitution of “Native Alaskans” but, by its mandate from the Constitution, the Congress of the United States clearly passed federal legislation to recognize Native Alaskans as a sovereign people.
Some have argued that if Congress recognizes Native Hawaiians in the same way American Indians and Native Alaskans are categorized as a sovereign people under the U.S. Constitution that this would violate again the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. This is clearly not true, Mr. Chairman, since Congress by its mandate from the Constitution may establish rules and regulations that can provide for Native Hawaiians as a sovereign people and may also assist Native Hawaiians on how to organize themselves as a self-governing political entity in the same manner in which American Indians and Alaskan native tribes are recognized as sovereign nations within the context of a government to government relationship both with states and the U.S. government.
An example that comes to mind is the organization and political structure of the Navajo nation which is composed of some 250,000 Navajos—considered the most populous of all American Indian tribes. Ownership of lands and minerals by the Navajo encompass four states including Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
I do not mean to suggest that the Native Hawaiians adopt the same kinds of governmental structure like the Navajo nation. But, out of some 1.2 million people who claim residency in Hawaii, more than 300,000 are Native Hawaiian and tens of thousands more Native Hawaiians reside outside of the state of Hawaii. This gives me hope and confidence that Native Hawaiians may be given the same opportunity to organize themselves as a political entity and Section 6 of the proposed bill gives a step-by-step approach on how this “governing entity” is to establish itself to be duly recognized by the federal government.
I also fully support the provisions of Sections 4 and 5 of S. 344 which seeks to establish an office within the Department of the Interior and a federal inter-agency group that periodically will meet to discuss issues that address the needs of Native Hawaiians and that of the federal government.
I believe it is wise and prudent that Native Hawaiian issues need not be included as a sub-division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) given the fact that the BIA is tremendously understaffed and overloaded with responsibility of trying to administer federal programs that provide from some 595 federally recognized American Indian nations.
Mr. Chairman, I submit that the vast majority of our fellow Americans today are not at all familiar with the history of the state of Hawaii and how these islands ended up being annexed as a territory of the United States and, over 100 years later, now the 50th State of the Union.
People often think that Californians, Texans, and Washingtonians are the same as Hawaiians. The situation becomes worse when visitors from the continental United States look upon Native Hawaiians only to perceive them as a bunch of natives dancing in hula skirts and who still live in grass shacks and play their ukuleles without thought of having to work and earn a living to support their families.
On the contrary, Mr. Chairman, nothing could be further from the truth. The Native Hawaiian people are one of the most educated among all the residents of Hawaii. Native Hawaiians have excelled in just about every major profession known in any community. Native Hawaiians are trained in the fields of medicine, law and engineering, physics, chemistry and pharmacy. Yes, Native Hawaiians are also admirals and generals in the U.S. Armed Forces and, Mr. Chairman, many Native Hawaiians also fought and died in defense of our nation.
For many years before the establishment of the Hawaiian Kingdom under the rule of Kamehameha the Great, a Hawaiian prophet by the name of Keaulumoku prophesied that the day would come when the social order and religious practices of the Hawaiian people would be completely changed due to their being exposed to outside influences from people who could come from foreign lands.
Mr. Chairman, that day has come and I believe the provision of the proposed legislation clearly identifies the historical events governing the status of Native Hawaiians, and it is now up to Congress to make a formal statement as a matter of federal policy that Native Hawaiians should be officially declared as a “trust responsibility” of the U.S. Congress. Although there are distinct historical and cultural differences existing among American Indians, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians, there is a commonality among all three groups and that is that they are indigenous, native inhabitants of what we now consider the United States. Given this commonality, I also submit that it is now time for the U.S. Congress to officially recognize Native Hawaiians as a sovereign people with the same rights and privileges as American Indians and Native Alaskans.