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House Passes Native Hawaiian Bill

by Jim Abrams
AP [1]

WASHINGTON — Native Hawai­ians should regain some of the self-gov­er­nance pow­ers lost when the islands’ queen was over­thrown more than a cen­tu­ry ago, the House decid­ed Wednes­day.

The White House threat­ened a veto, say­ing the leg­is­la­tion that passed by a 261–153 vote would divide Amer­i­cans “along sus­pect lines of race and eth­nic­i­ty.”

The bill would give the 400,000 peo­ple nation­wide of Native Hawai­ian ances­try the right to form a gov­ern­ing enti­ty that could nego­ti­ate with the state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments over such issues as con­trol of nat­ur­al resources, lands and assets. The inte­ri­or sec­re­tary would have to approve that gov­ern­ing body.

Native Hawai­ians, who long have sought the bill, insist they deserve many of the self-auton­o­my rights pro­vid­ed to Amer­i­can Indi­ans and Native Alaskans.

The leg­is­la­tion is backed by Hawai­i’s Repub­li­can gov­er­nor, Lin­da Lin­gle, its Leg­is­la­ture and the state’s all-Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion, includ­ing Native Hawai­ian Sen. Daniel Aka­ka.

The vote on the pro­pos­al was the first in the House since the chief spon­sor, Rep. Neil Aber­crom­bie of Hawaii, won pas­sage in 2000. Last year Aka­ka fell four votes short of the 60 need­ed to advance the bill to a final vote in the Sen­ate.

To win over crit­ics, the leg­is­la­tion spells out that the Native Hawai­ian gov­ern­ment could not take pri­vate land or set up gam­bling oper­a­tions sim­i­lar to those allowed to Indi­ans.

The bill would not affect mil­i­tary facil­i­ties in the state and Native Hawai­ians would not gain new eli­gi­bil­i­ty for pro­grams and ser­vices avail­able to Indi­ans.

Rep. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said the mea­sure would begin to “pro­vide a mea­sure of jus­tice” to Native Hawai­ians who “have an inher­ent sov­er­eign­ty based on their sta­tus as indige­nous peo­ple.”

Aber­crom­bie said Native Hawai­ians have ced­ed some 1.8 mil­lion acres since Queen Lil­i’uokalani was dri­ven from the throne in 1893. “This cre­ates the oppor­tu­ni­ty for Native Hawai­ians to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own actions with regard to the con­trol and admin­is­tra­tion of their own assets,” he said.

But the White House said the bill “rais­es sig­nif­i­cant con­sti­tu­tion­al con­cerns that arise any­time leg­is­la­tion seeks to sep­a­rate Amer­i­can cit­i­zens into race-relat­ed clas­si­fi­ca­tions rather than accord­ing to their own mer­its and essen­tial qual­i­ties.”

The House GOP leader, Rep. John Boehn­er of Ohio, said “grant­i­ng broad gov­ern­ment pow­ers to an exclu­sive group based on race is sim­ply uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.”

Repub­li­can oppo­nents of the leg­is­la­tion also said it could open the door for Native Hawai­ians to declare ter­ri­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence from the Unit­ed States.

The rights of Native Hawai­ians have been an issue since the 1893 coup.

In 1959, when Hawaii became a state, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment pledged to use lands and assets to the ben­e­fit of Native Hawai­ians. In 1993, on the 100th anniver­sary of the coup, Con­gress approved a res­o­lu­tion apol­o­giz­ing for the ille­gal over­throw and acknowl­edg­ing that Native Hawai­ians nev­er direct­ly relin­quished their claims to sov­er­eign­ty over their lands.

The leg­is­la­tion still needs to be con­sid­ered by the Sen­ate, where it is backed by two of the cham­ber’s most senior mem­bers — Hawai­i’s Aka­ka and Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Aka­ka said in a state­ment that the House vote “pro­vides great momen­tum in our effort to extend fed­er­al recog­ni­tion to Hawai­i’s indige­nous peo­ple.”