In the Aloha State, Native Hawaiians|
Seek a Measure of Sovereignty
Tuesday, July 18, 2000
The Aloha State could become the Aloha Nation if native Hawaiians get their way.
|By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
|Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Mililani Trask, left, and Hawaiian activist Piilani Smith, center, and Wayne Panolle at a news conference, March 1, 2000, in Honolulu|
Hawaiian delegates are set to introduce a bill in Congress as early as Wednesday that would give people of Hawaiian ethnicity the same rights American Indians have and allow them to form their own government.
The proposed federal legislation would recognize native Hawaiians defined in the bill as those whose ancestors lived on the islands before the United States illegally overthrew the monarchy in 1893 as an indigenous people with special rights.
The law would also give them a measure of sovereignty, permitting them to establish their own ruling body and have government-to-government relations with the U.S. like American Indian nations do.
"We are native Hawaiians indigenous to these islands," said Lokelani Lindsey, a retired Maui School District superintendent and a supporter of the movement. "We want to obtain the same formal recognition that the federal government provides to the American Indians and the indigenous people of Alaska."
Lindsey said that the bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii would protect housing, educational, medical and other programs specifically designed for ethnic Hawaiians. The new, native government a federal agency would administer those programs.
|Kathy Uluwehi Knowles, center, and other members of Mahina's Halau perform outside the U.S. Capitol Aug. 7, 1998|
"The Hawaiian people want to preserve the programs that provide services to Hawaiians," she said. "They're afraid that pretty soon they will not have anything."
Much of that fear has been sparked by a February Supreme Court decision that opened a state election for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to all residents of Hawaii. Previously, only native islanders could vote in those elections.
The OHA was established in 1978 with a $370 million trust to benefit people who are at least part Hawaiian.
"The court ruled that 'native Hawaiian' is a racial characterization and because of that, all government programs specifically for native Hawaiians are presumed to be unconstitutional," said John Goemans, the initial lawyer for Harold "Freddy" Rice, the Caucasian man who challenged the state elections.
Goemans predicted the programs specifically for those with Hawaiian blood will eventually be challenged and struck down programs, he said, that offer university tuition remission, no-interest loans and free medical care for senior citizens.
|Queen Lili'uokalani, shown in a 1900 photo, was Hawaii's last reigning monarch; she was overthrown in 1893 |
"It is so foreign to the American system, I can't believe it has existed for this amount of time," he said. "The aloha spirit has suffered badly."
Dealing With History
But Lindsey and others who do have Hawaiian blood want reparations for the American conquest of the islands. In 1993 the 100th anniversary of the takeover President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology to Hawaiians and admitted it was illegal for the United States to have overthrown Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani.
"I think what Hawaiians are looking for is some sense of justice, some way to get restitution," said Mililani Trask, an OHA trustee.
"America has always had a policy of addressing the needs of its native peoples, a policy that provided for the recognition of their nations, the return of their lands and the granting of certain economic benefits so that they might be able to maintain their cultures," she said. "It is time that native Hawaiian peoples are given the same rights as other native Americans."
|President Clinton and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, both wearing leis, on May 9, 2000
Yet some ethnic Hawaiians don't want to be classified that way.
"We're not native Americans; I don't want to be categorized as native Americans," said Lani Bowman, a delegate to the Native Hawaiian Convention. She thinks such a label would be too restrictive and could block what she really hopes for: independence.
"I want Hawaii to be its own nation," she said, pointing out that its location would be suitable for foreign trade. "I don't think the Western way has worked well enough for our people. The health and education and welfare of the native people haven't been addressed adequately."
The Convention's role is to draft a self-determining form of government that Hawaiians will ratify, she explained.
Bowman called the legislation about to go before Congress a "start" in recognizing native Hawaiians but she worries it will be limiting.
"I don't want it to close the door on self-governance and on our ability to become a nation," she said.
Fox News' William La Jeunesse contributed to this report