Friday, August 14, 2009

The Akaka Bill: A Needed Step

Recently, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 S1011/HR2314 (commonly known as the "Akaka Bill") has been receiving some revitalized attention from the media because of a certain supporter in the White House and an awakening of the bill in congress. The bill has been around for nearly a decade in numerous forms but has never exhausted the legislative process.

Unlike Former President Bush, who strongly opposed the bill and claimed that, if passed, it "would discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege," President Barack Obama, a proven civil rights leader who truly understands diversity, has promised to sign the Akaka Bill if it reached his desk.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="473" caption="Longtime Senator Daniel Akaka, one of TIME Magazine"] Daniel Akaka, Voted into the worse 5 senators of all time...maybe, but not if this bill passes.[/caption]

From the Rice-vs.-Cayetano case of 2000 to the John Doe-vs.-Kamehameha Schools case that ended on a sour, high-tension settlement, legal attacks on cultural-based programs in Hawaii are becoming increasingly apparent. One negative precedent established by any of these anti-native rights court cases could bring an abrupt end to the limited programs in Hawaii that protect these rights.

Native Hawaiian rights include, but are not limited to living on the native land, living by its people’s own law, and receiving reimbursement for what was wrongfully taken upon “discovery”. Hawaiians had most of these rights stripped from them when their kingdom was illegally overthrown over 100 years ago.

As a people, Hawaiians now struggle with alarming rates of disease, poverty, incarceration, drug-addiction, and homelessness. In order to receive compensation in the future for America’s past transgressions—whether it be absolute independence or goals set on a smaller scale—Hawaiians must protect what is existing today; the Akaka Bill is the most feasible means of achieving this.

There is no question in whether or not America’s participation in the events of 1893 relating to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom was wrongful. In 1993, a joint resolution known as the Apology Bill was passed through the United States legislative and executive systems. In this resolution, President Bill Clinton admits and apologizes on behalf of the American people for its alleged role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

So, Americans recognized its wrongdoings but did nothing to right their mistreatment of the Hawaiian people. Nonetheless, the Apology Resolution did create a pathway for future acts of compensation.

The Akaka Bill was created by Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye to step up to the next stone. The bill seeks to achieve for Native Hawaiians the same federal recognition and right to self-governance that many Native American tribes possess. Additionally, the bill was set up to establish the groundwork (cooperating with OHA's "Kau Inoa") for a “nation-within-a-nation”—separate from the State of Hawaii.

There are both Hawaiian and Non-Hawaiian opposition to the Akaka Bill.

Non-Hawaiian Akaka Bill detractors typically believe that the bill is unconstitutionally race-based because of the blood-quantum requirement as an element of becoming a citizen of the nation. To counter this opposition, if the Akaka Bill is based on the precedent of the cases of Native-American tribes in the past, then how can it be labeled unconstitutional? If it was constitutional in the cases of American-Indian tribes, then it should be constitutional now; it’s virtually the same case.

The Hawaiian detractors of the bill address numerous arguments: blood-quantum is an American originated system (unjustifiably presuming that the new government will be established in an oppressive blood-quantum system similar to the Hawaiian Homesteads Act); the Akaka Bill doesn’t grant ideal governing power; the February revision is missing the restrictions and limitations such as a prohibition on gambling casinos, a prohibition on taking land into trust to create "Indian country", and a prohibition on claims against military lands; and above everything else, the bill doesn’t at all increase independence from America.

Although in many ways valid, these arguments aren’t arguments against the bill at all. The Akaka bill doesn’t necessarily defy or even weaken either or any of future possibilities of reconciliation from being realized, but what it can do is create a nice starting foundation and gathering point to unite and to based a movement off of. It grants a backend and frame work of power and recognition. Without that, we can only complain.

Senator Daniel Akaka clarifies this idea himself and clears up any misconceptions of the bill possessing an anti-independence essence:
“The bill would give them a kind of legal parity with tribal governments on the mainland...This sovereignty could eventually go further, perhaps even leading to outright independence. As far as what's going to happen at the other end, I'm leaving it up to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren”

Akaka’s grandchildren? that’s me. Not literally, but that’s us: Gen Y, the Millennials, Nā ‘Ōpio--the future leaders of Hawaii. Attend the Hawaiinuiākea graduation and realize that UH is producing leaders like a factory; semi-disenfranchised Hawaiian boys and girls coming in, kanaka maoli men and women alaka‘i coming out--by the tens, by the hundreds. Along with upward-mobility, some may see the bill as also allowing for a harder fall, but detractors need to have faith that our generation will bring the change, and that we, as a people, will prosper.

Other Hawaiian detractors (the "Keanuites") believe that the native rights issue should be taken beyond a national level and addressed to the United Nations. Since the overthrow took place illegally, Statehood couldn't have happened either. But how fruitful will this effort be? When has the U.N. ever trumped the power of the U.S., especially an issue with so little to gain from but so much to lose. The United States holds so much leverage in the United Nations, and the U.N. knows to tread lightly when acting against the best interests of the United States.

But I do agree with many of the points made by Hawaiian Kingdom supporters, especially the idea of Hawaii being nothing more than an "occupied" nation (as currently is Iraq). I recognize and support all steps being made under this paradigm, and would also like to help find a more pono plan of action. However, we shouldn't shoot for the stars of independence without a parachute; it's a long way down--especially when we haven't worked out the science as a solid foundation on how to get there. If anything at all, the Akaka Bill may not give us the stars, nor the rocket, but it will grant us with a parachute and possibly the launch pad as well.
The current Hawaiian Kingdom movement is led by Indigenous Law Expert Keanu Sai
The current Hawaiian Kingdom movement is led by Indigenous Law Expert Keanu Sai.
...But this route seems to be a lost cause

Before anything else we must realize that the Akaka Bill may be by all means needed! If the United States doesn't recognize Native Hawaiians as indigenous people, law-suits will inevitably continue to arise and may eventually destroy Hawaiian programs such as the Kamehameha Schools and The Hawaiian Homesteads. Currently, only a few Native Hawaiian programs are chiefly responsible for bringing the vast majority of rehabilitation and revitalization of our culture and people hence far and thereby should be of the first and foremost priority to keep these programs up and running—even if it requires the process to be done within the American system at first.

Although the Akaka Bill may not result in the ideal governing power desired by the native people of Hawaii, it is the most realistic approach in receiving back native rights from the United States. Any arguments against the approach or elements of the Akaka Bill may be rendered meaningless under the grounds that the bill is necessary and the only current method that will preserve what little rights Hawaiians possess today and possibly open doors to further compensation. "Little" (with the possibility to grow into much more) or "Nothing" (and possibly losing it all): you choose.


  1. Very well said, Mahalo Nui Loa. I'm a full supporter of our Self-Governance and determination.