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Photo gallery: Democratic National Convention
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
DENVER — It is only one paragraph in the draft of the Democratic Party platform, at the end of a statement about tribal sovereignty and before a section about the United States territories, but it could be meaningful for Native Hawaiians.
Delegates here for the Democratic National Convention will be asked to go on record in support of self-determination for Native Hawaiians consistent with the principles of a 1993 apology resolution passed by Congress and a proposed Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill.
Native Hawaiian recognition has been stalled in the U.S. Senate since 2000, and while there is still hope for a Senate vote this year, the bill may be left for the new president and Congress.
“I think, for Hawai’i, this is our mark on this year’s convention,” said Florence Kong Kee, the political director of the Democratic Party of Hawai’i.
Democrats had agreed to a provision in their 2000 platform for Native Hawaiians to establish a governing body “freely chosen, expressing their rights to self-determination.” But the plank was taken out of the 2004 platform.
The language this year specifically refers to the apology resolution — when the United States apologized for its role in the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i — and the Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai’i.
Hawai’i Democrats have also sought language calling for an increase in federal resources for health, education, economic development and other services along with respect for Native Hawaiian cultural rights and sacred places.
“It’s very significant because Native Hawaiians are being acknowledged, in this way, for the first time nationally in the platform,” Kong Kee said.
OBAMA SUPPORTS BILL
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement in full support of Native Hawaiian recognition in January before the state’s caucuses. He said if the bill did not become law this year that he would sign it as president if elected.
“The process set forth in this important legislation empowers Native Hawaiians to explore and address the longstanding issues resulting from the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i,” the Hawai’i-born Democrat said. “As Americans, we pride ourselves on safeguarding the practice and ideas of liberty, justice, and freedom. By enacting this legislation, we can continue this great American tradition and fulfill this promise for Native Hawaiians and ensure that they are not left behind as Hawai’i continues to progress.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee, said in a statement released to The Advertiser by his campaign that the bill would “compromise that special blend of peoples and cultures by creating a race-based separate nation that would differentiate treatment for the inhabitants of Hawai’i based on blood type.”
McCain said Hawai’i has never had a race-based government and made reference to the kingdom’s first constitution in 1840, which found that “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth.”
The bill, McCain said, would be “bad for the economy of Hawai’i, all the people of Hawai’i and for indigenous Hawaiians. Dividing people by race inevitably leads to racial discrimination and conflict.”
McCain, while chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, allowed the bill to move out of his committee in 2005 and he voted to end a filibuster against the bill in 2006.
McCain explained that he was influenced by Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, and the bipartisan support for the bill in the Islands. The bill had also been changed in committee to clarify that Native Hawaiians would not be eligible for federal money now going to Native American tribes, a concern for McCain because of Arizona’s tribal population.
‘A MIRACLE MAY HAPPEN’
Akaka, who said he would approach U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada about a September vote on the bill, acknowledged there is not much time left in the session. The bill has been passed twice by the U.S. House but never in the Senate. Under President Bush, the U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the bill as unconstitutional because of its race-based classification.
Privately, supporters of the bill believe they have the 60 votes necessary to break a Senate filibuster. The strategy is to get the bill through the Senate and then possibly attach it to other legislation to reduce the chances of a Bush veto. Even if Bush were to veto the bill, some supporters say, it would be in a stronger position if re-introduced in the next Congress because of having finally cleared the Senate after eight years.
“My feeling, all the way along, is that we want to get it through the Senate, so I’m making that attempt regardless of how much time is left,” Akaka explained. “Who knows? A miracle may happen. We may pass it. Bush might sign it.”
Akaka said that while McCain was helpful in committee and on the filibuster vote — which fell short — he believes the bill would fare better with Obama in the White House.
“I’m sure he would sign it,” he said, adding that the outlook for the bill would also improve if more Democrats are elected to the Senate in November.
Lingle said she has a good working relationship with McCain — she will speak at the GOP convention in St. Paul and plans to campaign for him on the Mainland — and said he has already proven he is willing to respond to Hawai’i’s concerns. Lingle had met with McCain personally in Washington, D.C., to urge him to report the bill out of committee.
“That was an indication to me he is a person who is willing to listen. He didn’t have anything to gain, personally or politically, from doing that,” the governor said. “Since that time I have developed an even better relationship with him. So at least it’s someone I’m comfortable (with), who I would be able to talk with about this issue.”
The national Republican platform has not had provisions about self-determination for Native Hawaiians. But the GOP has supported equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians and efforts to preserve their cultures and languages.
ISLE OPPOSITION TO BILL
Although Native Hawaiian recognition has had broad support among Hawai’i’s political leadership, many conservatives — and some in the Native Hawaiian community who want independence — have argued that the bill is misguided. Conservatives have warned that the bill would unnecessarily divide Hawai’i based on race, while some Native Hawaiians believe it will undermine sovereignty because a new Hawaiian governing authority would still likely be under the wing of the United States.
“I think it’s terrible that this seems to be the only option that people are talking about,” said Jamie Story, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i, a conservative-to-libertarian research group.
Story doubts the bill would help average Native Hawaiians, other than those in charge of the new government, and said it does not spell out how it would improve Hawaiian property rights, education or healthcare.
“I think the debate needs to be framed in a different way,” she said. “Rather than putting out this vague bill that no one who is being sincere can really explain how this will help anybody, let’s look at specific, proven methods for increasing prosperity, not just for Native Hawaiians, let’s increase it for everybody.”
Ikaika Hussey, an organizer with the Movement for Aloha No ka Aina, a group seeking independence, said the discussion should go back to the question of reconciliation raised by the 1993 apology resolution.
“I think even the people who support the Akaka bill recognize it doesn’t really address the question of reconciliation. It’s sort of a work-around,” he said. “It’s bad legislation, all the way around.”
Hussey said reconciliation is not the same as an apology and he would urge Obama or McCain to look at the issue differently than how it is presented in the bill. He said it should not be about federal recognition, but how to return land and correct the effects of private development and military expansion.
Hussey would like something more akin to the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand, which reviews claims brought against the government by the indigenous Maori, or the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which heard accounts of government abuses under apartheid.
“I would tell them that we do need to arrive at a political agreement,” he said. “But it needs to be based on the question of making right the wrongs of the past and making sure that, moving forward, we have an equitable solution.”
Clyde Namu’o, the administrator at the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the language in the draft Democratic Party platform may be helpful but cautions it is not binding on Obama or other Democratic candidates.
“I think it’s symbolic. It’s the policy that the Democrats stand behind,” Namu’o said. “We certainly want them to. We would love both parties to take similar actions in their national platforms.
“Obviously, it’s not compelling on anyone. But it articulates what they stand for.”
Reach Derrick DePledge at firstname.lastname@example.org.