The Hawaiians’ Phantom Menace

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, August 2006

In early June, the trustees traveled to Washington D.C. to witness the long awaited vote on S. 147, also known as the Akaka Bill, in the U.S. Senate. What should have been a historic event quickly turned into a frustrating experience. Listening to Senators from the South speak against the bill, calling it “racist legislation,” made me want to jump out of the gallery and scream, “HYPOCRITES!” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) shockingly said that granting federal recognition for Native Hawaiians could lead to Mormons, the Amish, and Hasidic Jews seeking their own federal recognition! It was clear that his goal was to lump all Hawaiians together with other minorities so he could argue that we all need to be treated equally. The problem with this argument is the undisputed fact that Hawaiians are indigenous people, similar to Native Americans and Native Alaskans who are already recognized. Senator Alexander is clearly discriminating against Hawaiians. So who’s the real racist?

When the vote was finally taken, we were shy by four votes. Two Democratic Senators were out sick and thanks to arm-twisting by Senate Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) at least three Republicans switched their vote at the last minute. Senator Frist told them that their leadership positions would be in jeopardy if they supported the Akaka bill and they choose to protect their political careers rather than keep their promises to Senators Akaka and Inouye.

At the end of that sad day, I was assured of two things: First, racism and ignorance is alive and well in the U.S. Senate. Second, partisan politics has ruined Congress. The trustees later learned that the Republicans were bitter with the Democrats for voting against their Estate Tax bill the day before. Killing the Akaka bill was just payback. I left Washington with a feeling of disgust and disdain for our so-called leaders of America.

With so many important issues that need to be dealt with in the world and at home, these career politicians proved they are only preoccupied with keeping the status quo and furthering their political careers. They use inflammatory issues like gay rights, flag burning, and immigration to detract us from the real issues of importance like New Orleans, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Is it any wonder why Americans are losing respect for their leaders and canít believe a word they say?

As bad as the Southern Senators were, nothing was worse than seeing Clarence Ching, a former OHA Trustee, sitting next to William Burgess, the lawyer who has consistently sued OHA, the State, and Hawaiian Homelands to break up all Hawaiian entitlements. The same William Burgess who has lobbied Congress to kill the Akaka bill and has called Hawaiians who favor federal recognition “racists.” And let’s not forget about State Senator Sam Slom, the only member of the State Legislature to vote “no” on the Akaka Resolution (HCR 56, SD1) of 2005. He was also there with Burgess. It is just bizarre that a Republican state senator would so vigorously oppose a bill that the Republican Governor so strongly supports. Not to mention the fact that all of Hawai’i’s other elected officials including the Mayors from all counties and the state legislature also supported federal recognition in a non-partisan effort. It is egregious that one elected official felt his opinion was more important than all of the state’s other elected officials. Since when does a single opinion become more important than the will of the people?

Where and when did this opposition to Hawaiian sovereignty begin? Some rumors have been circulating that it was started years ago by a prominent Kama’aina who called a meeting of other like-minded people to his home to discuss how they could band together and prevent the Bishop Estate, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and OHA from becoming too powerful. After all, with control over vast tracts of land and revenues from ceded lands, Hawaiians could one day dominate the State, and this is a frightening thought for some. While I have no evidence that this long standing rumor is true, I have been thinking very seriously about it lately, especially after what I witnessed in Washington.

After the fall of the Bishop Estate Trustees, all of their cases were later thrown out of court, but it was too late to save most of their reputations. Now we find ourselves embroiled in more lawsuits to take out OHA and Hawaiian Homes. So, could the rumor be true? I think the question to ask is who is paying for all of the lawsuits that Mr. Burgess has filed? Perhaps then we may have the clues to who is behind the movement to ensure Hawaiians never regain sovereignty and that all Hawaiian entitlements are erased.