By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: February 2004 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`Ano`ai kakou… As you may have read in the local print media, the U.S. Senate has been reviewing the Akaka Bill (S. 344) and is considering further amendments to the bill. The Trustees of OHA recently met with our two U.S. Senators and they informed us that a few people in the Justice Department and a few others (no names or affiliations were mentioned) have concerns about our bill. Since it was not made clear to us as to what those concerns were, I expressed my own about the possibility that Congress may change the bill’s definition of who is Hawaiian.
IF THIS IS INDEED ONE OF THE SUGGESTED CHANGES, I COULD NO LONGER SUPPORT THE BILL’S PASSAGE.
Some may argue that the changes would allow the bill to finally get passed, but changing the bill by adding language that is not supported by the Hawaiian community makes no sense at all. Either recognition includes ALL Hawaiians or no Hawaiians at all.
Still others may say, “Isn’t half a loaf better than no loaf?” That maybe so in some cases, but certainly not when it comes to deciding who will be in the Hawaiian Nation. Isn’t that what WE HAWAIIANS together must decide?
What’s happening now with the Akaka Bill sounds similar to what Congress did to us in 1920 with the creation of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the 50% blood quantum. They arbitrarily decided who was going to be a Native Hawaiian. The blood quantum issue has long been a source of division among our people. Why then would we let them do this to us again?
Detrimental changes to the Akaka Bill by Congress are nothing new. The 2002 version of the Akaka Bill (S. 746) was very controversial because section 7 of the original Akaka Bill (S. 81), which allows for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the recognition effort, was left out. The 2003 Akaka Bill (S. 344), continued to lack a section which would allow for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the federal recognition effort.
In mid-May of 2003, I was relieved to learn that the Akaka Bill was amended to include a process for federal recognition that would allow ALL Hawaiians to participate. The language in the second (current) S. 344 offered and suggested a clear process for recognition that the U.S. Department of the Interior currently uses to recognize Native American tribes.
We are certainly more educated about western law and how politics works in Washington. Our current population, which is 400,000 strong, could make our own powerful political statement. Let us tell Congress that we, the Hawaiian community, will decide for ourselves this important question of who will be in our Nation.
We must question why Hawaiians are being treated differently from Native Alaskans and Native Americans. Congress has the discretion to pass the current Akaka Bill in its entirety and allow us to begin the process of self-determination. Though the Akaka bill does not give Hawaiians sovereignty, it will allow us to begin our journey.
Why then, are some in Washington concerned about having too many Hawaiians involved in the process? Blood quantum and membership issues are not a question for Congress to decide, and we must tell them so. If this is indeed one of the considered amendments, we must let our Congressional Delegation know that this is a concession we will not make.
We, the Hawaiian people, must never again let Congress or anyone else divide us again. We are only strong when we are together. United we stand, divided we fall! Imua Hawaii Nei…