A Process for Nationhood Returns to Akaka Bill


July 2003 Ka Wai Ola Article

`Ano`ai kakou…

During OHA’s trip to Washington D.C. in mid-May, I was pleased to learn that the Akaka Bill was amended to include a process for federal recognition.  The language describing the process makes it clear that we will not be obligated to follow it exactly, word-for-word.  It is merely a suggestion based on the process that the U.S. Department of the Interior currently uses to recognize Native American tribes.

One of the concerns I had about the first version of the 2003 Akaka Bill (S.344) was that it lacked a section which would allow for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the federal recognition effort.  The original bill (S.81 in 2000) included a reasonable process, but it was subsequently taken out in later versions.

The first step in the process outlined in the bill is to create an official “roll” (list) of those who can directly trace their ancestry to indigenous Hawaiians who resided in Hawaii on or before Jan. 1, 1893, or those who were eligible during 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and their lineal descendants.

Once the roll has been finalized by the Department of the Interior, members of the final roll, who are over the age of 18, may run to serve on an Interim Governing Council.  Candidates elected to the Interim Council may then conduct a referendum and draft organic governing documents for a Native Hawaiian governing entity.  The Council may also tackle questions such as the proposed criteria for citizenship, the proposed powers, privileges, immunities, and authorities of the Native Hawaiian governing entity.  They may also consider the civil rights and protection of rights of citizens and other issues it deems appropriate.

The proposed organic governing documents can then be distributed to all Hawaiians on the certified roll and an election held to ratify them.  Additional elections may be held by Hawaiians on the certified roll to elect officers of the new Native Hawaiian governing entity.  The Interim Governing Council will then be terminated after the elected officers take office.

The new Native Hawaiian governing entity may then submit their ratified organic governing documents to Secretary of the Interior to be certified.  Once recognized by the United States, the Native Hawaiian governing entity may enter into negotiations with both the United States and the State of Hawaii to address the transfer and exercise of governmental authorities over lands, natural resources, and other assets.

Opponents of the Akaka Bill should note that S.344 does not settle any claims against the United States nor does the bill authorize the Native Hawaiian governing entity to conduct gaming activities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

As you can imagine, the process outlined above will take many years to complete.  The organic governing documents alone will probably need to be revised several times before it is ratified by the Hawaiian people.  In the meantime, those who want to be involved should prepare now by gathering their documentation to join the Roll and consider whether to get involved by running for the Interim Governing Council.

There is much to do and OHA will be working tirelessly to bring people together to make a Native Hawaiian governing entity a reality.  I will continue to keep you posted on any and all information regarding this important measure.  A hui hou!