Proposed changes to the Akaka bill (S.147) are a cause for concern


Source: November 2005 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Despite the combined efforts of OHA, Governor Lingle, our Congressional delegation, and countless grassroots organizations, the Akaka Bill (S.147) has yet to reach the floor of the U.S. Senate.  As of this writing, it seems that the earliest that the bill will be voted on is during the week of October 17th.

As you may have read in the local print media, the Akaka Bill has recently been amended to appease the White House and the Republican Senators who oppose it.  While the Board continues to support the bill, I am starting to have grave concerns with the direction that the bill is taking.  I question whether we are now willing to sacrifice some of our rights just to pass the bill and stop the lawsuits.

The proposed amendments to the Akaka bill were negotiated by Congressional staff, the Justice Department, and the state Attorney General in consultation with attorney Robert Klein and others.  Even after all of the strong support we have consistently given the bill, the trustees of OHA ended up being completely left out of the loop.  This is totally outrageous since none of the negotiators were elected and they don’t have a constituency to answer to.  This is probably why they gave in to the pressure from the Republican Senators and the Bush Administration.

For example, they added proposed language that completely bans the new Hawaiian Governing Entity from ever generating revenues from gambling in this or any other state.  Even if the State of Hawaii adopts a gambling bill, Hawaiians would be the only native people who could not engage in any gambling activity.  Isn’t this unconstitutional?  I have always felt that this should be left to the new Hawaiian Governing Entity to decide.  That’s what sovereignty is all about.  We should not ban the new Hawaiian Governing Entity from a potential revenue source that could help them become self-sufficient.

Another proposed amendment prevents the United States from taking any Native Hawaiian lands into trust.  I feel this hurts us because only the federal government can give ceded lands the strong protection it needs.  Just look at what the state has done with ceded lands in the past and the reasons would be clear.  How many more $1 a year leases and unfavorable land swaps do we have to put up with?

I also have a problem with the military being taken off the negotiating table.  The new language for the bill states that the military will not be required to consult with the Office for Native Hawaiian Relations or the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group.  What about all of the prime ceded lands that are occupied by the military?

Unfortunately, detrimental changes to the Akaka Bill are nothing new.  The 2002 version of the Akaka Bill (S. 746) was very controversial because it left out a section from the original bill (S. 81) that allows for a fair process for all Hawaiians to be included in the recognition effort.  The section was finally restored to the bill (S. 344) in May of 2003 so there is some hope that the bill can be changed for the better later. 

Some may argue that the proposed changes would allow the bill to finally get passed, but changing the bill by adding language that is not understood by the greater Hawaiian community makes no sense at all.  Still others may say, “Isn’t half a loaf better than no loaf?”  That maybe so, but we may be giving up too much. 

It is truly sad that doing the right thing has now become so controversial.  No matter how many historical facts are presented, no matter all the legal justification offered, getting Congress to do what is right is easier said than done.  The Akaka bill is supposed to represent the beginning of our journey to sovereignty.  Let us hope that the journey continues despite the proposed amendments.  Imua Hawaii Nei…