State Recognition: Questions & Answers


`Ano`ai kakou…  As part of my ongoing effort to educate the community on State Recognition, here are some answers to the most frequent questions that have come up recently regarding the process:

(1) What exactly is State Recognition?

State recognition is an acknowledgment by a state government that a certain group of people is indigenous.  That acknowledgement can take a variety of forms ranging from reaffirmation of a government-to-government relationship between the state and the governing body of the group to a simple admission that the group is a historic indigenous people within the state’s boundaries.

The benefits of state recognition differ from state to state based on state and federal laws and programs. State-recognized groups, typically American Indian tribes, do not automatically qualify for the same programs and benefits as federally recognized tribes, but some federal legislation, such as protections for indigenous artisans, certain environmental programs, and some grant processes, explicitly include state-recognized groups.

State recognition can be conferred in several ways, but the most common is by an act of the State legislature recognizing the indigenous group.  Alternatively, some states use an administrative recognition process where groups must meet certain criteria to qualify for recognition. In a few states, the Governor may grant recognition to indigenous groups.

(2) What is the status of State Recognition of Native Hawaiians?

The Hawaii State Legislature approved SB1520, CD1 on May 3rd and sent the bill to Governor Abercrombie on May 6th. The Governor has until July 12, 2011, to sign or object to SB1520 or else it automatically becomes law on July 12th.

(3) How does State Recognition differ from Federal Recognition?

State Recognized groups do not automatically qualify for the same programs or benefits as federally recognized Indian tribes or Alaska Natives.  At least 15 states have recognized over 60 groups that do not also have federal recognition. Because the criteria for state recognition need not mirror or even resemble the criteria for federal recognition, state recognition is not necessarily a precursor to federal recognition.

(4) Will State Recognition prevent the Federal Recognition of Native Hawaiians?

No!  Even though Native Hawaiians have been recognized by the State of Hawaii, the United States retains the ability to federally recognize Native Hawaiians at a later date. In some situations, the process of state recognition of an indigenous group has led to findings that later supported their petition for federal recognition.

Stay Informed!

I encourage all those who have questions regarding the state recognition process to contact OHA for the most accurate and up-to-date information.  There will most likely be opposition and misinformation from the usual suspects, such as the Grassroot Institute, but I would like to assure everyone that SB1520 does not diminish, alter, or amend any existing rights or privileges of Native Hawaiians that are not inconsistent with the language of the bill. It reaffirms that the United States has delegated authority to the State of Hawaii to address the issues of the indigenous, native people of Hawaii. Nothing in this bill serves
as a settlement of the claims of Native Hawaiian people under state, federal, or international law.

For more information on State Recognition please see:

Aloha Ke Akua.