2011 Wrap-up

January 2012 KA WAI OLA COLUMN

`Ano`ai kakou…  I started off 2011 with a continued hope that there will be positive changes at OHA.  While not always positive, the year was definitely one of major transition for OHA as we: (1) Approved a monumental law which will establish State Recognition for Native Hawaiians; and (2) Received an offer from the Governor to finally resolve the claims relating to OHA’s portion of income from the public land trust between 11/7/1978 and 7/1/2009.


After being one of two Trustees appointed as a “Legislative Liaison” representing OHA for the 2011 session, I focused my many years of lobbying experience and strong relationships with legislators on two important issues: (1) Establishing state recognition for Native Hawaiians; and (2) Resolving the past due ceded land payments from the state.

Thanks to the hard work of the Native Hawaiian Caucus, Senate Bill (SB) 1520 was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie.  SB1520 establishes a new law that recognizes Native Hawaiians as the only indigenous, aboriginal, Maoli people of Hawaii.  It also establishes a process for Native Hawaiians to organize themselves as a step in the continuing development of a reorganized Native Hawaiian governing entity and, ultimately, the federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.

A special Mahalo to Senators Malama Solomon, Clayton Hee, and Brickwood Galuteria, and Representative Faye Hanohano for their tireless effort to get SB 1520 passed into law.


In the 2009, SB 995 (Introduced by Senator Colleen Hanabusa by request and supported by Senator Hee) sought to have the State resolve its long overdue debt to OHA resulting from public land trust revenues unpaid from 11/7/1978 to 7/1/2010 by offering OHA $251 million in cash and 20 percent of the 1.8 million acres of ceded lands.  The proposal died in the House and went nowhere in 2010.  In the 2011 Legislative Session, SB 984, part of the OHA Package of bills, died after it was deferred by the Senate Hawaiian Affairs and Judiciary committees.

However, on Nov. 16, 2011, Governor Neil Abercrombie offered OHA property in Kaka‘ako as payment to cover the settlement of past due amounts.  The Governor should be commended for his bold offer.  OHA has lobbied many Governors in the past with nothing to show for it.  Now, for the first time, Governor Abercrombie is making OHA an offer that could potentially generate all of the revenue OHA needs to operate indefinitely and would give our future nation the concrete assets it needs to serve the Hawaiian population.

Although there is a lot work ahead of us in the upcoming legislative session, I feel more confident than ever that OHA, on behalf of our beneficiaries, will finally prevail.  An important part of that will be educating our elected officials and the community about this opportunity.

OHA must also do everything in its power to successfully lobby the State Legislature and convince any naysayers to have a change of heart.  In this effort, we will need your support to effectively solidify the settlement.  OHA will be taking this proposal to community meetings around the state so that our beneficiaries will understand it.  I look forward to 2012 with great hope and anticipation that our efforts to resolve this long standing issue will finally be put to rest.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a most prosperous New Year.

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: http://www.oha.org/leg/keybills.php.

Aloha Ke Akua.

Legislative Wrap-Up: State Recognition Bill Passes!


`Ano`ai kakou… Congratulations to the Native Hawaiian Caucus for all of their hard work in getting the State Recognition bill, SB 1520, passed.  As one of OHA’s Legislative Liaison, I worked closely with Senators Malama Solomon, Clayton Hee, and Brickwood Galuteria.  Also, a special Mahalo to Representative Faye Hanohano for her tireless effort to pass SB 1520 over on the House side.

SB1520 establishes a new law that recognizes Native Hawaiians as the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawaii.  It
also establishes a process for Native Hawaiians to organize themselves as a step in the continuing development of a reorganized Native Hawaiian governing entity and, ultimately, the federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.

SB1520 requires that:

  • A five-member Native Hawaiian Roll Commission be established and housed within OHA for administrative purposes.  The Commission will then prepare and maintain a roll of “qualified Native Hawaiians” which includes individuals (18-years or older) who are a descendant of Hawaii’s aboriginal peoples prior to 1778 or is a direct lineal descendant an individual who was eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.
  • The Governor, within 180 days of the effective date, appoints the members of the Commission from nominations submitted by qualified Native Hawaiian membership organizations.  To qualify, a Native
    Hawaiian organization must have been working for the betterment of the
    conditions of the Native Hawaiian people for at least ten years;
  • Four members of the five-member Commission must reside in the four counties, with one member to serve at-large;
  • The Commission must publish the roll to facilitate commencement of a convention for the purpose of organization; and
  • The Governor will dissolve the commission after publication of the roll;

In addition, SB1520 clarifies that:

  • The bill shall not diminish rights or privileges enjoyed by Native Hawaiians;
  • Nothing in the new law is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims or affect the
    rights of Native Hawaiian people under state, federal, or international law;
  • The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 shall be amended, subject to approval by Congress, if necessary, to accomplish the purposes set forth in this Act;
  • OHA will provide funding for the Commission;
  • The Commission, in cooperation with OHA, will report to the Governor and the Legislature prior to the Regular Session of 2012 on the status of the preparation of the roll, related expenditures, and concerns or recommendations; and
  • OHA is urged to work with the Commission by utilizing the current Kau Inoa Native Hawaiian registration list, with the approval of the individual registrants, to support the Commission’s purpose of preparing and maintaining a roll of
    qualified Native Hawaiians.  This process will be voluntary.  Hawaiians may opt out of the process if they wish.

More details will be available once the Commission has been established.

I encourage all those who signed up for the Kau Inoa to take this opportunity to participate in shaping a positive future for the Native Hawaiian people.

Unlike past attempts to organize, this effort has the blessing of the State of Hawaii and the full financial and administrative support of OHA.  Let’s all get involved with this important effort now, and let us agree to disagree if we choose and wait to work out our differences in the Constitutional Convention.

Also, a special Mahalo to Senator Akaka who is working diligently to pass the Akaka
bill before he leaves office.

Aloha Ke Akua.

Senator Akaka: Hawaii’s most beloved public servant


`Ano`ai kakou…  I was saddened that after months of thinking about his political future, Senator Daniel Akaka decided not to run for re-election in 2012 after serving in the U.S. Senate from 1990 to the present and 13 years previously in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Over the years, I have worked closely with Senator Akaka on important issues such as fighting for proper medical care of our Hawaii National Guardsmen while he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and I look forward to working with him over the next two years on Federal Recognition for Native Hawaiians now that he is the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Senator Akaka serves as the best example of how a lawmaker can get the job done with kindness and humility without having to resort to any political shenanigans or negativity.  He will certainly be sorely missed in a Congress that is now more and more focused on being combative and polarizing.

Senator Akaka has been our strongest advocate in Congress and in 1993, working with Senator Daniel Inouye, he passed the Apology Resolution, where the United States officially apologized for its part in the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  I believe no one can represent the Hawaiian community as thoughtfully as Senator Akaka has and whoever prevails in 2012
will have some very big shoes to fill.

Senator Akaka deserves a great big MAHALO for his life long service to Hawaii.  There is still much work to be accomplished over the next two years and I look forward to working closely with Senator Akaka to get them done.


Here is an update on important Native Hawaiian bills that are working their way through the legislature.

State Recognition

Senate Bill 1 (SB1), introduced by Senator Malama Solomon, was passed out of its final Senate Committees and will be crossing over to the House for consideration.  This bill will address a long overdue formal recognition by the State of Hawaii of its indigenous people.

SB1520, introduced by Senator Clayton Hee, also passed out of its final Senate Committee and will be crossing over to the House.  SB 1520 would establish procedures for state recognition of a first nation government similar to what is described in the
Akaka bill, but at the state level.

Past Due Ceded Lands Settlement

SB 984 & HB399, part of the OHA Package of bills, seeks to have the State resolve its long overdue debt to OHA resulting from public land trust revenues unpaid from 11/7/1978 to 7/1/2010.  Both bills failed to make it out of its final committee before the crossover deadline and are now considered “dead” for this session.  However, as anyone who has lobbied the legislature knows, there are ways to resurrect bills from the dead.  The language of either SB984 or HB399 could be inserted into another bill that is still alive, resurrecting it.  So there is still hope of a settlement in this legislative session.  Another alternative is a concurrent resolution which is being considered as I write this column.

Aloha Ke Akua.