Straight talk about the Akaka Bill
Ka Wai Ola Friday, April 30, 2010
By Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
With a widely anticipated vote in the U.S. Senate, discussion regarding the 2010 Akaka Bill has reached a fevered pitch in our community. Despite concerns over recent amendments to the Akaka Bill, I believe it is important that we come together in support of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.
For me, it’s been an issue of careful analysis and discussion for many years. As Lieutenant Governor, I recognize that federal recognition and self-determination will benefit all of Hawai`i’s citizens.
I have always believed that what is best for Native Hawaiians is best for Hawai`i. What this means to me is that in order to bring balance to the relationship between the indigenous people of these islands and the local, state and federal government, Native Hawaiians must be recognized on par with other indigenous peoples of the United States and be allowed their right to self-determination.
Passage of the Akaka Bill would create a process to establish a Native Hawaiian governing entity that would represent Native Hawaiians on a government-to-government level and preserve and protect such vital Native Hawaiian programs as Kamehameha Schools, Hawaiian Homelands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which remain under constant threat.
I was honored to be part of a State and local delegation that rallied Congressional support for the 2006 version of the Akaka Bill. Unfortunately, the 2006 version was recently amended without first fully discussing the changes with the people of the State of Hawai`i.
Ultimately, I believe the 2010 version will pass, but there are significant legal concerns surrounding the bill; and the last-minute maneuvering by some, regardless of their intentions, is not representative of how we should conduct business in Hawai`i.
I share valid concerns with the 2010 Akaka Bill, including its limited definition of whom qualifies to be recognized as a member of the Native Hawaiian community; its ill-defined relationship between the Native Hawaiian governing entity and local, state and federal government; and its immediate establishment of sovereignty prior to further negotiations that could address outstanding issues like public safety, healthcare and property rights.
To achieve the type of broad-based support that this landmark legislation deserves, the amendments contained within the 2010 Akaka Bill should be fully vetted and resolved in the community through open and inclusive public hearings.
As an attorney and former state judge, I recognize that opponents of the 2010 Akaka Bill have rightly pointed out that failure to properly address these issues beforehand will likely result in difficult negotiations and protracted litigation following passage.
While my preference is for Congressional leaders to work out these issues before passing the 2010 Akaka Bill, I will continue to support the bill with reservations and work immediately to address any outstanding issues if elected Governor.
As a keiki o ka `aina, I am confident that we will come together to address these issues in a manner that exemplifies the fundamental values of our community – aloha, pono, laulima, lokahi, ha`a ha`a, and kuleana.
Our Native Hawaiian community, with tremendous support from people of all ethnic backgrounds throughout the state and nation, has overcome many obstacles over a long period of time to get this close to achieving federal recognition as an indigenous people.
We have worked too hard for too long, and we owe it to those who came before us to press forward. The opportunity exists to continue the process of reconciliation for the Native Hawaiian people, and I am committed to seeing this process through.
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