HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Native Hawaiian leaders are getting one-on-one face time with officials from the Obama administration. Representatives from Washington, DC are in the islands for two weeks to formulate policy on Pacific Islander and Asian-American issues. Local leaders hope it will lead to more help and more federal money for Native Hawaiians.
Administration officials have been fanning out to schools, health clinics, farms, businesses, and housing developments in predominately local communities to find out where the greatest needs lie.
"I have to tell you, having a President from Hawaii has made all the difference. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders do have needs and should not be an afterthought in federal policy," says Lisa Hasegawa from the National Coalition for Asian-Pacific American Community Development, an organization based in the nation's capital.
Native Hawaiian leaders admit there are still big challenges for the state's indigenous people, and they've convened in Honolulu at their ninth annual conference to address a wide range of problems. Just two weeks ago, for instance, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs released a report saying Hawaiians are treated unfairly in the state's judicial system.
And last month, a minority study released by "Families USA" reported almost a fifth of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underinsured medically. There are other issues like affordable housing, education, and business development to contend with, as well.
"Those statistics are evidence and reflect the lack of Native Hawaiian voice in the creation of solutions and that's what's so powerfully important for this convention," says Robin Danner, President and CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
As administration officials work towards potential policy changes at the White House, the November elections in Congress could be critical for Hawaiians. They need 60 'yes' votes on the Akaka bill to establish some form of a sovereign Hawaiian government.
OHA administrator Clyde Namuo says, "It's not going to be easy, and I think it will take all of the skill that Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka have to get Senator Reid to schedule it."
Hawaii's senators are reportedly negotiating with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to have a vote taken once the Senate reconvenes in mid-November. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the Akaka bill, if it passes.