State officially recognizes Hawaii's indigenous people - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State officially recognizes Hawaii's indigenous people

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Malama Solomon Malama Solomon
Pilipo Souza Pilipo Souza

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As of Wednesday Native Hawaiians have confirmation from the state of something they knew all along. Wednesday Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law officially recognizing Native Hawaiians as the "only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population of Hawaii."

The law is seen as an important step for Native Hawaiians to advance toward self-governance.

"This is an important step for the future of Native Hawaiian self-determination and the ability for Native Hawaiians to decide their own future," Abercrombie said.

"What this bill does is it helps to formally organize the Hawaiian people so they in fact, and we're hoping through convention or whatever other form they may choose, that they organize themselves for the purpose of creating their own self governance and also to determine their own self determination," added state Senator Malama Solomon, who ushered the bill through the legislature.

According to the new law Abercrombie has 180 days to appoint a five member commission. That commission will compile a roll, or list, of qualified Native Hawaiians interested in self determination. The people on that roll will participate in a yet to be determined governing entity.

That is the theory. But before a new governing entity can engage in nation-to-nation relations with the United States, Native Hawaiians need to be recognized by the United States.

The Akaka Bill would establish federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. It was first introduced in Congress in 1999, and while it has cleared the U.S. House twice it has never passed in the Senate.

The bill's namesake told Hawaii News Now the new state law should give his bill a boost.

"This bill compliments what we're doing in Congress and it indicates to the people of the United States that the people of Hawaii strongly support the rights of the Native Hawaiians," said U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka.

Not all Native Hawaiians like the new law. While Abercrombie was signing the bill into law a group of about 30 people gathered at the state capitol to voice their opposition.

"We feel that the whole agenda is to keep the people divided," said Pilipo Souza, who identified himself as a member of the Committee of Hawaiian Nationals.

Opponents said the state has no legal standing on which to recognize Native Hawaiians. They argue that because the U.S. illegally annexed Hawaii in 1898 and the state is part of the U.S., the state has no true legal ability to enact laws – especially laws governing Native Hawaiians.

Opponents also told Hawaii News Now the reject the new law because it enables only people of Hawaiian ancestry to participate in self determination. The law excludes people who through marriage, life experience, or for other reasons consider themselves Hawaiian.

"The people who are here don't want to do this Native Hawaiian versus Hawaiian kind of separation. That's something that was imposed upon us by the U.S. Congress. And so that makes no sense to us. You want to talk Hawaiian Nationals, it includes people who are more than ethnic Hawaiian," added Lynette Cruz, a member of the Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance.

The Akaka Bill passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in April. Senator Akaka is hoping to have the bill heard on the Senate floor. The Senate is controlled by Democrats who have shown more support for the Akaka Bill. The House is controlled by Republicans, a majority of whom have not shown support for the bill.

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