HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Self-governance has always been a hot topic of discussion for Native Hawaiians, but recent events made it even more of a focus at this year's 15th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention.
"It's our first path to self-determination. We get to decide. Not a state agency. Not a federal agency. We as Hawaiians get to decide what we want for ourselves," explained Kaleiaina Lee, one of about 300 participants from all over the state who attended the three-day event at the Sheraton Waikiki.
Officials say the question is what will Native Hawaiians choose? Options range from the creation of an independent nation to the establishment of federal recognition similar to that of Native American tribes.
Just last month, the Department of Interior announced an administrative procedure that will allow a unified Native Hawaiian government to enter into a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.
"I commend the Obama Administration for promulgating and finalizing a rule that will enable a process of government to government relations between the federal government and a Native Hawaiian entity -- whatever the Native Hawaiians themselves want to do to proceed with that kind of relationship," said U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D – Hawaii).
The new DOI rule comes on the heels of the creation of a draft constitution formed by a group of Native Hawaiians this past February after a month-long discussion and debate.
"The path that we have been going down hasn't been in our hands and this constitution and these nation-building efforts provides us the opportunity build a nation but also to regain control of our language, our culture and our history," said Ka'omaka Aki, a member of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
The 15-page document serves as a blueprint for the future structure and function of a Native Hawaiian government, but doesn't stipulate what it should look like.
"What we had to get people to understand is let's just build a vehicle. Let's just build a means to get us where we want to go. And let's let the people decide through this Democratic process -- once we get a government up and established -- where it wants to end up," said Colin Kippen, who contributed to the constitution draft.
The constitution calls for a unicameral elected democracy lead by an executive branch and balanced with a judicial system.
"What's really great about this Constitution is that it empowers Native Hawaiians to malama our culture for every one," said Robin Danner of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.
Advocates for Native Hawaiian self-determination say 35 out of 50 states have fully functional Native governments focused entirely on the well-being of that indigenous culture.
"We will finally have a recognized entity, an organization, a government -- very similar to a county government -- that their number one mission is the well-being of Native Hawaiians. That is something all of Hawai'i needs," said Danner.
There were several concerns raised -- even a lawsuit -- regarding the use of state funding to hold an election strictly for Native Hawaiians to participate in. In an effort to avoid any conflict -- advocacy groups have been independently raising money for a constitution ratification vote. They say they have about $300,000 already, but expect to need about $2 million in order to also hold government elections.