Federal government proposes new path to sovereignty

Published: Sep. 29, 2015 at 1:34 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 29, 2015 at 10:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a 74-page document, the U.S. Department of the Interior set a framework for a Native Hawaiian government's relationship with the U.S. Government if that's what Native Hawaiians want.

"I'm really glad that the Obama administration has moved forward with this proposed rule," U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said.

Supporters of federal recognition call the rule an open door that lets Native Hawaiians decide what form their government would take.

"This puts Native Hawaiians themselves at the table to negotiate with the Federal government to protect our rights, to provide education resources for our children, to provide health resources to take care of our kupuna," said Michelle Kauhane of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement>

But critics like Grassroot Institute of Hawaii's Kelii Akina say the rule is divisive.

"This move seems to treat all of us Hawaiians as one entity, to have one relationship with the federal government," he said.  "That threatens the individual liberties of Hawaiians as individual citizens."

"Is the Department of the Interior willing to accept a government that will be independent of the United States?" Kingdom of Hawaii's Leon Siu said.

In a statement the Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana'opono Crabbe said: "This proposed rule addresses an injustice by allowing Native Hawaiians to receive the benefits of a government-to-government relationship that has been denied them."

"It comes at an opportune time since we are in the formation of a government that among other things would have to deal with that relationship," Roll Commission Chairman John Waihee said.

But Akina argues the U.S. Constitution already puts all U.S. citizens on equal footing.

"Native Hawaiians need to speak up and indicate that they're not just part of one group to deal with the government, but we are individuals," he said.

Supporters of the DOI proposed rule believe it will finally make federal recognition a reality, similar to what's been established with Alaska Natives and Native Americans. The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed rule.

After the announcement, the following statements were released by Hawaii's congressional delegation:

"The Native Hawaiian community's ongoing work toward self-determination takes a significant step forward today, and I applaud the Obama administration for its commitment to this effort," said Senator Mazie K. Hirono. "Many in Hawaii have persevered for decades to reach this point. I think of those with whom I've worked tirelessly, both as Hawaii's lieutenant governor and during my time in Congress, to achieve recognition for Native Hawaiians that is on par with the relationships the Federal government has established with Alaska Natives and Native Americans. I will continue to call for forward momentum on this issue until that final step is achieved."

"Native Hawaiians have the right to reorganize a government that they determine is best for them," said Senator Brian Schatz. "With today's publication of proposed rules from the Department of the Interior, I urge Native Hawaiians and other interested individuals to stay engaged and to contribute their comments and concerns as the process moves forward.  I will continue working with the Department of the Interior, my colleagues in the Hawaii congressional delegation, and the Native Hawaiian community to review the draft rules."

"Many indigenous groups in the U.S. have the right of self-determination, and today's announcement acknowledges that that right also belongs to the Native Hawaiian people, one of the largest native communities in the country," said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). "These rules incorporate over 5,000 public comments submitted to the Department of Interior (DOI), and should they be adopted, the Native Hawaiian community will have the option to re-establish a unified government and self-determine their future relationship with the federal government. I encourage all interested parties to submit their comments to DOI during the 90-day public review period to ensure a collaborative final ruling."

"I would like to thank the Obama Administration and the Department of the Interior for strengthening the U.S. government's relationship with the Native Hawaiian people," said Congressman Mark Takai (HI-01). "I have always supported Native Hawaiians and will continue to make sure the community's consensus is implemented in Washington at the federal level so that they may have more ownership of their own destiny at home."

The Native Hawaiian community has not had a formal government since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

The Department of Interior rulemaking process began in July 2014 when the Department of the Interior announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, followed by 25 public meetings. After taking into consideration feedback from thousands of interested parties, the Department of the Interior published Tuesday's Proposed Rule. This marks the beginning of a 90-day open comment period.

The proposal is available for review at www.doi.gov/ohr.

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