HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 209 candidates are running for 40 spots to help form a Native Hawaiian government.
"It doesn't change anything about the work Na'i Aupuni is doing. It doesn't change anything about the elections," said Robin Danner, who founded the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and was a roll commissioner for Kana'iolowalu, the enrollment list of registered Native Hawaiian voters for the upcoming Na'i Aupuni election.
"This is a huge opportunity not just for Native Hawaiians, this is a huge opportunity for all Hawai'i and we can choose to take it next year or the year after -- but that door will always be there. The action that President Obama and his administration has taken through the Department of Interior means that a doorway has been carved out, it means that the door has been unlocked and we can go through that door anytime they're ready," said Danner, who petitioned Obama for federal recognition in-person at the White House.
Bumpy Kanahele, one of the most recognizable names in the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement, is less enthused about the Interior Department's proposal, but even though he says he's wary of broken promises he also believes this the closest Native Hawaiians have come to self-governance.
"I've been in this over 35 years now and I think this is the real shot we got just because President Obama is there," said Kanahele, one of the 209 candidates running in the Na'i Aupuni election.
"The first step to me is that we proclaim the restoration of our national sovereignty. Protect that and we're going to find out that a lot of doors are going to open in different ways that would allow us to govern ourselves and not pick a government," explained Kanahele.
Some have questioned whether the federal announcement undermines the upcoming Na'i Aupuni election, in which Native Hawaiians will choose delegates to craft their own government -- but roll commission officials disagree.
"If anything, the state and the federal government are going to see the power of the Hawaiian vote from all of us. They got to watch for the Hawaiians on every level," said Kanahele.
Voting for Na'i Aupuni delegates begins in November. They will then take part in a convention or 'Aha next Spring to decide what type of nation or government, if any, will be created or reorganized. Native Hawaiians who are registered to vote will then get to participate in a ratification process to accept or reject any document or constitution created at the 'Aha.