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The Attacks Are Divisive, Not The Legislation

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, or Akaka Bill, has been wildly mischaracterized and misinterpreted during and after the bill’s consideration and passage by the House on Oct. 24. For example, an opinion piece by Ilya Shapiro in Roll Call (Nov. 6, “The Color of Their Skin, or the Content of Their Character?”) claimed the bill would “create a race-based government that will collect political and economic preferences …”

As the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation, we can assure you that our bill simply allows the federal government to recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people of the United States, very much like American Indians or Alaska Natives. It acknowledges the historic fact that Native Hawaiians were on their land centuries before anyone from the United States ever came ashore. It acknowledges the fact that the Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States more than 175 years ago and accorded full diplomatic relations in treaties and conventions in 1826, 1842, 1849, 1875 and 1887, all ratified by Congress.

In 1893, American business interests — tacitly backed by the U.S. military — illegally overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. Twenty-eight years later, Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, setting aside more than 200,000 acres for homesteads and farms for Native Hawaiian families. In addition, 1,800,000 acres were ceded from the former Hawaiian royal family. It was no accident, but by deliberate action that the United States and people of Hawaii expressly recognized and preserved the rights of its indigenous people in the 1959 Hawaii Admissions Act. By law, a portion of the revenues from the lands, administered by Hawaii, is intended for the betterment of the Native Hawaiian people.

The Akaka Bill enables the Native Hawaiian people to decide on the organization of an entity to represent them in government-to- government relations with the United States. And the state of Hawaii will be able to transfer responsibility for the administration of the land and dollar assets to a Native Hawaiian government. If, as some suggest, this conveys special privileges or preferences to its citizens, they are certainly not apparent.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does not create a program or entitlement. It doesn’t require an appropriation. It isn’t based on racial groups or set-asides or preferences. It doesn’t turn over assets of the U.S. government, nor give anyone title to anything they don’t already own. It is unfortunate that some who oppose the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act misstate its meaning and effect.

The Akaka bill doesn’t divide Americans. Today’s Native Hawaiians are proud citizens of the United States. They work hard. They raise families. They pay taxes. And they have been front and center in the ranks of our military for decades. The Akaka bill passed in the House by a 108-vote margin, 39 of them Republican. Until recently, the measure was never partisan in the House of Representatives. We hope it will not be partisan in the U.S. Senate. It has never been partisan in Hawaii.

The people of Hawaii are not threatened by the prospect of Native Hawaiians reorganizing a governing entity. Rather, they respect and support efforts to preserve the culture and tradition of Native Hawaiians that make our state so special. It is for this reason that we work to continue the reconciliation efforts the United States committed itself to in 1993, as a means to unify all the people of Hawaii and move forward together as a state.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) represent Hawaii.

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