Government-to-government proposal offered by U.S. to Native Hawaiians

Local News

The U.S. government proposed Tuesday a process to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government. The proposal creates a process or procedure that would be followed if Native Hawaiians formed a unified government.

Some are calling this a momentous day, showing the Obama Administration’s commitment to Native Hawaiians.

“The United States has a long-standing policy of supporting self-governance for Native peoples, yet the benefits of the government-to-government relationship have long been denied to Native Hawaiians, one of our largest indigenous communities. Today’s proposal is testament to the Obama Administration’s strong support for our nation’s Native peoples’ right to self-determination,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“It is a long time coming and I believe that this is an important step in some 500,000 Native Hawaiians who live in Hawaii as well as elsewhere on the Mainland,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

Others told KHON2 that the federal government is not listening. “For them to then make the claim the support of their intervention was overwhelming, is false,” said Jonathan Osorio of the University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies.

This proposal comes a year after the Department of Interior held a series of meetings across Hawaii. Thousands of people turned out to speak at those meetings.

“All of that testimony stressed the illegal nature of the presence of the United States in the Hawaiian Islands,” Osorio said.

The Department of Interior announced that Native Hawaiians, not the federal government, would decide whether to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government, what the rules would look like, and if they would want a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

“It said nothing about what our government would look like, it doesn’t tell anyone in our community, Hawaiian or not, in fact what to do on any level,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, (D) chair of the House Committee for Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs.

In an earlier prepared statement, Ing said “being recognized politically, and not racially, may provide us more autonomy for decisions like Mauna Kea and protection of programs like DHHL and Kamehameha Schools. But for many, it may not go far enough. Either way, self-determination can only be realized if we have all possible paths to choose from.

“No matter where one stands, today marks a huge step forward in justice and self-determination for the Native Hawaiian people,” Ing said.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe said that “while the United States has long supported Hawaiians as a native people, 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 is clear the Department of the Interior agrees it will be the Native Hawaiian community – and not the federal government – that would decide whether to organize a Native Hawaiian government, and whether that government would seek to pursue a relationship with the United States. OHA encourages the public, especially Native Hawaiians, to comment on this proposed rule.”

But others believe this move could damage the community.

“We’re concerned that this effort by the federal government reaching into our state lends to dividing people by race, which is a very terrible thing to be doing now as we look across the nation,” said Kelii Akina, president of the non-profit watchdog group the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

In an earlier prepared statement, Akina said that “the continued references by the DOI to the ‘Native Hawaiian community’ are both perplexing and troublesome. They, of all people, should realize that there is no single voice or group that represents Native Hawaiians as a whole. If anything, the many efforts to create a Native Hawaiian government have revealed just how divided the community is on this issue. Many Native Hawaiians have stated that they will not be part of the state’s nation-building process. Is the DOI referring to recognizing the result of the election being held through OHA, Nai Apuni, and Kanaiolowalu? Are they referring to a mobilization effort that could occur through the Hawaiian Home Lands? What about the community of sovereignty activists? The Department’s vague use of the phrase ‘Native Hawaiian community’ is both divisive and culturally insensitive.”

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

The proposal is available for review at www.doi.gov/ohr, and public comments on it will be accepted for the next 90 days.

Members of the public are encouraged to read the proposal and provide comments in writing by email to part50@doi.gov, on http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOI-2014-0002-0005 or by U.S. mail/hand delivery to the Office of the Secretary, Department of the Interior, Room 7228, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240.

The public is also encouraged to participate in teleconferences on the proposed rule, a schedule of which will be available here.

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