The Akaka bill has been the subject of debate in Congress for 10 years. Its reason for being dates back nearly 120 years, to the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

This may be the make or break year for the law that would begin to put Native Hawaiians on the same footing as Native Americans and Native Alaskans, because the Democrats are expected to lose seats in the Senate. If that occurs, it would make it even more difficult to get an up or down vote on the bill. So Civil Beat decided to create a primer on the legislation, its history and how its passage by Congress might affect the state. The page will be a place where members can turn to follow the progress of the bill.

Here are some excerpts from the backgrounder written by our Hawaii beat reporter, Chad Blair.

Overview

According to Sen. Daniel Akaka‘s official website, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, the proper name of the bill, does three things:

• “It provides a process to reorganize the Native Hawaiian governing entity.”

• “It establishes the Office of Hawaiian Relations within the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States.”

• “It establishes the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group, which will be led by the Department of the Interior, to be composed of federal officials from agencies that administer Native Hawaiian programs.”

Once the act is approved, the governing entity, the United States and the state of Hawaii are authorized to enter into negotiations on transferring lands, natural resources and “other assets,” and the governing of those lands. The implementation of any agreements would require state and federal legislation.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does not do the following:

• Allow Hawaii to secede from the United States.

• Allow private lands to be taken.

• Authorize gaming in Hawaii.

• Create a reservation in Hawaii.

History

The origins of the Akaka bill date to the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by groups supported by the United States. The overthrow, as explained by Sen. Akaka’s web page, “resulted in generations of Native Hawaiians being disenfranchised from their government, culture, land, and way of life.”

The legislation’s contemporary origins begin with the enactment of U.S. Public Law 103-150 in 1993, known as the Apology Resolution. The act is a formal apology from the United States to Native Hawaiians for U.S. participation in the overthrow, as well as a commitment to bring about reconciliation.

The bill was first introduced by Akaka in the 106th Congress on July 20, 2000. Akaka has since presented other versions to the Senate in the 107th, 108th, 109th, 110th and 111th Congress.

Impact

If passed, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act could significantly alter Hawaii’s political and socio-economic landscape. The act calls for negotiations between the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the United States and the state of Hawaii on key issues such as criminal and civil jurisdiction, historical grievances, and control of natural resources and other assets.

Central to these negotiations will be addressing the ownership and use of ceded lands, as land is the essence of Hawaiian culture. Supporters believe the Akaka bill will settle long-standing legal questions about the status of Native Hawaiians in their homeland. The words “land,” “lands” and “homelands” appear dozens of times in the Akaka bill.

Some opponents, however, argue that the Akaka bill will end any efforts for Hawaiians to claim their own sovereign status independent of the United States. Some of these opponents believe the consequences of the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and Hawaii’s 1898 annexation by the United States can not be mitigated through legislation. The preferred path for some Native Hawaiians is sovereign independence, possibly requiring secession from the United States.

Other opponents say the bill is unconstitutional because it is raced-based. If it’s approved by Congress, they fear the bill will effectively separate Hawaii’s people into those with Hawaiian ancestry and those without — a form of “apartheid,” as one prominent critic has described it, in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse states in America.


DISCUSSION: *Join the Civil Beat discussion about the Akaka bill. Read what other members have to say about the legislation and share your own perspective about how the important issues it raises should be addressed.

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