In a departure from form, some hearing notices for the Hawaiian affairs committees in the Hawaii Legislature this session have included the following quote:

“He lā hou, e ho’oulu”

A new day, building a nation

For example, the quote can be seen near the top of a hearing notice for a resolution to be heard Monday in House Hawaiian Affairs. The resolution asks the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to consider the idea of “kanaka villages” for homeless Native Hawaiians.

Most notably, the nation-building quote has graced several hearing notices for bills that actually have something to do with building a Hawaiian nation.

Two of those bills — Senate Bill 1520 and Senate Bill 1 — recognize Hawaiians as “the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawaii,” and establish a commission to “prepare and maintain a roll of qualified Native Hawaiians” for the purpose of organizing a convention of qualified Native Hawaiians, respectively.

Both measures have already comfortably passed the state Senate. Last week, both cleared House Judiciary and were sent to House Finance, the final hurdle before making it to the full House for a floor vote.

Both measures have been amended, and final language will have to be agreed upon in conference committee and floor votes before heading to the governor’s desk.

But, if they do survive and become law, they would accomplish some of the same goals as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, more commonly known as the Akaka bill.

The Akaka bill would create a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition similar to Native American and Native Alaskan tribes.

The measure failed to get a floor vote in the U.S. Senate last year despite Democrats holding a near-filibuster proof majority.

With the November elections, Senate Democrats’ majority was narrowed and the House fell to Republicans, making passage of the Akaka bill very unlikely over the next two years.

Then, earlier this year, Daniel Akaka — the Hawaii senator for whom the bill is named — announced he would not seek re-election in 2012. Many saw it as a death knell for the controversial legislation.

Some local lawmakers, primarily Native Hawaiians, are trying to keep the process alive, albeit at a state level.

SB 1, for example, was co-authored by Sen. Malama Solomon, while SB 1520 was introduced by Clayton Hee, Brickwood Galuteria, Gil Kahele and Pohai Ryan.

All five senators are Hawaiian. Hee is chairman of Senate Judiciary and Labor, and Galuteria — the majority leader — is chairman of Senate Hawaiian Affairs.

What SB 1520 Does

SB 1520, as currently amended, mirrors much of the language in the Akaka bill.

Though much shorter, the state Senate bill cites key historical events regarding Hawaiians such as the Admission Act of 1959 that created a ceded lands trust, the establishment of OHA in 1978 and the 1993 federal apology for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

SB 1520 also directly mentions the Akaka bill, observing that last December the Departments of Justice and Interior reaffirmed federal support for bill: “This reaffirmation recognized that Native Hawaiians are the only one of the nation’s three major indigenous peoples who currently lack a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.”

SB 1520 says that the state of Hawaii “has supported the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.”

It continues:

It is also the State’s desire to support the continuing development of a reorganized Native Hawaiian governing entity and, ultimately, the federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. The legislature urges the office of Hawaiian affairs to continue to support the self-determination process by Native Hawaiians in the formation of their chosen governmental entity.

Testifying in support of the measure were the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Native Hawaiian Convention, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Imua Alliance and the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly.

OHA said it was pleased that legislators were addressing Native Hawaiian issues but did not endorse the measure because it does not want to “diminish efforts to pursue and obtain federal recognition.”

Ken Conklin, a consistent and outspoken critic of the Akaka bill, called SB 1520 “fundamentally” the same thing:

“The clear purpose of the bill is to authorize the creation of an entity with governmental powers, but restricted to people who have at least one drop of Hawaiian native blood. That racist concept is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

What SB 1 Does

SB 1, as currently amended, is largely word-for-word identical to SB 1520.

For example, under SB 1 Native Hawaiian people would be recognized as the “only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawaii.”

Where SB 1 differs, however, is as follows:

The purpose of this chapter is to provide for and to implement the recognition of the Native Hawaiian people by means and methods that will facilitate their self-governance, including the establishment of, or the amendment to, programs, entities, and other matters pursuant to law that relate, or affect ownership, possession, or use of lands by the Native Hawaiian people, and by further promoting their culture, heritage, entitlements, health, education, and welfare.

To that end, SB 1 creates a nine-member Native Hawaiian roll commission to count and certify a Native Hawaiian voting base for a governing entity, likely via a state convention. An unspecified sum of money would be allocated.

In this regard, SB 1 would achieve central goals of the Akaka bill.

But there is an important disclaimer, too: “Nothing in this chapter is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the State of Hawaii, or affect the rights of the Native Hawaiian people under state, federal, or international law.”

SB 1 is supported by many of the same groups that support SB 1520, but this time they are joined by OHA — but with a similar caveat: “OHA supports state recognition of Native Hawaiians provided that it does not diminish efforts to pursue and obtain federal recognition.”

Ken Conklin calls SB 1 “racial separatism.”

Malama Solomon says it’s about righting a historical injustice.

“The state has to prove its muster, that there is an identifiable community entitled to the rights and responsibilities of a nation,” Solomon told House lawmakers earlier this month. “After that, Hawaiians will be allowed to organize how they see fit. … It is the responsibility of this House to give the legal platform for Native Hawaiians to legally be recognized and then pursue federal recognition.”

Solomon says the two bills may be merged into one vehicle.

Renewed Focus on Hawaiian Affairs

There are a number of other bills and resolutions introduced by Native Hawaiian lawmakers this session.

The authors of the “kanaka village” bill, Reps. Mele Carroll and Faye Hanohano, have also sponsored dozens of bills this session — some still alive.

Many non-Hawaiian lawmakers are signing on to the legislation and introducing their own.

The bills cover a range of issues: burial councils, archeological investigations, advisory committees, Hawaiian home lands, college tuition waivers, business incubators, poi preparation, using kahako and okina in government documents.

It’s a similar pattern in Senate bills.

On Wednesday, Senate Hawaiian Affairs is scheduled to hear several resolutions pertaining to Hawaiians, including one that encourages all high schools to teach the Hawaiian language and another that calls for a symposium to discuss the idea of a Hawaiian language university within the University of Hawaii.

Senate Hawaiian Affairs is dominated by Hawaiian lawmakers and led by Majority Leader Galuteria. Hanohano chairs House Hawaiian Affairs.

None of these measures would have near the impact of the local Akaka bills, though.

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