A hui of four Native Hawaiians and two non-Hawaiians on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii to halt what plaintiffs argue is “a racially exclusive election and constitutional convention designed to establish a sovereign Hawaiian nation.”

Kelii Akina

Kelii Akina.

The defendants include Gov. David Ige, the trustees and CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, including its chair, former Gov. John Waihee.

The nonprofit watchdog group Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Former Hawaii Attorney General Michael Lilly is representing plaintiffs Kelii Akina, president of the Grassroot Institute, Melissa Moniz, Kealii Makekau, Pedro Gapero, Joseph Kent and Sean Mitsui.

The suit alleges that the proposed election — for which a date has not been set — violates the U.S. Constitution’s First, 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act.

In a press release, Akina said:

“This lawsuit is about preserving the Aloha Spirit and the unity of all people in Hawaii. For Native Hawaiians, this suit is also about putting priorities in order. Instead of OHA and the State continuing to waste millions of dollars on the pursuit of a political sovereignty campaign, they need to use these precious funds to meet the real needs of Hawaiians for housing, jobs, education, and health care. Given the low enrollment in the certified Native Hawaiian Roll, it is clear that the Native Hawaiian people themselves have rejected OHA-backed efforts to create a racially exclusive nation. The time has come to stop dividing Hawaii’s people and start uniting them.”

OHA declined to comment on the complaint.

Deputy Attorney General James Walther told Civil Beat, “Our office is aware of the lawsuit, and we will be reviewing it.”

The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, established by the Hawaii State Legislature in 2011, launched a registry campaign in 2012 to sign up qualified Hawaiians to participate in self-governance.

The latest lawsuit follows the success of Grassroot Institute and Judicial Watch in state court in June, when the roll commission was ordered to make public its enrollment list — something the commission has since done.

Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is a nonprofit, nonpartisan groups that self-identifies as “a research institute dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, the free market, and limited, accountable government throughout Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region.”

On a related front, the U.S. Department of the Interior is drafting a proposed rule regarding the procedures to reestablish a government-to-government relationship with a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

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