UPDATED: The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding “Procedures for Re-establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community.”

The Proposed Rule provides a framework for a Native Hawaiian governing entity to enter into a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The rulemaking process began in July 2014 when the Department of the Interior announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, followed by 25 public meetings held across Hawaii and Indian Country.

Today marks the beginning of a 90-day open comment period regarding the proposal.

Members of the public are encouraged to read the proposal and provide comments in writing by email to part50@doi.gov, on www.regulations.gov (docket no. DOI-2015-0005), 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 the scheduled teleconferences on the proposed rule.

Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation issued these statements this morning:

Sen. Mazie Hirono: “The Native Hawaiian community’s ongoing work toward self-determination takes a significant step forward today, and I applaud the Obama administration for its commitment to this effort. Many in Hawaii have persevered for decades to reach this point. I think of those with whom I’ve worked tirelessly, both as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor and during my time in Congress, to achieve recognition for Native Hawaiians that is on par with the relationships the Federal government has established with Alaska Natives and Native Americans. I will continue to call for forward momentum on this issue until that final step is achieved.”
Sen. Brian Schatz: “Native Hawaiians have the right to reorganize a government that they determine is best for them. With today’s publication of proposed rules from the Department of the Interior, I urge Native Hawaiians and other interested individuals to stay engaged and to contribute their comments and concerns as the process moves forward. I will continue working with the Department of the Interior, my colleagues in the Hawaii congressional delegation, and the Native Hawaiian community to review the draft rules.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: “Many indigenous groups in the U.S. have the right of self-determination, and today’s announcement acknowledges that that right also belongs to the Native Hawaiian people, one of the largest native communities in the country. These rules incorporate over 5,000 public comments submitted to the Department of Interior (DOI), and should they be adopted, the Native Hawaiian community will have the option to re-establish a unified government and self-determine their future relationship with the federal government. I encourage all interested parties to submit their comments to DOI during the 90-day public review period to ensure a collaborative final ruling.”
Rep. Mark Takai: “I would like to thank the Obama Administration and the Department of the Interior for strengthening the U.S. government’s relationship with the Native Hawaiian people. I have always supported Native Hawaiians and will continue to make sure the community’s consensus is implemented in Washington at the federal level so that they may have more ownership of their own destiny at home.”

Meanwhile,Kamana‘Opono Crabbe, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, released this statement:

“Today is a momentous day for our Native Hawaiian community. This rule shows the Obama Administration’s commitment to Hawaiians and other native people by supporting self-governance for the Native Hawaiian Community. 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 Keli’i Akina of the Grassroot Institute, which last month filed suit against the state regarding an upcoming election of delegates to a constitutional convention designed to establish a sovereign Hawaiian nation, was critical:

“This is yet another attempt by the Department of the Interior to do an end run around Congress by assuming powers it simply does not have. The Congress has clearly indicated that they–and not the DOI–have the power to recognize a Native Hawaiian government. On multiple occasions, they considered and decided not to pass the Akaka Bill, demonstrating that the Constitutional concerns in the creation of a race-based government were real and unavoidable. Those concerns have not disappeared, no matter how much the Department tries to dodge them by focusing on ‘recognition’ as opposed to ‘organization.'”

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