The Legislature wants to find solutions to long-standing issues facing Native Hawaiians in the state.

Identical resolutions introduced in the House and Senate on Monday ask Gov. David Ige to convene a commission to look into how the state can better understand and address the needs of Native Hawaiians.

“There remains a pressing need to establish a new relationship based on reconciliation and trust between the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America,” the resolution says.

Opening Day of 2020 Legislature House Speaker Scott Saiki at podium.
House Speaker Scott Saiki introduced a resolution Monday that would create a commission to build a better relationship with Native Hawaiians. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The resolution was simultaneously put forward by Speaker Scott Saiki in the House and President Ron Kouchi in the Senate. While resolutions don’t carry the force of law, they do indicate what issues lawmakers want to examine.

While political leaders did not highlight any proposals specific to Native Hawaiians last month when the Legislature opened its session, Saiki said in an interview Monday that the commission should look at addressing historical wrongs done to Native Hawaiians.

“We need to identify the areas we could have done a better job and try to correct those areas,” he said.

The flashpoint for those underlying issues affecting Native Hawaiians in the state has been the months-long protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope planned to be built on Mauna Kea.

Saiki, as well as many members of the Legislature, support construction of the $1.4 billion project.

One of the commission’s first tasks would be to figure out how to reconcile differences over that conflict, which has become a political hot potato among leaders in government since protests began anew in July, blocking construction indefinitely.

Opening Day of 2020 Legislature flag 9 year old Kawai Kupahu from Kailua holds an upside down flag in the Capitol Rotunda.
Native Hawaiians and others rallied on the Legislature’s opening day last month in the Capitol Rotunda. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“A process for reconciliation also will provide a participatory and meaningful process of engagement to address current discord related to Mauna Kea, including issues related to land use and stewardship as well as the environment, economy, culture, and science,” the resolution says.

The resolution opens with an acknowledgment that the U.S. maintained political and economic relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii prior to the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

Many of the activists in the movement against the telescope, who call themselves kiai or protectors, point to the overthrow as the first major wrong done to Hawaii by U.S citizens.

Land management and how the state involves people in the planning process could be among issues the commission addresses. Besides opposition to TMT, there have been land disputes over the Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku and a proposed ballpark in Waimanalo.

“I feel there are members of the public that feel they are not given a fair shot throughout the decision-making process and that their voices don’t matter or don’t count,” Saiki said. “We need to address that.”

He added that there should be a distinction between issues with the process and disputing the outcome of that process.

Other issues the commission might take up could include education and housing, as it relates to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

While the governor would choose who serves on the commission and appoint someone to coordinate its efforts, Saiki wants the state to take a hands-off approach. Government officials should not be guiding this work, he said. 

“We know that within the Hawaiian community there is a general distrust of the state government given past history,” Saiki said. “We do not want this commission to be one that is driven by the state government. It has to be driven by community leaders.”

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