WASHINGTON — Native Hawaiians now have a direct line to the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz held his first hearing as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee to ask Native community leaders about what Congress can do for them.

Among the guests who were invited to testify was Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Carmen Hulu Lindsey, who urged the committee to pass legislation to put Native Hawaiians on the same footing as their Indigenous peers throughout the country.

OHA Chairwoman Carmen Hulu Lindsey testifies before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Screen shot

“The federal trust responsibility may look different from tribe to tribe and from community to community, but that responsibility is owed by the federal government to all Native Americans,” Lindsey said.

“Unfortunately for the past two decades executive orders requiring federal agencies to consult with Native Americans have left Native Hawaiians out. To address this OHA urges the passage of legislation extending consultation by the federal government to Native Hawaiians.”

She also pressed for more federal dollars for Native Hawaiian health care, education and economic development.

Native Hawaiians are not recognized by the U.S. government as their own sovereign entity, which leaves them as a whole unable to have a government-to-government relationship in the same manner as American Indian tribes.

The lack of federal recognition can also mean Native Hawaiians are not eligible for certain federal funds that can be directed to tribal entities, which occurred when Congress first passed the CARES Act to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Some are hopeful that with President Joe Biden in the White House, federal recognition will once again be back on the table, although it will be up to the Native Hawaiians themselves to organize around a path forward since one already exists in federal rules.

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