The House easily passed a bill to extend self-determination to Native Hawaiians on Wednesday but the vote tally may not be enough to overcome a potential White House veto.
After three hours of debate and a slew of procedural moves, H.R.505, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, passed by a 261-153 vote. Every Democrat -- except one -- who was present backed the measure while most Republicans voted against it.
The move was cheered by the Office of Native Hawaiians, a state agency that has been lobbying heavily for the bill. The vote "is an important step toward the goal of achieving our inherent right to self-determination, and a better Hawaii," said Haunani Apoliona, who chairs OHA's board of trustees.
The National Congress of American Indians also hailed passage of the bill. "This is a matter of fundamental fairness. Like American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians deserve the right to determine their own future," said NCAI President Joe Garcia.
Despite the strong showing in the House, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where it was approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee but has not been placed on the legislative calendar for a vote. Last year, Republicans successfully blocked it from advancing.
But even if the measure were to pass both chambers of Congress, President Bush is expected to veto it. On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement of administration policy that said Native Hawaiian recognition would be divisive and unconstitutional.
Overcoming a veto requires a two-thirds vote. Going by yesterday's roll call, supporters in the House are about 30 votes short. Last year's failure in the Senate also indicates a lack of votes.
House sponsors would then need to persuade more Republicans to back the bill. Yesterday, only 39 Republicans voted in its favor while 152 were opposed.
"Despite what some believe or say, this is not about race," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Chickasaw Nation and one of the handful of Republican supporters. "this is about the sovereignty of an indigenous people. The Native Hawaiian governing body, having the same
characteristics as Native American governments, deserves federal recognition."
The other Republicans who voted for the bill yesterday mainly come from states with tribes or are part of the Congressional Native American Caucus, a bipartisan group. One notable absentee, though, was Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who supports Native Hawaiian recognition
but wasn't present for the vote because he was on his way to the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Fairbanks, where he is speaking on Friday.
On the Democratic side, only Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) voted no. Waters recently has criticized the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma for removing the descendants of African slaves from the rolls and has used her position on the House Financial Services Committee to pass bills to strip funding from the tribe.
Congress has long treated Native Hawaiians as a separate entity by passing legislation as far back as the 1920s. There are special housing, education and other programs that specifically apply to Hawaii's first inhabitants.
But a slew of court cases have questioned the ability for the state of Hawaii to treat Native Hawaiians as a distinct class. It started with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2000 that struck down an election that was limited to Native Hawaiians and has continued with challenges to funding, school admissions, land and housing.
So far Native interests have prevailed on funding and school admissions but other challenges remain. Supporters say H.R.505 would clear up the issue by treating Native Hawaiians in a manner similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives and by creating a process that would result in a Native Hawaiian self-governing entity.
The bill, however, places a number of limits on Native Hawaiians. The governing entity would not be allowed to engage in gaming, follow the land-into-trust process or apply for Indian programs that Native Hawaiians aren't currently entitled to.
Roll Call:On Passage:
Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act
| On Motion to
Recommit with Instructions
| On Agreeing to
| On Ordering the
Statement of Administration Policy:H.R.
505 – Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007
Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act:H.R.505
Office of Hawaiian Affairs - http://www.oha.org
Hawaiian Recognition - http://www.nativehawaiians.com
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