Hawaiian affairs still controversial
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SEPTEMBER 13, 2000

Testimony on a bill that would establish a legal relationship between the federal government and Native Hawaiians is expected today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The debate over the bill so far has been controversial. While many Native Hawaiians have pushed for federal recognition by the government, some say the bill, sponsored by Senator Dan Akaka (D-Hawaii), takes away from Hawaiians what they should decide for themselves.

But a bigger battle has been brewing back home in the islands. In addition to field hearings the government conducted last month on Akaka's bill, which were filled with debates of their own, the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has seen a shake-up within the past two weeks.

OHA administers programs and benefits for Native Hawaiians. The day Kevin Gover, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, apologized for the agency's history of mistreatment of Native Americans, all nine OHA trustees resigned from their positions.

They stepped down to show solidarity and support for Native Hawaiians, in a time when the state is in a crisis over the future of the office. A Supreme Court ruling in February deemed the election which put them into office illegal, because it restricted voting to indigenous Hawaiians.

Later that day, US District Judge Helen Gillmor In Hawaii, expanded on that ruling. Since non-Hawaiians can vote for OHA offices, she said that non-Hawaiians can also run for them.

At least one non-Native candidate has filed to run for the position. Kenneth Conklin vehemently opposes the Akaka bill as well as what he calls race-based preferences for Native Hawaiians.

But while the elections won't be held until November, one non-Native will have already held a trustee position by then. Governor Ben Cayetano named five interim trustees on Monday and is expected to name the rest, including a non-Native by the end of this week.

So far, some Native Hawaiians aren't happy with Cayetano's appointments. In addition to calling for them to step down, they say land disputes are now in danger of being settled in favor of the state.

Get the Bill:
A bill to express the policy of the United States regarding the United States' relationship with Native Hawaiians, and for other purposes (S.2899)

Relevant Links:
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
US District Court, District of Hawaii -
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs -
Kenneth Conklin -
Aloha for All -
More on Rice v. Cayetano -

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