US recommends Hawaiian sovereignty
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AUGUST 24, 2000

Native Hawaiian sovereignty is one step closer to reality as the Departments of Justice and Interior are recommending Congress confirm a government-to-government relationship with the island's indigenous population.

The Departments released a draft report yesterday calling on the government to take the next step in reconciliation and deal with Native Hawaiians as a distinct legal and political entity. The move would put Native Hawaiians in a similar status as Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages and corporations.

"[T]he Departments believe the Federal Government should take action to address the needs and legitimate interests of Native Hawaiians," the report states. "This reconciliation process should ultimately result in congressional confirmation of a political, government-to-government relationship between Native Hawaiians and the Federal Government pursuant to Congress' plenary authority over Indian Affairs."

The report comes at a crucial time for Native Hawaiians and the state of Hawaii. The state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), which administers trust benefits, land, health, and other programs for Native Hawaiians, has come under several legal challenges recently.

The Rice v. Cayetano decision in February of this year struck down a vote which limited participants to Native Hawaiians. Since Native Hawaiians aren't a political entity, the Supreme Court agreed that the vote violated the Fifteenth Amendment, barring restriction of voting by race.

The Supreme Court has upheld preferences for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives due to their status with the government. Hiring preferences within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for example, are legal.

Non-Natives have also temporarily won the right to hold trustee offices in OHA. Previously restricted to Native Hawaiians, at least one non-Native has expressed his intent to run for a position.

Senator Dan Akaka of Hawaii has introduced a bill to address Hawaiian sovereignty. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will begin holding hearings next week in Hawaii to discuss the legislation.

The bill would recognize the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination. It would also create an Office of Special Trustee for Native Hawaiian Affairs, an office similar to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Get the Report:
Report on the Reconciliation Process Between the Federal Government and Native Hawaiians (PDF 209k) (Dep. of Interior, Dep. of Justice. August 2000)

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:
Native Hawaiians, Department of Interior -
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -
The Hawaiian Apology Resolution -
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs -
More on Rice v. Cayetano:
Discussion Forum on Native Hawaiian issues

Related Stories:
Non-Natives win battle in suit (Tribal Law 8/17)
March raises sovereignty awareness (The Talking Circle 8/14)
Group challenges Hawaii (Tribal Law 07/07)
Hawaiians march for sovereignty (The Talking Circle 07/05)
Sovereignty protests aim to educate (The Talking Circle 07/03)