Sovereignty in Action

Native Hawaiian advocates gather

Monday, October 18, 2010 By Megan Stephenson

The Obama administration and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) joined around 600 Native Hawaiian advocates at the largest annual gathering of Native Hawaiian organizations – the Native Hawaiian Convention.

This year’s topic was sovereignty in action, according to participant and Kalama`ula Mauka Homestead secretary Candice Davis-Bicoy. After attending the last Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homesteads assembly, where she learned more about the Akaka bill, she said she attended the convention to learn more about politics.

Davis said she attended the debate between Democratic candidate Neil Abercrombie and Republican Duke Aiona, to learn “which governor is going to address Native Hawaiian issues, and homesteaders’ issues.”

“I’m still an opio [youth], most issues were discussed on a higher level with kupuna,” she said. “As an opio I appreciated being at that conference, to take in all that knowledge – what is pono, what is the right way to go.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka was a keynote speaker at this year’s Native Hawaiian convention. Photo provided by the office of Sen. Akaka.

Sen. Daniel Akaka was a keynote speaker at this year’s Native Hawaiian convention. Photo provided by the office of Sen. Akaka.The convention, in its 9th year and hosted by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, discussed education, business and economic development and healthcare – skew Native Hawaiian-style – but the major talking point was the Akaka bill.

Fed Support
Named after its author, the proposed law looks to reenact a Native Hawaiian government, on par with Native American tribes who have sovereign status with the federal government.

Akaka said he is “optimistic” the bill will be passed when his colleagues return to work after the election. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act passed in the House of Representatives in February, and is currently waiting to be brought to the floor of the Senate for discussion and vote.

“The Senate has a long list of legislative items to address when we return in November and again in December, but I have made it clear that this bill is a priority for Hawaii,” Akaka said via email after he spoke at the convention. “I am working with Senator Inouye and Senate leadership to secure floor time for debate this year.”

The Obama administration sent newly appointed official Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. She said the initiative will be holding roundtable discussions across the county regarding Asian American and native issues.

“There’s a great interest in preserving [Hawaiian] language and culture,” Ahuja said of what she learned from the convention. “There’s a number of charter schools to perpetrate that. We make sure the Department of Education knows about that, to make sure that doesn’t get lost.”

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing community in the U.S. – expected to make up 10 percent of the population by 2040, according to Ahuja. The initiative’s responsibility is to take the mana`o of groups like this, and work directly with 30 federal agencies to make sure their voices are heard.