Senator Daniel K. Akaka

Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition

While Congress has traditionally treated Native Hawaiians in a manner parallel to American Indians and Alaska Natives, the federal policy of self-governance and self-determination has not yet been formally extended to Native Hawaiians. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act formally extends this federal policy, achieving parity in U.S. treatment of its indigenous peoples – American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.

PURPOSE OF THE BILL

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act outlines a process for the reorganization of the Native Hawaiian governing entity for the purpose of establishing a federally recognized government-to-government relationship with the United States, consistent with U.S. policy towards its indigenous peoples.  This structured process allows for all Hawaii residents to come together to begin to resolve many of the issues that remain from the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

This legislation is needed because in 1893, the Native Hawaiian government led by Queen Liliuokalani was illegally overthrown by agents of the U.S. and U.S. military force.  The overthrow resulted in generations of Native Hawaiians being disenfranchised from their government, culture, land, and way of life.

With the enactment of P.L. 103-150 in 1993, commonly known as the Apology Resolution, the United States formally apologized to the Native Hawaiians for its participation in the overthrow and formally committed itself to a process of reconciliation.  The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act provides the opportunity to take the next step in this process.

There are many checks and balances in the legislation to ensure that all of the people of Hawaii are unified and moving forward.  Once federally recognized, the Native Hawaiian governing entity can enter into discussions with the State of Hawaii and the United States, and any agreements reached by the three parties will require implementing legislation at the state and federal level.  This legislation will honor the needs of the State of Hawaii, preserve its cultural heritage, and address issues that have lingered without resolution since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

CONTENT OF THE BILL

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does three things:

  • It provides a process to reorganize the Native Hawaiian governing entity.
  • It establishes the Office of Hawaiian Relations within the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States.
  • It establishes the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group, which will be led by the Department of the Interior, to be composed of federal officials from agencies that administer Native Hawaiian programs.

The Act provides that, upon federal recognition, the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the United States, the State of Hawaii, and the Native Hawaiian governing entity are authorized to enter into negotiations designed to reach agreements on such matters including but not limited to the transfer of lands, natural resources and other assets, and the exercise of governmental authority over any transferred lands.  Any agreements resulting from the negotiations process will require implementing legislation at the state and federal levels.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act:

  • DOES NOT allow Hawaii to secede from the United States.
  • DOES NOT allow private lands to be taken.
  • DOES NOT authorize gaming in Hawaii.
  • DOES NOT create a reservation in Hawaii.

STATUS OF THE BILL

On May 7, 2009, Senator Akaka introduced the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, S. 1011.  The House companion measure, H.R. 2314, was introduced on the same day.

The House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held hearings on June 11 and August 6, 2009, respectively, to explore the legal aspects of the legislation.  This brought the total number of Congressional hearings to 12, including five joint hearings that were held in Hawaii in 2000.

House Committee on Natural Resources hearing June 11, 2009:

  • Press Release: LINK
  • Committee hearing site (includes written testimony): LINK
  • Webcast of entire hearing: LINK

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs August 6, 2009:

  • Press Release: LINK
  • Committee hearing site (includes written testimony): LINK
  • Video highlights of the hearing: LINK
  • Webcast of entire hearing: LINK

Both committees favorably reported the legislation following several months of public comment and review.

House Committee on Natural Resources approved December 16, 2009:

  • Press release: LINK

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved December 17, 2009:

  • Press release: LINK
  • Comments from Senator Akaka following the meeting: LINK

In an effort to address outstanding issues, the Hawaii Congressional Delegation worked with the State of Hawaii, the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior, the White House, and the Native Hawaiian community to modify the bill.  The modified language was incorporated in H.R. 2314, which passed the House on February 23, 2010, by a vote of 245-164.  H.R. 2314 has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.  This is the version that Senator Akaka will seek to advance in the Senate.

Text of H.R. 2314, as passed by the House and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar: LINK

Senate Committee Report: LINK

You may also use the Library of Congress website to access the full text of bills and accompanying Committee reports, and to track the status of legislation.

Library of Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

SUPPORT FOR NATIVE HAWAIIAN FEDERAL RECOGNITION

President Barack Obama supports the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.  On February 23, 2010, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued the following statement:

“The President recognizes that Native Hawaiians are a vital part of our nation’s cultural fabric, and they will continue to be so in the years to come.  He supports the Substitute Amendment to H.R. 2314, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, as it adds important clarifications to craft a durable pathway forward.

“He applauds Congressman Abercrombie, Congresswoman Hirono, and Senators Akaka and Inouye for their leadership on this issue, and looks forward to signing the bill into law and establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.”

The Hawaii State Legislature adopted resolutions supporting recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity by the United States in 2000, 2001, and 2005.  Leaders in both chambers of the Hawaii State Legislature, including the Senate President and Speaker of the House, have also expressed strong support for federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

The National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest national Indian organization, and the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest organization representing the Native people of Alaska, have adopted resolutions expressing their strong support for enactment of a bill to provide for recognition by the United States of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.  A number of Native Hawaiian organizations also support federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, including the Native Hawaiian Bar Association, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, and the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Frequently Asked Questions: LINK

Contact Senator Akaka: LINK

2010 Press Releases

July 2010 Press Releases from Senator Akaka

July 15 2010