Guest editorial by Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Rowena Akana in Ka Wai Ola

More than 50 years after statehood, the long-awaited reconciliation between the Native Hawaiian people and the United States Federal Government took a major step closer to reality as the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved H.R. 2314 on February 23, 2010.

This was the third time that former-United States Representative Neil Abercrombie has passed such a bill out of the U.S. House of Representatives since he was first elected to Congress on November 6, 1990.

H.R.2314 makes it clear that Native Hawaiians will have the inherent powers and privileges of a native government, including self-determination, with the exception of the right to conduct gaming.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has strongly supported negotiating at the federal level for a resolution on Hawaiian issues which remain after the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

Since the year 2000, United States Senator Daniel K. Akaka has introduced legislation, now popularly known as the “Akaka bill,” to provide a structured process for all Hawai’i residents to come together and begin the process of bringing about meaningful reconciliation and healing within the Native Hawaiian community.

On February 22, 2010, the Hawaii Congressional Delegation released the final text H.R.2314, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2010, which was fine-tuned in consultation between the Hawaii’s congressional delegation and the White House, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, the State of Hawaii and stakeholders in the Native Hawaiian community.

The changes to H.R.2314 clarify the authority and powers of the Native Hawaiian Governing Entity prior to negotiations, while ensuring that the final bill is legally sound and consistent with U.S. policy toward indigenous people and their native governments.

These clarifications represent a genuine effort to address the State of Hawai’i’s concerns while maintaining the original purpose of the bill, which is to establish federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

H.R.2314 provides Native Hawaiians with an opportunity for self determination and cultural preservation, while empowering them to be an equal partner with the state and federal government.

H.R.2314 does not alter the sovereign immunity of the United States or the State of Hawaii nor does it transfer any lands to the Native Hawaiian governing entity.

Hawaii’s entire Congressional Delegation, Senator Daniel Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, former-Congressman Neil Abercrombie, and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, along with Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor James Duke Aiona, have all proclaimed their support for recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity, demonstrating the high priority of this issue for the people of Hawaii and its importance over and beyond any political party affiliations.

Failure to secure the passage of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians would result in continuing legal challenges to Hawaiian programs and the loss of millions of dollars the state currently receives from the federal government for programs that perpetuate the Native Hawaiian culture, language and traditions.

Until the next time.  Aloha pumehana.

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