Sen. Daniel Inouye

WASHINGTON DC – The U.S. Senate will consider a 1,924 page FY 2011 omnibus bill as early as Wednesday. The bill, on page 809 per Hawaii’s Senior U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, the appropriations chair, includes funding for a NATIVE HAWAIIAN RECOGNITION STUDY AUTHORIZATION.

The appropriation is related to his support for the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act – legislation nicknamed the “Akaka Bill” in honor of Hawaii’s U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, which creates a native Hawaiian sovereign government within the state with its own powers relating to taxation, land ownership, regulation, law enforcement, and more.

The entry reads: The Secretary of the Interior shall, with funds appropriated for fiscal year 2011, and in coordination with the State of Hawaii and those offices designated under the Hawaii State Constitution as representative of the Native Hawaiian community, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home 20 Lands, and the Attorney General of the United States, examine and make recommendations to Congress no later than September 30, 2011, on developing a mechanism for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaian governing entity as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Articles I and II of the Constitution.

Sen. Inouye’s spokesperson Peter Boylan has not yet commented on this proposed appropriation.

However, in an earlier correspondence, pointed out the support that the Hawaii Senators have for the Akaka Bill from the United States Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who sent letters to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell this week urging the bill’s passage.

The letter notes that “Of the Nation’s three major indigenous groups, Native Hawaiians – unlike American Indians and Alaska Natives – are the only one that currently lacks a government-to-government relationship with the United States.  The bill provides Native Hawaiians a means by which to exercise the inherent rights to local self-government, self-determination, and economic self-sufficiency that other Native Americans enjoy. … Once the Native Hawaiian government is created and its leaders elected, the United States would officially recognize the new governing entity and work with it on a government-to-government basis, just as the United States works with federally recognized Indian tribes in other States.”

Their letters followed two letters from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on December 7, which reiterated its opposition to the Akaka Bill. The Commission delivered two letters to the U.S. Senate Democratic leadership in response to reports that Hawaii’s Senior Senator, Daniel Inouye, is working quickly behind closed doors to attach the controversial legislation to an appropriations or budget measure, rather than letting it pass or fail on its own merit.

The Commission’s letter sent Tuesday follows a similar statement made December 3 by four Republican U.S. Senators including Senators Jon Kyl, (R-Ariz.,) Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn, (R-Texas) and Tom Coburn, (R-Okla.).

Kyl said then: “Legislation as highly complex and divisive as the native Hawaiian bill requires vigorous discussion, debate, and amendments,” Kyl said. “An attempt to include it in unrelated legislation to keep the government operating is a breach of process and is an example of what the American people are tired of – back room deals that are inserted in secret packages written behind closed doors.”

Opponents of the Akaka Bill and government transparency advocates are concerned that the study provides no vehicle for public involvement, testimony or legal analysis, and instead aappears to simply be a working group — conducted in private, with no particular beginning or end.

One Congressional source told Hawaii Reporter: “If Inouye wants it to be a meaningful study, then it needs to be structured in a way that truly grapples with the legal, policy, and cultural questions in an organized fashion.  Perhaps he does not really want that and instead is just tossing this study into the bill as an admission of defeat.  If he wants it to work, then this isn’t the best way of doing it.”

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