Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) delivered a speech on the Senate floor today highlighting his continued commitment to seeing the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act enacted into law (since it did not pass this year).
I rise today to reaffirm my strong commitment to have the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act enacted into law. This bill is of great importance to all of the people of Hawaii. The bill would simply put the State of Hawaii on equal footing with the rest of the country in the treatment of its indigenous people. It provides a process for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. However, since I first introduced this common sense bill ten years ago, it has been the subject of misleading attacks and procedural hurdles, and has never had the opportunity for an up-or-down vote here on the Senate floor.
Earlier this month, a handful of my colleagues who oppose this measure put out a press release, fueling speculation that I was seeking to attach this bill to must-pass, end-of-session legislation. One of these colleagues said that this measure – and I quote, “should be brought up separately and debated openly on the Senate floor with the opportunity for amendment.”
I could not agree more.
A structured debate followed by an up-or-down vote on this legislation is long overdue. The people of Hawaii have waited for far too long.
This Congress, the bill was favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and it was passed by the House of Representatives. Despite this, it was not given an opportunity to be debated and voted on, here on the Senate floor.
I am deeply disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to consider this bill during the 111th Congress. This historic Congress saw a great many accomplishments on behalf of the American people, but tragically, it also saw unprecedented obstruction.
I remain committed to passing this bill. I am hopeful that, when we convene next year in the new Congress, I can count on every one of my colleagues to be supportive of my efforts to bring this bill to the Senate floor.
The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is a Hawaii-specific measure. In the long traditions of the U.S. Senate, it was considered a courtesy to stand with your colleagues on matters specifically addressing the needs of their home state. This civility seems to have vanished from this chamber.
It is frustrating to me that some of my colleagues have worked aggressively to block this bill. For some reason, they have made it a priority to prevent the people of my state from moving forward to resolve issues caused by the illegal overthrow of the Native Hawaiian government in 1893.
This bill has widespread support among elected leaders and the citizens of Hawaii. Both chambers of the Hawaii State Legislature have voiced their support of the measure, and our new Governor, Neil Abercrombie, was the chief sponsor of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation is also supported by community and civic organizations, including the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency.
The bill also has broad support outside of Hawaii. Indigenous leaders and community organizations across the United States support the bill, such as the Alaska Federation of Natives and the National Congress of American Indians.
The American Bar Association sent a letter this year to members of the Senate reaffirming its support and outlining the sound Constitutional basis for the legislation. The ABA wrote, quote, “The right of Native Hawaiians to use of the property held in trust for them and the right to govern those assets are not in conflict with the Equal Protection Clause since they rest on independent constitutional authority regarding the rights of native nations contained in Articles I and II of the Constitution.” Mr. President, I wish to submit this letter for the Record.
This bill also has the support of the Obama Administration. When the measure passed the House in February of this year, the White House Press Secretary issued a statement noting that President Obama – quote – “looks forward to signing the bill into law and establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.” And earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar wrote to the Senate Leaders to reiterate the Administration’s support for the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, and to make note of the urgent need for this bill. The letter reads, quote, “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.” Mr. President, I would like to submit a copy of this letter for the Record.
Opponents have spread misinformation about the bill. Let me set the record straight. This bill does NOT allow Hawaii to secede from the United States. It does NOT allow private lands to be taken. It does NOT authorize gaming in Hawaii.
Opponents of the bill also distort the history of the Native Hawaiian people. I welcome the chance to speak with any of my colleagues about the history of my great state and of its indigenous people. I want to help you understand why this bill is necessary for Hawaii to move forward, and how it is consistent with the United States’ existing policies of federal recognition for Alaska Natives and American Indians.
Opponents also point to a vocal minority in Hawaii who oppose this bill. The reality is that this legislation is strongly supported by the people of Hawaii. A poll conducted by the Honolulu Advertiser in May of this year found that 66 percent of people in Hawaii support federal recognition for Native Hawaiians. Of the poll participants, 82 percent identifying themselves as Native Hawaiians said they support federal recognition. Mr. President, I would like to submit this article for the Record.
This year marked the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the unification of the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom, under King Kamehameha. This year also marked 51 years of statehood and more than 100 years since Hawaii became a United States territory. And yet the people of Hawaii have still not been given the chance to participate in a government-to-government relationship similar to those already extended to this nation’s other indigenous people.
I have worked tirelessly to educate my colleagues on the importance of this bill. I hope that you will continue to welcome my efforts to speak with you. I extend my heartfelt aloha and mahalo, thank you, to the many, many supporters who have worked to advocate for this legislation. Your support makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. I thank my colleague, Chairman Dorgan, who has been a great friend of mine and to the people of Hawaii. His leadership on this issue will be missed.
My work to enact this bill is not over. I look forward to having the opportunity to debate this bill on its merits. I will not give up until the Native Hawaiian people have the same rights to self-governance already afforded to the rest of the nation’s indigenous people.
Mr. President, mahalo – thank you – to all of my colleagues for listening to this matter of great importance to me and my state. I yield back the remainder of my time.