Aloha kākou! It is my pleasure to be here, to be home, with all of you, as you close the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s 9th annual convention. My heartfelt mahalo to President Robin Danner and her staff for their success in organizing this event year after year. And mahalo to all of you who have contributed your time, your mana‘o, and your aloha, into making this convention one that will help our community and our state move forward, for the sake of our people.
This year’s theme: Kukulu Aupuni – Kukulu Ea, Building on Greatness – Sovereignty in Action!, and this convention itself, shows that our people have never given up their right to self-determination. We have continued, in our day-to-day lives, to make decisions that benefit our community and our future. Our keiki are still taught our traditions, and they have opportunities to learn contemporary teachings in their native language. Our community leaders make decisions that affect education, health, and housing issues for our people.
We have not sat idly by. We have fought to preserve our culture, our traditions, and our rights.
Throughout my Congressional career, I have fought for Hawaii. And as the first Native Hawaiian elected to the United States Senate, it has been my privilege to fight for the Native Hawaiian people.
In 1993, I successfully passed Public Law 103-150 – known as the Apology Resolution – which acknowledges the role the United States and their agents played in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The Apology Resolution paved the way for a process of reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people.
Since 1999, I have been working to enact legislation to formally recognize the right of Native Hawaiians to self-governance. My bill, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, passed the House of Representatives in February and is currently pending in the Senate.
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 between the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States. And this is consistent with existing U.S. policy towards its indigenous people. The structured process provided by the bill allows all Hawaii residents to come together to begin to resolve many of the issues that remain from the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
I know some people are concerned that we are running out of time to pass the bill in 2010. Let me set the record straight before all of you today: this bill is alive, and we have been working on it every day. I am optimistic that, with the strong support we have received, we will be able to schedule a vote and pass the bill this year, before Congress adjourns.
I am deeply appreciative of the support I have received from CNHA, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the many, many, many other organizations across our Native Hawaiian community.
This bill also has the support of the State of Hawaii, and the support of elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.
President Obama’s Administration understands the importance of the bill and supports us. I was so pleased to hear that the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders declared its support for the bill during this convention, on Tuesday. Mahalo to Executive Director Kiran Ahuja and the entire initiative for their support.
Many national organizations also support the bill, including the American Bar Association, and native organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians and the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Your support makes a huge difference. Mahalo nui loa for that support.
We need to show my colleagues in Washington that this bill is important to our state. A bill supported by civic organizations, community leaders, our state and local governments – by our people.
Make your voice heard. As the theme of this convention says, “Build on greatness.” Together we can do this. We stand united, telling Congress that it is time to bring federal recognition to the Native Hawaiian people. The people of Hawaii – native and non-native – need to demonstrate unified support. We need our relatives and friends across the nation, as well as our brothers and sisters in Indian Country and Alaska, to stand with us.
The time is now.
We need to pass this legislation because it is important to the preservation of our way of life, and because it will finally bring parity in U.S. policy. We owe it to our mo‘opuna to ensure that the Native Hawaiian people have access to the rights that are already extended to the rest of the Nation’s indigenous people.
As we close this year’s convention, I applaud all of you for your dedication to, and aloha for, our Native Hawaiian community, and these islands that we call home. You have all met, collaborated, and shared mana‘o on the many ways that our community can be strengthened as we holo imua, move forward. As you depart, and return to your own communities and organizations, I ask you to remember what you have accomplished over the last few days, and to take this spirit of unity with you.
We have much left to do, to make things right for our future generations, — and I ask for your continued support and aloha as I return to Washington to con tinue to fight for our great state, and to enact the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. Mahalo, aloha, and imua.
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) offered these remarks at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s 9th annual convention at the Hawaii Convention Center.