BY CARSON HENSARLING – Yet again, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (the Akaka Bill) is on ropes. In March, Governor Lingle spoke out in opposition of the Akaka bill in response to amendments to the bill that would have exempted the proposed Native Hawaiian governing entity from Hawaii state laws.
However, earlier this month Lingle wrote to all U.S. Senators imploring them to support the bill and bring it to a vote. In her letter, Governor Lingle explains her renewed support of the bill and attributes the change in opinion to certain ‘agreed upon changes’ to the bill made by her and Senators Inouye and Akaka.
Lingle stresses the importance of the passage of the bill in her letter stating that it will “Put Hawaii on an equal footing with its forty-nine sister states, and will recognize Native Hawaiians just as America recognizes it other indigenous groups.”
I disagree with Lingle’s statement and the support of the Akaka Bill for a number of reasons, mainly because it does not, adequately protect the interest of the Native Hawaiian people. First off, in response to Lingle’s statement, establishing a separate pseudo-sovereign governing body does not put us on the same level as other states.
Other states have state governments and we also have a state government, thus, if we create a new governing body it would actually put us on a different footing than our ‘forty-nine sister states’ who do not have their own separate sovereign governments.
If you are a supporter of Hawaiian sovereignty, I cannot see why you would support the Akaka bill at all. If signed, the bill would stop the movement without achieving the end goal of a sovereign nation-state, rather than sparking a wave of change.
The supposed sovereign governing body would still be subject to state laws and in my understanding of it would act along side a state government. It is obvious that this is not the ‘sovereignty’ that any Hawaiian sovereignty group has been fighting for. Also, if this bill were to pass, I am almost positive that the no new bill would ever be introduced to increase the sovereignty of that governing body.
Now, from the perspective of a non-sovereignty supporting Hawaiian, I am deeply unsettled by the idea of being given the same classification, accommodation, and ‘deal’ as Native Americans. According to Professor Gary Sandefur of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in American Indian Reservations with Populations of 2,000 or more, the poverty rate is at an average of 40%, with the average high school drop out rate coming in at 34%.
This poverty rate is evidenced not only by low income levels, but also in “large proportions of out of-wedlock and teen births … and illegal activities found. Hawaii’s poverty rate in 2007 was 5.4% . Also, the national high school drop out rate stands at 16% Obviously, there are multiple factors that may have led to these numbers, however Sandefur points out that one large factor is most likely the economic isolation that comes with the reservation ‘settlement’.
Thus, Hawaiians are faced with a question; is the ‘indigenous classification’ currently held by Native Americans really what is best for the Hawaiian people? My answer to the ‘Akaka question’? No.
CARSON HENSARLING IS AN INTERN WITH THE GRASSROOT INSTITUTE OF HAWAII