Akaka Bill: The Big Gamble

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By Malia Blom Hill

It’s alright everyone.  The currently pending version of the Akaka Bill promises that the new Hawaiian Government will not have the power to introduce casino gaming to the islands.  Granted, that’s a rare moment of specificity in a piece of legislation that is curiously vague on the other powers that the Hawaiian government would have.  Will Native Hawaiians be tried for criminal acts under a separate court system?  Don’t know.  Will they be subject to the same federal and state taxes?  Who can say?  But at least there will be no casino gambling.

Because if you can’t trust a vague and constitutionally troublesome piece of Congressional legislation, what can you trust?

To some extent, the only thing anyone can know for certain about the state of Hawaii after the passage of the Akaka Bill is that it’s going to be a golden era for lawyers.  There’s the question of whether Congress even has the power to create the Native Hawaiian government.  There’s the question of what will happen to the ceded lands.  There’s the mystery of how they’ll determine who gets to be part of the new Hawaiian “tribe.”  (And if you don’t think there are a bunch of lawsuits waiting to happen there, than I have a nice piece of ceded land that I’d like to sell you.)  And then there’s the gaming issue.


If you think that the prohibition in the Akaka Bill forbidding the introduction of gaming makes this a moot point, then I have some bad news for you.  There’s no such thing as a moot point when hundreds of millions of dollars (possibly exempt from federal income taxes) are at stake.  Or are we all so impressed by the generosity and impeachable ethics of the OHA trustees that this is unimaginable?  (What does OHA have to do with anything?  Well, guess who’s currently registering Hawaiians to be part of the new government reorganization?)

Money is a powerful lure.  In some tribes on the mainland, there have even been efforts on the part of tribal governments to cut down the tribal rolls—all the better to minimize the number of people earning a share of the casino earnings.  Even without the gaming questions, this is something for Native Hawaiians to be wary of post-Akaka.  But the legal uncertainties surrounding the creation of the Native Hawaiian government provide loopholes for the enterprising casino operator: 1.) One could take the government to court, arguing that it doesn’t have the power to place the “no casinos” limitation on the sovereign Native Hawaiian government, that it conflicts with existing US law granting that right to federally recognized tribes, and that the casino ban should be reversed; 2.) One could lobby Congress to amend the law to remove the prohibition on gaming, bypassing any state opposition to gambling, and leaving the fate of gaming in Hawaii up to who has better resources for influencing a vote in Washington, DC; or 3.) One could go ahead and file suit against the federal government, claiming the right to operate casinos on Hawaiian land, file for an injunction against that portion of the law, and then run your casinos through the years it will take to move the case through courts, raking in money all the while.

In reality, casinos or not, the Akaka Bill is a huge gamble for all of us, Native Hawaiians and all. Locals who aren’t part of the Native Hawaiian government will learn that the islands will no longer be a whole community, subject to the same laws and influences.  The State of Hawaii will have new internal borders.  Its courts, taxes, county codes, and so on, will not necessarily apply to your neighbor.  And the Native Hawaiians, believe it or not, will be taking an even bigger gamble in turning over a larger part of their rights, future, and birthright to a new government.  For those who think this is an unmitigated good, a long, honest look at the fate of other native tribes might be in order.  It’s not always a happy story.  Except for the tales about the wealth brought in by casino gambling.  Which brings us right back to where we started.

Malia Blom Hill is a Research Fellow of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, where one of her major projects is centered on www.4hawaiiansonly.com  Please visit and consider helping by adding your research, commentary, or support. Malia may be contacted by email at 4hawaiiansonly@gmail.com