Bringing Mainland Tribal Troubles to Hawaii

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BY KENNETH R. CONKLIN, PH.D. — The sovereignty possessed by Indian tribes is a source of frequent nasty disputes and lawsuits between tribal governments and state or local governments. In addition, tribal membership strips people of basic civil rights they would normally expect to have as Americans.

Below are headlines and links to 13 news reports illustrating such disputes, published in various states during the last three months of 2011. A new webpage provides excerpts from those reports that have clear relevance to Hawaii; see


A webpage compiled in 2000 has links to hundreds of these controversies; some links might now be dead after 12 years, but the widespread nature of the troubles is clearly exhibited.

Federal recognition of “Native Hawaiians” could come if Congress passes any version of the Akaka bill pending in Congress from 2000 to now; or in the form of the recent stealth maneuver (one sentence in a huge appropriations bill) to add “Native Hawaiians” to the list of federally recognized tribes. The Hawaii legislature has repeatedly passed resolutions supporting the Akaka bill, and only a single one of the 76 legislators has ever voted no (Senator Sam Slom). Meantime the legislature has passed Act 195 to begin creating a membership roll for a state-recognized tribe.

Hawaii legislators, and the people who vote for them, need to consider the horrendous troubles tribal recognition will bring to Hawaii (whether from the federal Akaka bill or implementation of the state Act 195).

Hawaii issue: Promises or contracts made by the Hawaiian tribe cannot be enforced on account of tribal sovereignty.

Article title: “There can be no ‘agreement’ with the tribe”
Santa Ynez Valley News, Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hawaii issue: Counties cannot assess taxes on tribal property nor use foreclosure to collect taxes.

Article title: “Madison County, Oneida Indian Nation claim foreclosure case victory”
Oneida Dispatch, Madison County NY, October 21, 2011

Hawaii issue: Counties cannot assess or collect taxes on gasoline purchased or used on Hawaiian tribe lands which is used or purchased on non-tribal lands.

Article title: “Seminoles Ask Supreme Court to Hear Gas Tax Dispute”
WCTV2 (Florida), October 22, 2011

Hawaii issue: A Hawaiian tribe could purchase land and have the Bureau of Indian Affairs put it into federal land trust, thereby removing all tribal businesses on that land from local taxation; and neither the state nor counties can stop the BIA from doing so.

(1) Article title: “Tribe seeks to shelter land holdings — If OK’d, Agua Caliente wouldn’t have to pay tax on future businesses there”
The Desert Sun (California), December 1, 2011
(2) Article title: “Tribal annexation would take huge financial toll”
Santa Ynez Valley News, Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hawaii issue: If a member of the Hawaiian tribe is raped or beaten up by a spouse or friend in a house on tribal land, should a tribal court have jurisdiction to put the spouse or friend on trial and send him to jail even though that spouse or friend has no Hawaiian native blood or is not a tribal member?

Article title: “Tribal courts lack power over non-Indian abusers” [but should have such power]
The Rapid City Journal [South Dakota], November 11, 2011

Hawaii issue: A Hawaiian tribe, either through neglect or intentional policy, could allow its lands to become a sanctuary for criminal activity which state and county governments would be powerless to stop.

Article title: “Deep divisions seen in Unkechaug tribe” [Suffolk County, NY]
Newsday, December 11, 2011

Hawaii issue: Should the Hawaiian tribe be given a large tract of undeveloped land because the tribe claims to be the rightful owner and/or because it promises to be a good steward of the land?

Article title: “A Land Claim With Strings Attached — Indian Group Vies for Control of California Wilderness by Agreeing to Restrictions”
Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2011

Hawaii issue: A state-recognized tribe might spend many years unsuccessfully seeking federal recognition, and is likely to break promises and engage in corrupt practices while seeking federal recognition or a casino.

Article title: “Lumbees to choose new leader in Tuesday’s tribal election”
The Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC, Mon Nov 14, 2011

Hawaii issue: State recognition of a Hawaiian tribe could lead to federal recognition with unexpected consequences including casinos.

Article title: “Bill to recognize Indian tribes in New Jersey stalls amid fears of tribal casinos”

Hawaii issue: A Hawaiian tribe might have priority over non-tribal businesses when a casino is to be created; and such a priority if enacted by a state legislature might be unconstitutional.

Article title: “Developer cries foul on Native American casino carve-out”
The Boston Herald, November 17, 2011

Hawaii issue: Once the Hawaiian tribe has published its roll of members and has been recognized, the tribal council can enroll or disenroll people for no good reason; and sovereignty ensures no state or federal court can interfere.

Article title: “Ousted tribal members want Congress to help
North County Times (San Diego and Riverside Counties, California)

Hawaii issue: Members of the Hawaiian tribe have no right to freedom of speech.

Article title: “Resigning from reservation job”
The Bismarck Tribune [North Dakota], Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hawaii issue: The tribal council might kick out of the tribe dissident members who support a different slate of candidates for the next tribal election, thus “fixing” the election; and the dissidents have no way to appeal their disenrollment except in a tribal court controlled by the existing council.

Article title: Panel weighs sides in Little Shell Tribe leadership dispute
Great Falls Tribune [Montana], December 11, 2011