The Akaka Bill is Reintroduced on Capitol Hill

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”’This is the speech given by the introduction of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007 on January 17, 2007”’

Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, I rise today with the senior Senator from Hawaii to introduce the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007. This bill which is of great importance to the people of Hawaii, establishes a process to extend the federal policy of self-governance and self-determination to Hawaii’s indigenous people. The bill provides parity in federal policies that empower our country’s other indigenous peoples, American Indians and Alaska Natives, to participate in a government-to-government relationship with the United States.


Mr. President, January 17, 2007, commemorates the 114th anniversary of Hawaii’s beloved Queen Liliuokalani being deposed. Although this event may seem like a distant memory, it is a poignant event that expedited the decline of a proud and self-governing people. The overthrow facilitated Native Hawaiians being disenfranchised from not only their culture and land, but from their way of life. Native Hawaiians had to endure the forced imprisonment of their Queen and witness the deterioration and near eradication of their culture and tradition in their own homeland, at the hands of foreigners committed exclusively to propagating Western values and conventions.

While Congress has traditionally treated Native Hawaiians in a manner parallel to American Indians and Alaska Natives, the federal policy of self-governance and self-determination has not been formally extended to Native Hawaiians. The bill itself does not extend federal recognition – it authorizes the process for federal recognition.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007 does three things: (1) It authorizes an office in the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States; (2) It forms an interagency coordinating group composed of officials from federal agencies who currently administer programs and services impacting Native Hawaiians; and (3) It authorizes a process for the reorganization of the Native Hawaiian governing entity for the purposes of a federally recognized government-to-government relationship.

Once the Native Hawaiian governing entity is recognized, the bill establishes an inclusive, democratic negotiations process representing both Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians. Negotiations between the Native Hawaiian entity and the federal and state governments may address issues such as the transfer of lands, assets, and natural resources and jurisdiction over such lands, assets, and natural resources, as well as other longstanding issues resulting from the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Any transfers of governmental authority or power will require implementing legislation at the state and federal levels.

The Hawaii Congressional Delegation has devoted much time and careful consideration into crafting this legislation. When I first started this process in 1999, our Congressional Delegation created five working groups to assist with the drafting of this legislation. The working groups were composed of individuals from the Native Hawaiian community, the State of Hawaii, the federal government, Indian Country, Members of Congress, and experts in constitutional law. Collectively, more than 100 people worked together on the initial draft of this legislation. The meetings held with the Native Hawaiian community were open to the public and a number of individuals who had differing views attended the meetings and provided their alternative views on the legislation.

In August 2000, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the House Committee on Resources held joint field hearings on the legislation in Hawaii for five days. While the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the 106th Congress, the Senate failed to take action. The bill was subsequently considered by the 107th, 108th, and 109th Congresses. In each Congress, the bill has been favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and its companion measure has been favorably reported by the House Committee on Resources in the 106th through the 108th Congress.

Mr. President, most recently in the 109th Congress clarifications were made to the bill. I want to inform my colleagues to the fact that this bill is identical to legislative language negotiated between Senator Inouye and myself, and officials from the Department of Justice, Office of Management and Budget, and the White House. The language satisfactorily addresses concerns expressed in July 2005 by the Bush Administration regarding the liability of the United States in land claims, the impact of the bill on military readiness, gaming, and civil and criminal jurisdiction in Hawaii.


With respect to liability of the United States as it relates to land claims, as the author of the Apology Resolution (P.L. 103-150) as well as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, I have always maintained that this legislation is not intended to serve as a settlement of any claims nor as a cause of action for any claims. The negotiated language makes clear that any grievances regarding historical wrongs committed against Native Hawaiians by the United States or by the State of Hawaii are to be addressed in the negotiations process between the Native Hawaiian governing entity and federal and state governments.


As a senior member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, as well as the incoming Chairman on the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, military readiness for our Armed Forces is of great importance to me. Due to concerns raised by the Department of Defense (DoD) to the consultation requirements expected to be facilitated by the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations in the Department of the Interior and the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group; negotiated language exempts the Department from these consultation requirements. However, these exemptions do not alter nor terminate requirements of the DoD to consult with Native Hawaiians under the Native Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and other existing statutes.


Mr. President, the bill does not authorize gaming by the Native Hawaiian governing entity. Negotiated language clarifies that gaming may not be conducted by Native Hawaiians or the Native Hawaiian governing entity as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under the authority of any federal laws or regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior or the National Indian Gaming Commission. The bill also makes clear that the prohibition applies to any efforts to establish gaming by Native Hawaiians and the Native Hawaiian governing entity in Hawaii and in any other State or Territory. This language only applies to efforts to establish gaming operations as a matter of inherent authority as indigenous peoples or under federal laws pertaining to gaming by native peoples.


The bill makes clear that civil and criminal jurisdiction currently held by the federal and state governments will remain with the federal and state governments unless otherwise negotiated and implementing legislation is enacted.

I have described the clarifications that have been made so my colleagues know that our negotiations with the Administration have been successful. This language has been publicly available since September 2005 and has been widely distributed. Although such clarifications have been made, I am proud to report that the bill remains true to its intent and purpose — to clarify the existing legal and political relationship between Hawaii’s indigenous people, Native Hawaiians and the United States.

Along with our efforts to work with the Bush Administration; during the past 4 years, we have worked closely with Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years, Governor Linda Lingle to enact this legislation. We have also worked closely with the Hawaii State legislature which has passed three resolutions unanimously in support of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians. I am pleased to announce today that I am again joined by members from both sides of the aisle to introduce this important measure. I mention this, to underscore the fact that this is bipartisan legislation.

In addition to its widespread support by both Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians in Hawaii, in resolutions adopted by the oldest and largest national Indian organization, the National Congress of American Indians, and the largest organization representing the Native people of Alaska, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the members of both groups have consistently expressed their strong support for enactment of a bill to provide for recognition by the United States of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. Organizations such as the American Bar Association, Japanese American Citizen League, and the National Indian Education Association have also passed resolutions in support of federal recognition for Hawaii’s indigenous peoples.

Today I provide my colleagues with a framework to understand the need for this legislation by briefly reviewing (1) Hawaii’s past, ancient Hawaiian society prior to Western contact, (2) Hawaii’s present, the far reaching consequences of the overthrow, and (3) Hawaii’s future.


Hawaii was originally settled by Polynesian voyagers arriving as early as 300 A.D, 12-hundred years before Europe’s great explorers Magellan and Columbus. The Hawaiians braved immense distances guided by their extensive knowledge of navigation and understanding of the marine environment. Isolation followed the era of long voyages, enabling Native Hawaiians to develop distinct political, economic, and social structures which were mutually supportive. As stewards of the land and sea, Native Hawaiians were intimately linked to the environment and they developed innovative methods of agriculture, aquaculture, navigation and irrigation.


With an influx of foreigners into Hawaii, Native Hawaiian populations plummeted due to death from common Western diseases. Those that survived witnessed foreign interest and involvement in their government grow until Queen Liliuokalani was forced by American citizens to abdicate her right to the throne. This devastated the Native Hawaiian people, forever tainting the waters of their identity and tattering the very fabric of their society. For some this injustice, this wound has never healed, manifesting itself in a sense of inferiority and hopelessness leaving many Native Hawaiians at the lowest levels of achievement by all social and economic measures.

Mr. President, 14 years ago the United States enacted the Apology Resolution (P.L.103-150), which acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in which the United States offered an apology to Native Hawaiians and declared its policy to support reconciliation efforts. This is a landmark declaration for it recognizes not only are Native Hawaiians the indigenous people of Hawaii, but of the urgent need for the U.S. to actively engage in reconciliation efforts. This acknowledgement played a crucial role in initiating a healing process and although progress has been made, the path ahead is UNCERTAIN.


Frustration has led to anger and festered in the hearts of Hawaii’s younger generations, with each child that is taught about this period of Hawaiian history, a loss is relived. It is a burden that Native Hawaiians since the overthrow continue to carry, to know that they were violated in their own homeland and their governance was ripped away unjustly. Despite the perceived harmony, it is the generation of my grandchildren that is growing impatient and frustrated with the lack of progress being made. Influenced by a deep sadness and growing intolerance, an active minority within this generation seeks independence from the United States.

It is for this generation that I work to enact this bill so that there is the structured process to deal with these emotional issues. It is important that discussions are held and that there is a framework to guide appropriate action. For Hawaii is the homeland of the Native Hawaiian people.

Mr. President, a lack of action by the U.S. will only incite and fuel us down a path to a DIVIDED Hawaii. A Hawaii where lines and boundaries are drawn and unity severed. However, the legislation I introduce today seeks to build upon the foundation of reconciliation. It provides a structured process to bring together the people of Hawaii, along a path of healing to a Hawaii where its indigenous people are respected and culture is embraced.

Respecting the rights of America’s first peoples, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians is NOT UN-American. Through enactment of this legislation, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that our country does not just preach its ideas, but lives according to its founding principles. That the United States will admit when it has trespassed against a people and remain resolute to make amends. We demonstrate our character to ourselves and to the world by respecting the rights of our country’s indigenous people. As it has for America’s other indigenous peoples, I believe the United States must fulfill its responsibility to Native Hawaiians.

I am proud of the fact that this bill respects the rights of Hawaii’s indigenous peoples through a process that is consistent with federal law, and it provides the structured process for the people of Hawaii to address the longstanding issues which have plagued both Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. We have an established record of the United States’ commitment to the reconciliation with Native Hawaiians. This legislation is another step building upon that foundation and honoring that commitment.

I ask my colleagues to join me in enacting this legislation which is of great importance to all the people of Hawaii.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my full written statement and text of this measure be printed in the record.