Native Hawaiians Status at Issue


Thursday, August 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


HONOLULU (AP) — It's a crucial time for 47-year-old Leona Kalima; her home, her job and her culture are on the line.

Kalima and some 200,000 indigenous Hawaiians are those potentially affected by a federal plan released Wednesday recommending that indigenous islanders be given the same sovereign status as most American Indians.

``We're at a very pivotal turn in the road,'' said Kalima, who works for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which oversees programs for indigenous people. She is also on a long waiting list for a $1-a-year lease for a Hawaiian homestead.

Either the U.S. government recognizes Hawaiians as a native people ``or we'll all be in one pot with everybody else and lose our cultural identity,'' Kalima said.

The federal plan, similar to legislation proposed by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, aims to give Native Hawaiians greater control over their lands and cultural resources and to protect more than 180 U.S. government-funded programs — including housing and health care — primarily benefiting them.

The draft report reflects the thoughts offered by the Native Hawaiian community, Akaka said.

``Of equal importance is the federal government's clear reaffirmation of the United States' special responsibility for the welfare of Native Hawaiians as a native people in the United States,'' he said.

The federal government recognizes 556 tribal entities.

Clarification of Hawaiians' political status is needed to preserve state and federal funding of programs that benefit Native Hawaiians, who have some of the highest rates of poverty, illness and lack of access to education in the state, Akaka and others have said.

Many Hawaiian leaders say the programs were threatened by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in February that some believe cast doubt on the notion that Native Hawaiians are entitled to special privileges because of their ethnicity. In that ruling, the nation's highest court threw out a Hawaii law barring non-Hawaiians from voting for OHA trustees.

``For justice to be served, the federal government should honor the unique relationship that exists with Native Hawaiians and respond to their desire for more local control,'' said Jacqueline Agtuca, acting director of the Justice Department's Office of Tribal Justice.

Wednesday's report is a product of hearings held throughout the state in December by Interior and Justice department officials. Those talks were called for in a 1993 congressional resolution, signed by President Clinton, apologizing for America's role in the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili`uokalani. Five years after the overthrow, the United States annexed Hawaii.

The 100th anniversaries of those events added momentum to the fragmented Hawaiian sovereignty movement, whose goals range from restoring the monarchy and declaring independence from the United States to creating a state-within-a-state government for Hawaii's indigenous residents.

``The fact that this represents the position of the United States of America is significant beyond words,'' OHA board Chairman Clayton Hee said. ``We're really on the cutting edge of a new form of gaining federal recognition for native peoples.''

But not every Hawaii resident is supportive of the plan. H. William Burgess said Hawaiians never have been a distinct tribe and the Hawaiian kingdom treated all its citizens equally.

``It was a multiethnic nation in which non-Hawaiians had all the same rights and privileges and immunities as anyone with Hawaiian ancestry,'' Burgess said.

The Interior and Justice departments will receive public comment on the report in the next 30 days before it becomes final.

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On the Net:

Draft report: www.doi.gov/nativehawaiians

Office of Hawaiian Affairs: www.oha.org