Senate OKs U.S. office for native Hawaiians
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
The U.S. Senate today passed legislation to create a federal office to deal with the "special legal relationship between Native Hawaiians and the U.S.," accomplishing the least controversial goal of the stalled bill that would grant Hawaiians political status.
The measure, H.R. 2673, is an appropriations act that includes $100,000 to finance the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The appropriation, like the so-called Akaka Bill for federal recognition, was proposed by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, who was not available for comment. His spokesman, Paul Cardus, said the senator believes President Bush will sign the measure.
The creation of the new office is part of a drive toward giving Native Hawaiians a measure of sovereignty, a campaign that began more than a decade ago with the 1993 Apology Resolution acknowledging the United States’ 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Jon Van Dyke, a University of Hawai'i law professor who has worked as a legal consultant to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, called the passage of the measure "a significant step."
"Congress has repeatedly passed legislation recognizing the special relationship Hawaiians have with the U.S. government," Van Dyke said. "We’ve felt, how can there be any ambiguity here? But it seems that the view of some judges, at least at the U.S. Supreme Court level, is that there should be more. Well, this is more, and I hope there will continue to be more."
The idea behind creation of the office predates the push for the Akaka Bill in its various forms, Cardus said, adding that "this has always been part of the reconciliation process."
But the initial reaction from the Hawaiian community here is that even this small measure may move the bill along.
"It’s a piece of the Akaka legislation, and it’s a step forward," said Martha Ross, who heads the Office of Hawaiian Affairs bureau in Washington, D.C.
"It moves us closer to expressing that relationship between the U.S. and Hawaiians ... yet you still need that recognition. We still have to continue to work for recognition."
Haunani Apoliona, who chairs the OHA board of trustees, also said the new office would enable Hawaiians "to have a stronger voice at the federal level."
But she also cited the measure as evidence of progress toward establishing Hawaiians as a recognized political group within the U.S. Constitution that would not be prey to legal challenges on the grounds of racial equality.
"The language was taken from the Akaka Bill," she said. "This being an element of that bill is a commendable first step."
Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Jan/22/br/br01p.html