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U.S. urged to recognize obligations to Hawaiians

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Questions on whether federal support for native Hawaiians violates the U.S. Constitution has led Hawaii’s senators to call for congress to recognize the U.S. obligation to native Hawaiians.

"It seems clear from these discussions that the root of the dilemma d the absence of a clear understanding of the trust relationship between the U.S. government and the native Hawaiian’s," said Sen. Daniel Akaka during a federal committee hearing Tuesday.

At stake may be millions of dollars of aid to programs for Hawaiians in education, health and housing.

Hawaiian groups are worried by the Bush administration’s interpretation of the law on whether efforts benefiting native Hawaiians violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution, Akaka said. Agreeing with Alaska was Sen. Daniel Inouye.

"It has long been the policy of the United States to treat the native peoples of this nation equally to recognize their status as native people…be they Indian or Hawaiian governments," Inouye added.

But the administration sees Hawaiians as different from others groups such as American Indians, Eskimos or Aleuts, he added. Many believed the argument of preferential treatment based on race would no longer apply to native Hawaiians if the federal government accorded them similar independent political rights as other groups.

"The United States has failed to recognize one class of indigenous people whose rights to self determination were taken away in part due to the participation of the U.S. military in overthrow of monarchy," said Mahealani Kamauu, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. "Because of this history, the U.S. has a trust relationship with the Hawaiian people that is based on a political foundation rather that a racial one," Kamauu said.


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