Native Hawaiian leaders plan to start forming their own new but unrecognized government following the failure of federal legislation to do so.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Haunani Apoliona on Tuesday called for the state-funded agency to sign people up to enroll as participants in the formation of a future Hawaiian government.
A previous effort, called Kau Inoa, gathered 108,000 signatures of people showing interest in a Hawaiian governing entity, but this new process will go a step further by creating the structure of the Hawaiian government.
Eventually, Congress would be asked to recognize the Hawaiian government, granting it a degree of sovereignty to create its own laws and manage its resources.
Native Hawaiians are the last remaining indigenous people in the United States that haven’t been allowed to establish their own government, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and Native American tribes.
Federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, known as the Akaka Bill, hasn’t received a vote in the Senate this year, and it likely will be shelved after newly elected Republicans take office next month.
"This additional hurdle should not derail our efforts, nor should it derail our resolve," said Apoliona in her State of OHA annual address at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu. "If we seek to be self-determining, then let’s be it and live it."
By beginning to enroll the nation’s 400,000 Native Hawaiians in a future government now, they won’t have to wait for congressional action before taking control of their destiny, said Clyde Namuo, CEO for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
"You’ll still need the federal bill at some point," Namuo said. "But when you go before Congress, you will already have a government in place, and you will then ask the Congress to recognize that government. That’s the idea."
The Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in 1893 when a group of white businessmen forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate while U.S. Marines came ashore.
Formation of the new Hawaiian government involves signing people up for it, electing delegates and creating founding documents, Namuo said.
Anyone who can show they have any amount of Hawaiian blood should be able to participate, Apoliona said.
"The enrollment process will demonstrate to the rest of America that there are Hawaiians, that we are alive, and that we are represented not just in Hawaii but throughout the United States," said Collette Machado, who was chosen by OHA’s board of trustees as its new chairwoman Tuesday to succeed Apoliona.
About 200,000 Hawaiians live in-state, and Namuo said he wants about 100,000 Hawaiians to enroll in the government-making process to give it credibility.
Any details of the new government — whether it’s a kingdom or elected, for example — would be decided by the participants of the process, Machado said. Nothing has been decided yet, and the OHA trustees will have to vote on how to move forward.
The biggest challenge will be bringing together fractured Hawaiians, said OHA trustee Bob Lindsey.
Various groups seek everything from outright Hawaiian independence from the United States to full assimilation.
"It’s always better to listen to the whispers of the people than to hear their screams," said Lindsey, quoting a Cherokee Indian friend.