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Akaka Bill backers vow to plod on as foes cheer

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Opponents of the Akaka Bill were happy the measure died when the Senate adjourned this week, but supporters remain hopeful Congress will eventually pass a measure that grants federal recognition for native Hawaiians.

"It’s in the trash can where it deserves to be," said longtime opponent Bill Burgess.

"Now it looks like there’s a good probability that it won’t come back to haunt us for several years, if ever," he said, referring to the shift to a Republican-controlled Congress.

The bill died after failing to be heard on the Senate floor, despite having passed the House of Representatives and being favorably received by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Robin Danner, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said, "I’m hopeful and determined to keep working at it."

Part of that hope comes from having "a new governor under which to shepherd recognition," she said.

"It is powerfully important for the future of our entire state," Danner said, adding there are 35 other states that have native populations recognized under the U.S. Constitution as a native class and not a race.

Having native status would also help leverage economic development, she said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who has watched the bill that bears his name sputter for a decade, delivered a speech from the Senate floor Wednesday, reaffirming his commitment to the measure.

"The bill would simply put the state of Hawaii on equal footing with the rest of the country in the treatment of its indigenous people," Akaka told the Senate.

"However, since I first introduced this commonsense bill 10 years ago, it has been the subject of misleading attacks and procedural hurdles, and has never had the opportunity for an up-or-down vote here on the Senate floor," he said.

Some fellow senators "have worked aggressively to block this bill," Akaka said, which has been frustrating.

Even two endorsements from the Obama administration could not help get the bill passed. It was first introduced in 1999 and has been before Congress through three administrations.

"I certainly do appreciate Sen. Akaka’s comments on the floor of the Senate, and I would agree with him that there was a lot of misinformation about the bill," said Clyde Namuo, chief executive officer of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

He said it is important for Hawaii’s congressional delegation to educate their colleagues on the measure.

Conservative radio talk show hosts had fanned the flames of misunderstanding and confusion by claiming the bill is unconstitutional and would allow gambling, he said.

Namuo said there is frustration in the native Hawaiian community, but the bill would provide "the legal shield we would need to defend against attacks on native Hawaiian programs."

Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, said, "I’m sure Hawaiians will achieve federal recognition in the near future."

She said she was buoyed by President Barack Obama’s signing off Dec. 16 on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which had already been approved by all but a handful of nations. It calls for the right of all indigenous peoples to self-determination, the right to historical land, the right to speak their own language and to perpetuate their culture, she said.

"Not even Republicans can ignore the international minimum standards for human rights," she said. "And the Akaka Bill is the vehicle to federal recognition and (to) come more in line with the minimum standards of indigenous peoples’ rights."

Leon Siu, minister of foreign affairs for an entity calling itself the Hawaiian Kingdom, said he is pleased the bill died.

"It is a totally inadequate remedy for the wrongs committed against the Hawaiian people and taking of the Hawaiian nation. … If the bill had passed, it would have immersed us further in the U.S. system."

He said the real remedy is to "extricate ourselves from the U.S. system and to restore the sovereignty and independence of the Hawaiian nation."


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