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New law gives recognition to Native Hawaiians

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With historic Washington Place as the backdrop for a ceremony that included conch shell blowing, traditional Hawaiian music and hula, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into state law a bill that formally recognizes Native Hawaiians as "the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population" of the islands and begins a process to create a roll of qualified members to work toward the reorganization of a native government.

Senate Bill 1520 supports efforts in Congress to gain federal recognition of native Hawaiians similar to that offered to American Indians and native Alaskans, but would continue the effort at a state level regardless of whether that goal is achieved.

Abercrombie appeared to choke up as he described his remembrances of Hawaiian aunties and other family members as he also referenced the decades-long effort made by Hawaiians in seeking such recognition.

"This bill is the first step in seeing to it that we have a Native Hawaiian government entity," he said. "It’s not only the first step, it is a practical manifestation of all that has gone on before."

The signing took place today on the outdoor lanai, within shouting distance of sovereignty activists who decried the measure as an attempt to deny Native Hawaiians’ claims to govern as a sovereign independent nation.

"This is an affront to those of us whose nation was stolen," activist Pilipo Souza said.

The mood at the ceremony was mostly celebratory as lawmakers past and present, along with representatives from several native Hawaiian organizations, packed the lanai to witness the historic occasion.


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