The U.S. Department of the Interior plans to make it clear this morning that any government-to-government relationship with a future Native Hawaiian government is solely up to Native Hawaiians to determine.
Today Interior officials are expected to announce a rule, or “pathway,” for a future Native Hawaiian government to establish a so-called government-to-government relationship with the United States following a series of angry public hearings on the issue two years ago.
According to a FAQ (frequently asked questions document) planned to accompany today’s announcement on the Department of Interior website, “The process is optional and triggered only when a Native Hawaiian government submits a written request to the Secretary. The written request requires, among other elements, a showing that the community’s governing document has broad-based community support in order to ensure that the will of the community as a whole is respected.
“The decision to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government and the further decision to re-establish a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States are for the Native Hawaiian community to determine as an exercise of its self-determination,” according to the FAQ. “Therefore, the rule does not attempt to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government or dictate the form or structure of that government.”
The approach is a clear response to the opposition that federal officials faced across the islands in 2014 as thousands of Native Hawaiians and their supporters turned out for a series of 15 public hearings asking a single question about what kind of a relationship the U.S. government should have with a future Native Hawaiian government.
Most of the speakers refused to address the question and instead blasted the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom and urged the United States to leave the islands, among a long list of demands and concerns.
Speaker after speaker also said that any involvement by U.S. officials to create a new relationship with a future Native Hawaiian government violated Hawaiians’ right to self-determination.
But federal officials at the time also told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that written comments from many Hawaiians, non-Haw aiians and Hawaiian groups showed widespread support for a government-to-government relationship.
The Interior Department now uses the phrase “re-establish a formal government-to-government relationship” in a nod to the overthrow, which the federal government apologized for in 1993.
In response to the comments made at the statewide public hearings, the department said it made several changes to the final rule, including clarifying its purpose; eliminating a U.S. citizenship requirement — as long as the Native Hawaiian community provides a list of eligible voters; and increasing the public comment period.
The overture to a future Native Hawaiian government follows repeated, failed attempts to pass the so-called Akaka Bill, which would have established a path to federal recognition for a Native Hawaiian government.
Sovereignty activists such as Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, head of a group calling itself the Nation of Hawaii, will not recognize the Interior Department’s role in dealing with a Native Hawaiian government.
Kanahele maintains that the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry should already be recognizing the Nation State of Hawaii.
“The Nation of Hawaii is already operating as the government,” Kanahele told the Star-Advertiser on Thursday. “If there’s going to be any kind of recognition, the State Department should be (involved). I don’t recognize the Department of Interior as having that authority.”
Pressed on whether a Native Hawaiian government should have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, Kanahele said, “Of course Native Hawaiians want a government-to-government relationship not just with the U.S., but with every other government. We want that back.”
Robin Danner, former founding president and CEO of the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement and a commissioner on the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, worked with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka for 15 years on the Akaka Bill. On Thursday she was “excited as all get-out” after getting word from Washington, D.C., about the Interior Department’s upcoming announcement.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been 100 years coming,” Danner said. “I’m excited for my grandbabies. I’m excited for my people. I’m excited for all of Hawaii, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians. My cheeks hurt I’m so happy for our people.”
But Native Hawaiians can choose to participate — or not — in whatever comes next toward forming a Native Hawaiian government that could seek a government-to-government relationship with the United States, Danner said.
“Federal recognition is a right and an opportunity that we don’t have to take, but have a right to take,” she said. “It doesn’t replace any history. It doesn’t replace any efforts for the restoration of the kingdom for those who want to do that.”
Asked how fragile the Interior Department’s position is given the upcoming presidential election, Danner said, “It’s as fragile as any policy in our democracy. It’s as fragile as the Civil Rights Act. No progress has ever been made by wringing our hands over what might be undone.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz celebrated what the Interior Department calls “Part 50 — the final rule for procedures for re-establishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”
“This is an historic step towards doing what is right and just for Native Hawaiians,” Schatz said in a statement. “For far too long, Native Hawaiians have been the only federally recognized native people without a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Generations of Hawaiians and allies have worked to restore this relationship, and this rule is one of the most significant developments in making this a real possibility.
“Although the rule establishes formal procedures for a Native Hawaiian government to re-establish its governmental relationship with the United States, it leaves the Hawaiian community with the authority and responsibility to reorganize its governing entity.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono in a statement commended “the Obama administration for creating this opportunity that will enable the Native Hawaiian community to establish a government-to-government relationship on par with Alaska Natives and Native Americans — who are afforded significant resources and rights based on their federal standing as a native people. It was a privilege to have worked closely with Native Hawaiian community leaders, including Sen. Daniel Akaka and Gov. John Waihee, in making this day possible. In the months and years ahead, I will continue to support the Native Hawaiian community as it determines how best to move forward.”
Robert Lindsey, chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said in a statement that OHA “applauds the Obama administration for bringing Native Hawaiians closer to having equality with other indigenous groups in the United States. Native Hawaiians have been the only major indigenous group in the 50 states without a process for establishing a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. This rule finally remedies this injustice. OHA will spend the next few days closely examining the rule to better understand how the Native Hawaiian people can — if they choose — pursue a government-to-government relationship.”
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement, “Throughout this two-year rule-making process, thousands of voices from the Native Hawaiian community and the public testified passionately about the proposal. Today is a major step forward in the reconciliation process between Native Hawaiians and the United States that began over 20 years ago. We are proud to announce this final rule that respects and supports self-governance for Native Hawaiians, one of our nation’s largest indigenous communities.”
On the net:
The final rule, Frequently Asked Questions and other documents are available on the Department of the Interior website at doi.gov/hawaiian.