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U.S. Commission on Civil Rights now supports federal recognition of Native Hawaiians

Sophie Cocke
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The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today issued a report supporting federal recognition of Native Hawaiians and urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow Native Hawaiians to form a governing body. Native Hawaiians and supporters rally at the state Capitol to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

In a major reversal, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is supporting federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.

The commission had previously opposed the establishment of a government-to-government relationship between the U.S. and Native Hawaiians, similar to those established with American Indian tribes, and in 2006 opposed the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act, known as the Akaka bill after Hawaii’s late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

But the commission released a report today approved by a majority of its eight members that urged Congress to pass legislation that would allow Native Hawaiians to form a governinig body.

“Congress can acknowledge a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians to confirm its intent to provide Native Hawaiians at least all the same federal benefits that Native Americans have,” according to the report. “Congress should pass legislation to provide a process for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian governing entity and to confirm the special political and legal relationship between the United States and such Native Hawaiian governing entity.”

Two members of the eight-member commission said in a column published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today that the commission had erred in its previous opposition to Native Hawaiian federal recognition, which had hampered efforts to pass the Akaka bill.

“Native Hawaiians had their own culture and government that existed prior to the formation of the United States, just like American Indians on the mainland. And sadly, like American Indians, the United States deprived Native Hawaiians of their land, extinguished their right to self-governance and self-determination, and suppressed their language and identity,” Commissioners Karen Narasaki and Michael Yaki, wrote, speaking in their individual capacities.

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