UPDATE ON THE NATIVE HAWAIIAN GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION ACT


by
Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie, Director

On October 24, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 505, The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007, more commonly referred to as the “Akaka Bill,” after its sponsor Hawai‘i’s own U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka. The bill aims to establish a process to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government that will lead to federal recognition of that government, thereby affording Native Hawaiians a status similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The House passed the bill on a 261-153 vote.

Just two days before the bill’s passage, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a one-page statement warning that the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto of the bill. According to the statement, the bill would reverse the American melting pot tradition and “divide the governing institutions of this country by race.” OMB also indicated that, “the Administration believes that tribal recognition is inappropriate and unwise for Native Hawaiians and would raise serious constitutional concerns.”

Senator Akaka, however, in his statement on the House’s action, emphasized ongoing efforts toward reconciliation, and Hawai‘i U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono believed the large margin of victory in passing the bill indicated that the majority of the House recognized that justice for Native Hawaiians was long overdue. Similarly, in responding to a Washington Times editorial (10/26/07) that criticized the House approval of the Akaka bill, Hawai‘i U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie and Senator Akaka said:

The people of Hawaii are not threatened by the prospect of Native Hawaiians reorganizing a governing entity. Rather, they respect and support efforts to preserve the culture and tradition of Native Hawaiians that make our state so special. It is for this reason that we work to continue the reconciliation efforts the United States committed itself to in 1993, as a means to unify all the people of Hawaii and move forward together as a state.

The bill has yet to come to a floor vote in the U.S. Senate.