Bush administration ‘strongly opposes’ Hawaiian recognition

By Jaymes Song
Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) 11-07

The Bush administration “strongly opposes” a House of Representatives bill that would grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians, calling the measure discriminatory and divisive.

The White House Office of Management and Budget during October said the measure supported by nearly every elected Hawaii official would reverse the American melting pot, divide governing institutions and raise constitutional concerns by separating Americans into race-related classifications.

“The administration strongly opposes any bill that would formally divide sovereign United States power along suspect lines of race and ethnicity,” the White House said in a statement. The bill, heard on the House floor, is identical to the Senate’s so-called Akaka bill, named after its sponsoring Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka.

The bill, which has failed in several previous attempts to get it through Congress, is designed to secure for Native Hawaiians the same self-governance rights held by American Indians and Alaska Natives. It provides a broad framework for creating a Hawaiian government responsible for managing about 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) of former Hawaiian lands and $15 million (euro10.6 million) per year in ceded land revenue.

If passed and eventually presented to President George W. Bush, his senior advisers would recommend a veto, the White House said.

“The president has eschewed such divisive legislation as a matter of policy, noting that ‘we must ... honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples,”’ the statement said.

The White House cited a recommendation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which urged that Congress reject the bill because it would discriminate on the basis of race and “further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege.”

The House version was introduced by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, and co-sponsored by five other representatives: Democrats Raul Grijalva, of Arizona, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono and Virginia’s James Moran, along with Republicans Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Donald Young of Alaska. Delegates Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat representing Guam, and Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Samoa, are also signed on as co-sponsor.

Abercrombie and Hirono, in a joint statement, stressed that the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does not create a program or entitlement, require an appropriation, nor turn over assets of the U.S. government. It also does not give anyone title to anything they do not already own, the Hawaii Democrats said.

They said it simply provides a method for Hawaii to divest itself of requirements for administering land and dollar assets to a native entity, which will take full responsibility. The House members said Native Hawaiians would be able to decide for themselves the organization of the government entity to represent their interests in a relationship with the U.S. government.

“The relationship parallels that of Native Americans tribes and Alaskan Natives,” they said.

The White House argued Native Hawaiians cannot be compared with other indigenous peoples, given the “substantial historical and cultural differences.”

“The administration believes that tribal recognition is inappropriate and unwise for Native Hawaiians and would raise serious constitutional concerns,” the White House said.

Last year, the measure was held up in the Senate on a procedural vote amid concerns from Republicans that it could lead to race-based privileges in a state known for its diversity. The Bush administration also questioned some provisions of the bill, despite strong support from Hawaii’s Republican governor, Linda Lingle.

There are about 400,000 people of Native Hawaiian ancestry nationwide, and 260,000 of them live in Hawaii. No one would be required to join a Hawaiian government if the Akaka bill is approved.

On the Net:
HR 505: www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-505