Cancelling hearings was a disservice

When Kauaians showed up Monday at Lydgate Park to make their feelings known on

the relationship of Native Hawaiians and the United States government, there

was little-if anything-new to say. But the point of the exercise was to say

it.

And that’s why two congressional committees erred grievously by

cancelling their hearing originally scheduled for that day in Lihu’e on

proposed legislation giving Native Hawaiians special status within the halls of

federal government. The issue was also to be the subject of hearings throughout

this week on other islands, all in the interest of giving people a fair say.

But because U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai’i), recovering from hip surgery,

was forbidden by doctors from traveling to the various sites-and because he was

the prime sponsor of the sovereignty measure and deemed an integral participant

in the proceedings-Oahu was designated as the sole location for

hearings.

Sovereignty activists on Kaua’i were rightfully indignant when

told last Friday about the change in plans. The short notice effectively left

them out of the loop, except for allowing them to fly to Oahu, testify via

long-distance phone call or submit written testimony.

No explanation of how

the cancellation decision was reached can mend the sense that the goal of

gathering public input got second-class treatment. Not involving each island

directly through its own hearing cast a chill over the process.

The

committees will head back to Washington, D.C. after this week. The question for

many Native Hawaiians will be whether their opinions really mattered to the

committee members who ultimately will help decide the scope of the legislation,

when and if the measure goes before the full Congress for debate.

The

committees had a chance to reach out and address that kind of concern. They

blew it.

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