‘Akaka bill’ moves out of committee

A bill on Native Hawaiian self-government made it out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs yesterday.

Senate Bill 310, also called the “Akaka bill,” was originally sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, about seven years ago. The measure seeks to authorize a process for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians but does not actually extend federal recognition.

“Today’s strong committee bipartisan support for S310 sends a clear message that … the United States must fulfill its commitment to Native Hawaiians,” Akaka said Thursday in a press release.

According to the senator’s chief press secretary, Jesse Broder-Van Dyke, the bill sets forth a process by which Native Hawaiians can establish formal leadership that will be able to negotiate with the federal government.

The first step, he said, is creating a list of Native Hawaiian voters. To determine eligible voters, a nine-person panel of genealogists, all of whom must have the ability to translate Hawaiian into English and have 10 years’ experience in Native Hawaiian genealogy, will certify the role.

The panel, which will be overseen by the Secretary of the Interior, will certify individuals who are “direct lineal descendants of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people” who either lived on the islands on or before Jan. 1, 1893, or were eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, states the bill.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site, 6.6 percent of the state’s population, or 80,137 people, characterized themselves as Native Hawaiians during the 2000 census.

The eligible voters will then be asked to elect a panel, which will create a system of government. Elected representatives would follow, Van Dyke said.

There is not currently an entity recognized on a federal or state level with the power to bargain and negotiate on behalf of Native Hawaiians.

“It will benefit (Native Hawaiians) to have one group negotiating on behalf of all,” Van Dyke said.

The measure also calls for the creation of the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordination Group to facilitate coordination between a future governing entity and the various federally administered Native Hawaiian programs.

In addition, an Office for Native Hawaiian Relations will be created within the Department of the Interior to serve as liaison between the two governments, according to the bill.

The measure now must go before the full Senate for approval.

“We think we have enough votes,” Van Dyke said.

A House version must also make it out of the House of Representatives. Presently, the two versions are identical, but in the case of any amendments, a conference committee will have to negotiate a final version for the president’s approval, Van Dyke said.

Another bill pertaining to Native Hawaiian rights was also approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs yesterday. H.R. 835, or the Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity Act of 2007, reauthorizes Native Hawaiian housing assistance programs through fiscal year 2012.

That measure was approved by the House of Representatives in March and must go before the full Senate.

Hawai‘i Gov. Linda Lingle was present in Washington, D.C., for yesterday’s votes to express her support of both bills, according to her Web site.

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