A nation all its own

LIHUE — The federal government is considering whether the Native Hawaiian community should be treated as its own government.

U.S. Department of the Interior officials said Wednesday they are taking a first step to consider re-establishing a government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian community.

Officials say they are moving forward on the issue — including public meetings on Kauai next week — in response to requests from community members, Hawaii’s congressional delegation and state leaders.  

Known as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Wednesday’s action could help determine how exactly the entities would go about implementing a change, if they decide to pursue that route, and what it all could mean.

But a dialogue must be opened, officials said.

“When I met with members of the Native Hawaiian community last year during my visit to the state, I learned firsthand about Hawaii’s unique history and the importance of the special trust relationship that exists between the federal government and the Native Hawaiian community,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell wrote in a statement. “We need to begin a conversation of diverse voices to help determine the best path forward for honoring the trust relationship that Congress has created specifically to benefit Native Hawaiians.”

The special trust relationship between the bodies has been bolstered over several decades as Congress enacted more than 150 statutes that specifically recognize and implement the relationship with the Native Hawaiian community. 

These laws, officials say, include the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act.

The Native Hawaiian community, however, has not had a formal governing entity since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii through a coup d’etat in 1893. 

Congress, in 1993, enacted the Apology Resolution, which offered an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for its role in the overthrow and committed the U.S. government to a process of reconciliation. 

Seven years later, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice jointly issued a report on the reconciliation process which identified self-determination for Native Hawaiians under federal law as their leading recommendation.

U.S. Senate and House lawmakers from Hawaii issued a joint statement in support of the move.

“We applaud the administration’s commitment to an open dialogue, starting with listening sessions in Hawaii to provide ample opportunity for Native Hawaiians and the general public to contribute their comments and concerns,” it said. “This notice represents an historic opportunity to address years of injustice and marks a positive step forward in the push for Native Hawaiian self-determination.”

The meetings will begin Monday in Honolulu and will remain in Hawaii until July 8. 

The meetings on Kauai are from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 30 at the Waimea Neighborhood Center and from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 1 at Kapaa Elementary School. 

The meetings will continue on the Mainland after wrapping up in Hawaii.

A message to the Department of the Interior wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday. The department listed five threshold questions it wants to answer through the forums, which will be facilitated by Kuiwalu, a Honolulu-based consulting firm.

• Should the Secretary propose an administrative rule that would facilitate the re-establishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community?

• Should the Secretary assist the Native Hawaiian community in reorganizing its government, with which the United States could reestablish a government-to-government relationship?

• If so, what process should be established for drafting and ratifying a reorganized Native Hawaiian government’s constitution or other governing document?

• Should the Secretary instead rely on the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian government through a process established by the Native Hawaiian community and facilitated by the state of Hawaii, to the extent such a process is consistent with federal law?

• If so, what conditions should the Secretary establish as prerequisites to federal acknowledgment of a government-to-government relationship with the reorganized Native Hawaiian government?

Kapaa resident James Alalem, who serves as member of the advocacy group Reinstated Hawaiian Government, said history must be addressed before looking at the future.

When President Bill Clinton signed the Congressional ‘Apology Resolution’ in 1993, he acknowledged the Kingdom of Hawaii’s overthrow and the deprivation of a nation’s right to self-determination, Alalem said. 

The problem with building a foundation for reconciliation now, he added, is that the overthrow issue must be solved first. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, he claimed, is a creation of this illegal state that overthrew the Hawaiian government.

“We cannot talk about a nation within a nation that is illegal under the United Nations and according to international common law,” Alalem said. “What they are doing is actually genocide, when the people are not going to get nothing out of this as a whole.”

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs applauded the move.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Chair Colette Machado said the government change could ensure millions of dollars for Native Hawaiian education, health and programs. 

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Ka Pouhana (CEO) Kamana’opono Crabbe called the discussion plans “historic.”

“We see this as only one option for consideration,” Crabbe wrote in a statement. “The decision of whether to walk through the federal door or another will be made by delegates to a Native Hawaiian ‘aha and ultimately by our people. We are committed to keeping all doors open so our people can have a full breadth of options from which to choose what is best for themselves and everyone in Hawaii.”

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