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There’s also the fear that the bill could lead Hawaii to break from the union, although Mr. Akaka insisted the legislation allows neither secession nor the authorization of gambling.

“If ethnic Hawaiians can be an Indian tribe, then why not Chicanos in the American Southwest? There are people who firmly believe that the Southwest United States is part of Aztlan,” said Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego School of Law professor. “What about the Amish? Who’s going to have the political will to draw the line here?”

Not Hawaiian Republicans, she said, noting that Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, has come out in favor of the bill and lobbied on its behalf on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, the bill’s most vocal foe has been Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

“This is not the Republican Party’s finest hour,” Miss Heriot said.

This comes despite polls showing that most Hawaiians oppose the bill and even Native Hawaiians are divided when told that they would be subject to a different legal and tax system, she said.

Davianna McGregor, a professor at the University of Hawaii, said the bill would allow Native Hawaiians to reclaim their “rightful inheritance” and address some of their social problems. Native Hawaiians have higher rates of unemployment and incarceration than other Hawaiian subgroups, she said.

“As a way to address these historic injuries, the widespread population acknowledges that Native Hawaiians have rights to these historic lands,” Miss McGregor said.

However, critics argue that without a plan in place, the result could be mayhem.

“Suddenly the state of Hawaii won’t have this money any more. Then there’s the question of which services the state of Hawaii will no longer be provided to Native Hawaiians,” Miss Heriot said. “It’s going to be chaotic, but the bill itself cheerily goes on.”