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EDITORIAL: Shakedown at the luau

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Imagine what would happen if Congress proposed setting up a special, sovereign government for any descendant, anywhere in the country, of the mix of Cajuns and American Indians who lived before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 in what is now the state of Louisiana. Imagine if the law created a new Office of Native Cajun Affairs that would own one-fifth of the land in Louisiana and would have the power, independently from the state, to write and enforce laws, punish offenders, tax its members and seize private land for the new sovereign entity -- without the full protections of the Bill of Rights.

People nationwide would laugh at the absurd proposition. Non-Cajun Louisianans would be up in arms at the seizure of the state's lands. Black Louisianans whose families arrived after 1803 would yell from the rooftops against the obvious racial discrimination. The bill, rightly, would never receive a hearing.

Substitute "Native Hawaiian" for "Native Cajun," however, and this is exactly what the House and Senate leadership plans to ram through a slumbering Congress this month. This unwise legislation shreds both common sense and the Constitution. Known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, or H.R. 2314, the bill is racist in intent and operation. It must be defeated.

According to this act, it would become U.S. policy that "Native Hawaiians have an inherent right to autonomy in their internal affairs" and that "the United States shall continue to engage in a process of reconciliation and political relations with the Native Hawaiian people." This claim to the right of autonomy is based on the demonstrably false notion that "Native Hawaiians" are culturally and ethnically a tribe like the Cherokee, Chippewa or Sioux. They are not. The bill could count as "Native Hawaiian" anybody with a single drop of ethnic Hawaiian blood. More than 60 percent of the "tribe" will have genetic roots that are less than half original islander.

Even if they had been a tribe at one point in the ways traditionally recognized by U.S. law, they gave up any pretense of separate status decades ago. As for the legislation's promise of "reconciliation," we are wondering what or who exactly is in need of reconciliation. When Hawaii accepted statehood in 1959, a mind-bending 94.3 percent of Hawaiian voters cast ballots in favor of joining the union. They did so because statehood brought great benefits, not burdens meriting reconciliation.

What's really at issue are 1.4 million acres of land from which "native" Hawaiians could profit without sharing the benefits with those classified as being of Caucasian, black, Asian or other descent, even if the others have lived in Hawaii continuously for half a century or more. This is race-based expropriation, pure and simple, and the principle runs afoul of multiple provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission has blasted H.R. 2314. "The Constitution... cannot be circumvented so easily," the commissioners wrote to Congress in an Aug. 28 letter. "Even if it could be, we would oppose passing legislation with the purpose of shoring up a system of racially exclusive benefits."

Appropriately, the commissioners noted that the former Hawaiian kingdom's 1840 Constitution begins with these words: "God has made of one blood all races of people to dwell upon this Earth in unity and blessedness." That's well put. With that historical Hawaiian sentiment in mind, how could Congress defend the expropriation of parts of this Earth for the benefit of just one race?

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