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Supporters say tribal recognition is needed to ensure that Native Hawaiians have the same rights as other native groups, namely Indian tribes on the U.S. mainland. The Star-Advertiser came out in support of the executive path in an editorial Tuesday.

“The so-called Akaka Bill aimed at achieving Hawaiian sovereignty has been stalled more than a decade in Congress because of opposition by Senate Republicans, leaving the most realistic approach to be executive order,” said the newspaper. “Hawaii’s Democratic delegation is wisely pursuing that approach while Hawaii-born President Barack Obama remains in the White House.”

Public opinion on the idea remains lukewarm. A 2009 Zogby poll found that 58 percent wanted voters to cast ballots on the Akaka bill and that 51 percent opposed it and 34 percent supported it.

An unscientific online poll conducted last week by the Star-Advertiser found that 70 percent of 3,104 votes cast opposed having Mr. Obama enact the Akaka bill by fiat, while 30 percent supported the idea.

Critics note that if the Akaka Bill is approved by executive order, it could be just as easily undone in the next administration. By then, however, a separate Native Hawaiian government may be entrenched on the islands of the 50th state.

“We all know President Obama has done an awful lot of executive-order kind of things,” said Mr. Conklin. “He doesn’t have the right or the authority, but there he is, doing it.”