Hawaiians split on movement to recognize Native Hawaiians

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Hawaii Democrats are pushing the White House to give formal tribal recognition to Native Hawaiians, but some Native Hawaiians are pushing back.

Advocates of Hawaiian independence have posted a petition on the White House’s We the People website asking President Obama to reject Democratic pleas to grant them tribal status via executive order.

The petition, created Aug. 27, contends that the attempt to “transform our Hawaiian identity is an unconstitutional, race-based action; a clear breach and violation of our perfect right denying our due process under law.”

For 13 years, Congress rejected the so-called Akaka Bill, which would have granted tribal recognition to Native Hawaiians. Its sponsor, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, retired in January, and so far nobody in the all-Democrat Hawaii delegation has reintroduced it as members push for executive action.

“The president is being asked to consider a number of potential executive actions,” Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, told the (Honolulu) Star-Advertiser in August. “That could take many forms, including something by the Department of the Interior, or at the secretary level or something at the presidential level.”

Kekane Pa, a leader of the Hawaiian independence movement, criticized the effort to bypass Congress and said the Akaka Bill is designed to thwart efforts to restore Hawaii’s indigenous government.

“The true intent is to have the Hawaii people give up their claim to their native lands to the U.S. government,” said Mr. Pa, who serves as House speaker for the self-styled Lawful Hawaiian Government, a separatist group formed in 1996.

The Hawaiian independence movement is one of several secessionist efforts cropping up across the U.S. In Colorado and Maryland, residents of rural counties are drumming up support for creating new states in order to escape what they describe as an anti-rural agenda in the state legislatures.

The Hawaii movement is different in that advocates are calling for the state to become its own nation. Hawaii was admitted into the union in 1959 as the 50th state.

Advocates of the Akaka Bill say federal recognition is needed in order for Native Hawaiians to continue to receive benefits from the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which funds programs through the administration of the state’s 1.8 million acre ceded lands.

Native Hawaiians are often estimated at about 20 percent of the Hawaii population. Results for 2012 from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 10.1 percent of Hawaiians identified themselves as either Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. But another 23 percent said they were of two or more races, and a significant number of them are partly Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

The petition is titled “We Petition the Obama Administration to Not Bypass Congress by Signing an Executive Order for Federal Recognition of Native Hawaiian.” Petitions need 100,000 online signatures to prompt a response from the White House, and so far this one has 53.

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