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Critics maintain tribal status for Native Hawaiians, who live throughout the state alongside citizens of other ancestries, would create two separate systems of government based on race.

Such a decision would also create a precedent for other groups such as Cajuns, Amish or Hasidic Jews, the civil rights commission members said in their letter.

Mr. Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, said during the 2008 presidential campaign that he would sign the Akaka bill if it passed during his presidency.