- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The chief executive of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs said Thursday the agency should delay its nation-building process by at least six months and reassess options amid questions about the legal existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the federal government considering a renewed relationship with Native Hawaiians.

Kamanaopono Crabbe told the agency’s board Thursday that the organization should spend another six to nine months educating the public.

Crabbe also said the group should consider alternatives to the Native Hawaiian Roll, a register where about 125,000 Hawaiians recently signed up to be part of the government building process.

“A significant portion of our Native Hawaiian community continues to believe, based on fact and based on credible scholarship and documents, that the Kingdom of Hawaii’s sovereignty continues to exist…under international law,” Crabbe told The Associated Press. That same group believes the United States’ annexation of Hawaii was invalid, so they don’t want to participate in a nation-building process led by a government agency such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, he said.

“They just cannot participate in a state-run process,” Crabbe said.

In community meetings, many people expressed a desire for more time for in-depth exploration of issues about nation building, said Dr. Kehaunani Abad, community engagement director for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

“Universally, there’s a sense that we need to build our nation,” Abad said. “But there is disagreement about the process and the outcome.”

Weeks after Crabbe sought legal clarity on the kingdom’s existence, the U.S. Department of the Interior separately said it is considering re-establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians. Reactions to those developments highlighted divisions in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaiian community about whether a government-run nation-building process is appropriate, and how much sovereignty Native Hawaiians should seek as an end goal.

Crabbe’s proposal to delay nation building efforts was met with a mix of frustration and support from board members in a heated meeting that lasted several hours. The board did not plan to vote on the recommendation Thursday.

“In all of the meetings that you had, did any of these groups suggest to you a different process?” asked Rowena Akana, one of the board members. “We don’t need a lot of talk. We need something concrete… I’m really annoyed. We spent a lot of money.”

Some in the crowd held signs that read “I am one of the 125,000,” indicating that they had signed onto the roll in hopes of helping to shape the Native Hawaiian government.

Others debated whether seeking federal recognition would undermine their rights, because they believe they are entitled to more than what would be given if they achieved a status similar to American Indian tribes.

“We exist, we are lawful,” said Sterling Ing of Honolulu. “We don’t need to go begging to anybody for recognition.”

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Cathy Bussewitz can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cbussewitz