- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

Bruce Fein’s commentary in the Washington Times (Oct. 5) denounced the Akaka Bill and other programs for Native Hawaiians as un-American and akin to the genocidal racial policies of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

This outrageous diatribe ignored the special status that native people hold in the United States, grounded in the language of the U.S. Constitution and reaffirmed repeatedly in recent years. The federal government is authorized to establish preferential and separate programs for native peoples because of the “political” relationship between the U.S. government and its native peoples, based on the pre-existing sovereignty of native peoples, rather than any “racial” classification.

For most of its first 150 years, the United States mistreated the natives living within its borders, taking their land, forcefully relocating many groups, killing many natives in battles and, through mistreatment and neglect, systematically trying to destroy their unique culture. Native Hawaiians had a different, but similarly tragic, relationship with the United States government.

Despite several treaties pledging friendship and establishing commercial relationships between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii, U.S. military troops and diplomats gave crucial support to the efforts of Western settlers in Hawaii in 1893 to overthrow the kingdom. These U.S. officials and troops engaged in activities denounced by President Grover Cleveland in 1893 and that the federal government has more recently found morally wrong and illegal. In 1898, five years after the overthrow, despite the overwhelming opposition of the Native Hawaiian people and many other residents of Hawaii, the United States annexed the islands, using the unorthodox technique of a joint resolution because two-thirds of the U.S. Senate would not support a treaty of annexation.

Through this maneuver, the United States took control of 1.8 million acres of land that had been controlled by the Hawaiian Kingdom, without the consent of and without any compensation to the Native Hawaiians. When Hawaii became a U.S. territory, the Hawaiian language was systematically suppressed, and schoolteachers even scolded parents for speaking Hawaiian to their children in their own homes.

Congress established the Hawaiian Home Lands Program in 1921, which recognized Native Hawaiians as native peoples under U.S. law. But until recent years this program has been chronically underfunded and mismanaged. Congress again recognized the special relationship between the United States and Native Hawaiians in the 1959 law admitting Hawaii as the 50th state, and required the new state to administer the Hawaiian Home Lands Program and to use revenues from the lands transferred to the state “for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians.”

In 1993, Congress formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian people for U.S. participation in the 1893 overthrow, which it characterized as “illegal” and a violation of “international law.” This enactment instructed the executive branch to begin “reconciliation.” The president signed this legislation, and initiated efforts by the Justice and Interior Departments to provide redress for the injuries imposed on Native Hawaiians. An important step in this process was the creation by Congress earlier this year of the Interior Department’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations.

Enactment of the Akaka Bill would be an important next step. It would establish a process for re-establishing a Native Hawaiian governmental entity, which would receive formal federal recognition and would begin immediately to redefine the relationship between the United States and Native Hawaiians and to negotiate for return of land and resources to the Native Hawaiian people. This is in the American tradition, because it would recognize an autonomous native nation similar to the more than 560 native nations, tribes, villages and communities in the 48 contiguous states and Alaska.

It is part of the U.S. national tradition to acknowledge its past mistakes, to responsibly compensate the victims, and to re-establish an honorable relationship with them. The compensation provided Japanese-Americans interned during World War II is an important example of our redressing such a wrong.

During the past half-century, the United States has worked to improve the conditions of its native peoples, and many native groups now prosper and reinvigorate their culture. Resolving the legitimate claims of the Native Hawaiian people remains as unfinished business on our national agenda.

Congress now appears ready to take action on the Akaka Bill during the summer of 2005. Its enactment is overdue, and it should allow Native Hawaiians to govern themselves once again and to regain control over their lands and resources.




Attorneys for the Office of

Hawaian Affairs

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