Bruce Fein’s commentary titled “New racism in new bottles,” (July 15) attacking S. 147, “the Akaka Bill,” is not only full of gross misrepresentations and outright lies, it is astoundingly ignorant and utterly offensive to Native Hawaiians, African-Americans, and all Americans who believe in equality and justice. The Akaka Bill, simply put, provides long overdue federal recognition to Native Hawaiians, a recognition extended for decades to other Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
This legislation would allow Native Hawaiians to design a limited self-governing structure and regain some small measure of self-determination. American Indians and Alaska Natives have long maintained some self-governing power, and the Akaka Bill simply extends that long overdue right to Native Hawaiians.
Mr. Fein’s attempt to equate this honorable effort with the virulently racist laws of Jim Crow is insulting and distasteful. Besides being grossly inaccurate, and blatantly absurd, it is offensive to Native Hawaiians to claim their desire simply to regain a little self-governance — after their sovereignty was completely destroyed more than 100 years ago by overthrow of their kingdom and annexation — is comparable to racist laws enforced decades ago by hate-filled bigots. To even hint the two are analogous is at best idiotic and at worst overtly racist.
The analogy is also insulting to African Americans, who suffered immeasurably from the invidious and often brutal discrimination imposed by Jim Crow. To suggest non-Hawaiians under the Akaka Bill would suffer like African-Americans under Jim Crow diminishes in the cruelest way the real injury and misery inflicted upon African-Americans of that period.
Perhaps the most patently ignorant and insulting statement by Mr. Fein is his assertion that “Native Hawaiians have never experienced racial discrimination.” It is shocking any intelligent and presumably educated person would make such a statement about Native Hawaiians. who have a documented history of suffering substantial discrimination for more than a century, including outright prejudice in all walks of life, wholesale deprivations of native lands and bans on their native tongue.
Mr. Fein’s patent ignorance of Native Hawaiian history leads him to not only mischaracterize, but outright misrepresent, the contents and effect of the Akaka Bill.
First, he claims the bill would create a “race-based” government. In fact, the fundamental criterion for participation in the Native Hawaiian governing entity is descent from the native indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands, a status Congress itself has characterized as nonracial. Congress has continuously stated that in establishing past programs for Native Hawaiians it was “not extend[ing] services to Native Hawaiians because of their race, but because of their unique status as the indigenous people … as to whom the United States has established a trust relationship.” This is not clever word play but reflects the special status of native peoples recognized consistently for decades by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Second, Mr. Fein says the Native Hawaiian governing entity would operate “outside the Constitution and laws of the United States and the state of Hawaii.” Nothing in the Akaka Bill states, or even suggests, any such immunity. Mr. Fein is simply inventing falsehoods to scare people into opposing the bill.
In fact, Native Hawaiians as individuals, as well as the Native Hawaiian governing entity, would remain subject to the Constitution and laws of both the United States and Hawaii.
And Mr. Fein conveniently ignores the fact the Indian Commerce Clause, which gives Congress plenary authority to recognize native peoples, is a part of the U.S. Constitution.
Mr. Fein wrongly claims Hawaii would relinquish control over Hawaii citizens of Native Hawaiian ancestry and over state lands. The former is not true, and any surrender of state lands would come only after negotiations and agreement by not only the Native Hawaiian governing entity but the federal and Hawaii governments. Thus, the citizens of both the United States, and Hawaii, through their elected representatives, would indeed have final approval of any such transfer of authority. Mr. Fein is disingenuous in claiming Hawaiian citizens are denied a say.
Mr. Fein also misrepresents the Akaka Bill by suggesting problems that simply don’t exist. The bill does not permit secession. And the interior secretary must certify civil rights are protected. Nor does the bill permit eviction of the U.S. military from Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Fein falsely claims the majority of Hawaii residents oppose the Akaka Bill. In fact, in the poll he cites only 41 percent expressed opposition; 39 percent gave no response.
More importantly, the poll was commissioned by opponents of the bill who prefaced their survey question with pejorative and misleading descriptions of the bill. Other polls have found overwhelming support among Hawaii’s citizens for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.
It is especially absurd Mr. Fein would deny Native Hawaiians recognition because the government of the Kingdom of Hawaii was itself not racially exclusive. The fact Native Hawaiians, more than 100 years ago, were enlightened enough to maintain a government open to participation by non-Hawaiians, should not deprive Native Hawaiians today of the recognition they deserve. Indeed, it is extremely ironic that one who opposes the Akaka Bill because it is, in his mind, racist, would use Native Hawaiians’ historical inclusiveness, and “aloha” for all races, as a reason to deny Native Hawaiians their deserved recognition.
Mr. Fein’s claim the bill would “deny equal justice to non-Hawaiians” is not only false, but, as would be expected from someone who in revisionist fashion denies the historical suffering of Native Hawaiians, ignores justice for Native Hawaiians. Hawaiians are not asking for “special” treatment — they’re simply asking to be treated the same way all other native indigenous Americans are treated in this country.
Congress has recognized the great suffering American Indians and Alaska Natives endured in losing control of their lands, and has, therefore, given those native peoples formal recognition. Native Hawaiians simply seek comparable recognition as indigenous peoples who suffered similar hardships.
Yes, Hawaii is indeed a great example of a multiethnic society living in relative peace. The Akaka Bill, by providing a measure of justice and fairness for those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, will ensure it remains so forever, while helping preserve the language, identity and culture of Native Hawaiians.
If Mr. Fein really believes in quashing the racial divisiveness he purports to abhor, he should stop lying about the Akaka Bill, stop denying the historical injustices done to, and the suffering of, the Native Hawaiian people and embrace equal treatment for all of this great country’s native peoples.
MARK J. BENNETT
Attorney General of Hawaii