Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Hawaiians Seek Race-Based Government

From a recent mistitled AP article, "Native Hawaiians Seek Right to Self-Govern":

Hawaii politicians are scrambling to gather enough votes in Congress to pass a bill that would grant Native Hawaiians a degree of self-government and possibly a share of the land ruled by their ancestors.

After seven years of debate, the proposal to recognize Native Hawaiians as indigenous inhabitants of the 50th state - a legal status similar to that of American Indians - has finally been promised a vote in the Senate...

Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka says he has solid support from his party, but will need help from Republicans to pass the proposal.

The bill provides a process to set up a Native Hawaiian government and then start negotiations to transfer power and property from state and federal authorities to Hawaiians. The form of government and the amount of public land to be granted wouldn't be decided until then.

Besides the basic problems with creating an exclusive race-based government, "native" Hawaiians never had a relationship with the U.S. comparable to recognized Indian tribes. Hawaiians are already represented and self-governing through the appropriately named State of Hawaii.

A wide range of opponents stands in the way, from Native Hawaiians who won't support anything short of secession to lawyers who claim the bill is a racial entitlement program.

A report from the Washington-based U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended that Congress reject the bill because it would discriminate on the basis of race. Some Republican senators argue that recognizing a Native Hawaiian group is creating a subgroup with different rights from other Americans.

Another opponent, Honolulu attorney H. William Burgess, said he fears a breakup of the state of Hawaii, the relinquishment of hundreds of thousands of acres of land and a new set of race-based privileges.

"Hands are constantly being held out for more and more and more. Gimme, gimme, gimme," Burgess said. "I don't think it's fair to anticipate this government is going to be one which doesn't discriminate on the basis of race."

The plan cleary is a racial entitlement program. Its sole purpose is to be given property to redistribute based on a racial litmus test.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racist voter qualifications for a similar governmental body, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs:

The court said the state's argument for the voting restriction "rests on the demeaning premise that citizens of a particular race are somehow more qualified than others to vote on certain matters.

"There is no room under the (15th) Amendment for the concept that the right to vote in a particular election can be allocated based on race."

Despite the fact that Hawaii was (usually) independent until 1898, only voters descended from the pre-1778 racial group were allowed to vote. Hawaii was not even united until 1810 (with Western arms). Hawaii never had the racist government that this bill would impose.

Independence advocates also question the tactic:

Members of the Koani Foundation, a Hawaiian sovereignty advocacy group, fear federal recognition would forever put indigenous people under the authority of the Interior Department, said director Kaiopua Fyfe.

"More Hawaiians are coming to understand just how bad this federal recognition would be. It would be the final nail in the coffin for Hawaiian issues," Fyfe said.


Public opinion is difficult to judge, with polls tending to support the views of the organizations sponsoring them.

As long as U.S. military bases can remain permanently, I see little reason to oppose independence for our most remote state. However, popular support for such a move in Hawaii appears to be very limited.

Last week, the current bill failed to survive a procedural vote, prompting a more emotionally mistitled article from the Washington Post: "Native Hawaiians' Hope Dashed by Senate."

...Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said it violated both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. "I can not and will not support a bill whose very purpose is to divide Americans based upon race," he said.

Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, in a letter Wednesday to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the administration "strongly opposes" the bill because it would reverse the country's melting-pot tradition and "divide people by their race."


The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a report that came out in May, recommended against passage, saying it "would discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups."

If the bill resurfaces, hopefully that strong opposition will translate into a veto. 21st Century America should be moving away from race-based splinter governments, not towards them.

For more information, I highly recommend the Heritage Foundation event "An Unconstitutional Act Is Back: The Return of the Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Act" (or the National Center's summary and policy paper).


April said...

I think we can let them be independent and split another state to maintain a 50 state system.

Nick said...

Do we really need 50 states?