WASHINGTON - The United States participated in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the aboriginal governing entity of the islands, in 1893. One hundred years later, the United States passed a resolution apologizing for the nation's role in the overthrow. In the intervening years, Congress passed upward of 100 measures that dealt in whole or in part with Native Hawaiians. The Admission Act that made Hawaii the last state in the union required the state to administer ceded lands and homestead lands for the benefit of Native Hawaiians.
Advocates of the Akaka Bill, which takes its name from Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, argue that it's essential to the preservation of Native Hawaiian identity and resources after a U.S. Supreme Court decision found a Native Hawaiian voting preference to be race-based and impermissible under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Other Native Hawaiian benefits provided by the state Legislature and Congress are considered subject to similar challenges until a federally recognized governing entity restores Native Hawaiians to a political classification, rather than the racial one detected in the Rice v. Cayetano Supreme Court ruling on voting rights.
''Failure is not an option,'' said Micah Kane, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, of efforts to re-establish a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
Enactment of the Akaka Bill by Congress would not establish a governing entity or create a reservation for Native Hawaiians, nor would it transfer land or assign citizenship in the embryonic governing entity. It would signal the formal commencement of a process appointed by Congress to establish the governing entity. The process would produce the foundation documents of the governing entity. The structure, territory and membership of the governing entity would be subject to negotiations and approvals among Native Hawaiian organizations, the state Legislature of Hawaii, and the federal government (including the Justice and Interior departments). Because of provisions in the Admission Act requiring state administration of Native Hawaiian resources, the citizens of Hawaii would have to vote to amend the state Constitution before transfers of land and other resources could be realized.
Hearings in the House of Representatives and the Senate May 2 and 3 built up a legislative record of rebuttal to Department of Justice claims that the Native Hawaiian governing entity will divide U.S. sovereignty by encouraging so-called ''secessionist'' sentiment in the islands, foster race-based governance and invite constitutional scrutiny from the courts. Further questioning from Senate Committee on Indian Affairs members put paid to lesser debates. Under a federally recognized self-governing entity, Native Hawaiians will remain citizens of the United States, will not be able to challenge the property rights of private landowners, will not be a specially titled class of citizens, and will be subject to state and federal negotiations and approvals before they can establish their governing entity. Citizenship in the governing entity will be elective, and the governing entity will be required to observe the civil rights of its citizens.