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Native Hawaiian recognition bill blocked in Senate

WASHINGTON ? Legislation which would recognize Native Hawaiians in a way similar to American Indians and Native Alaskans ran into trouble when an unnamed Republican Senator objected to the bill being considered for a floor vote.

Under current rules, any member can anonymously hold a bill from consideration. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has been pushing for passage of the bill with Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. However, they have encountered stiff resistance from some Republicans.

"This act responds to the desire of the Native Hawaiian people for enhanced self-determination by establishing a process within the framework of federal law," said Akaka, who is of Native Hawaiian decent. "The United States has a special trust relationship to promote the welfare of the native people of the United States, including Native Hawaiians."

The proposed legislation would acknowledge the right of Native Hawaiians to autonomy in their internal affairs, the right of self-determination and self-governance, and the right to reorganize a Native Hawaiian governing body. The bill would also establish an Office of Special Trustee for Native Hawaiian Affairs.

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Last year, the bill passed through both House and Senate committees, but was blocked from consideration on the Senate floor by a group of Republican senators who expressed concern that the measure would create unfair advantages for Native Hawaiians.

In response to these concerns, the bill was changed and now prohibits all forms of gaming, as mandated by state law. The measure also restricts Native Hawaiians from participating in federal Indian programs or receiving funding earmarked for tribes.

From 1826 until 1893, the United States recognized the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This included full diplomatic recognition of the Hawaiian government and treaties and conventions with the Hawaiian monarchs. In 1893, Americans on the islands, supported by U.S. marines, launched an armed takeover of Hawaii. Then, in 1898, Hawaii officially became a territory of the United States, formally stripping the Native Hawaiian's of their sovereignty.

Today, there are a number of laws which deal directly with Native Hawaiians, such as the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act and the Native American Languages Act. However, the legal status of Native Hawaiians within the American political system, and even internationally, still remains an unresolved issue.

In 1993, the U.S. government officially apologized to the native people of Hawaii for its role in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The apology also acknowledged that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty "as a people over their national lands to the United States."