Opinions divided over federal rule recognizing Native Hawaiians’ indigenous status

Hawaiian groups expressed opposing views Friday over the Obama Administration’s federal rule to recognize the indigenous status of Native Hawaiians that create the option of a government-to-government relationship.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs applauded the ruling.

“Native Hawaiians have been the only major indigenous group in the 50 states without a process for establishing a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. This rule finally remedies this injustice,” said chairperson Robert K. Lindsey. “OHA will spend the next few days closely examining the rule to better understand how the Native Hawaiian people can –- if they choose –- pursue a government-to-government relationship.”

At a rally at Iolani Palace Friday, sovereignty supporters expressed their opposition.

Healani Sonoda-Pale of Protest Na’i Aupuni said that “this change is intended to circumvent legal, congressional processes, and Hawaiian community input. … Without any congressional oversight or congressional vetting, President Obama and his successor will confer immense power on a pseudo native government.”

Native Hawaiians have not had a formal unified government since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. In 1993, Congress enacted the Apology Resolution which offered an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for its role in the overthrow. The Interior Department says that the resolution also committed the Federal government to a process of reconciliation.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced the rule that does not form a Native Hawaiian government. The rule establishes a framework for the U.S. government to use if the Native Hawaiian community forms a unified government and wants to establish a formal working relationship under Federal law.

“The rule does not attempt to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government or draft its constitution, nor does it dictate the form or structure of that government. Rather, the rule establishes an administrative procedure and criteria that the Secretary would use if the Native Hawaiian community forms a unified government that then seeks a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.” – Interior Department

Within the rule, the department notes that Congress has already recognized the Native Hawaiian community by establishing a special political and trust relationship through over 150 enactments over the last century.

The rule also includes a process for public comment if a request is made and a process for the Secretary to receive, evaluate, and act it.

The Interior Department says they took into consideration extensive public comments during the rulemaking process that included public meetings in Hawaii and the continental United States.

The final rule, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and other supporting documents are available at www.doi.gov/hawaiian.

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