Native Hawaiians Are Not A Tribe

In the course of my eight-year tenure as a MidWeek columnist, I have spared no ink to explain to readers why I believe the passage of the Akaka Bill would have been one of the worst things — short of a disastrous blow from nature — that could happen to all the people of Hawaii. It is race-based, unconstitutional, divisive and an incredible waste of time, human energy and money that could have been used to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians in many ways. Thankfully, in 10 years of effort by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and his supporters, the bill could never get any traction in Congress.

Now, in keeping with President Obama’s propensity to legislate “with the stroke of a pen” what he knows he can’t get through Congress, he, his Department of the Interior and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) are quietly conspiring to use Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs to simply declare the Native Hawaiians a “tribe” rather than an ethnic group, on to which the president has said he would sign.

To simply pull a “tribe” out of thin air — to make a “tribe” where none has ever existed before — is not only an absurd concept, but an insult to Native Hawaiians. Adding further insult to injury, as confirmed by numerous top legal experts, it’s unconstitutional to boot. As the president of Hawaii’s Grassroot Institute and candidate for OHA commissioner at large Ke’alii Akina puts it, “There is no tribe, only tribal leaders.” By “leaders,” of course, he means the wannabes of OHA who are exploiting Native Hawaiians.

In a recent panel discussion sponsored by Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Oswald Stender, a sitting OHA commissioner — perhaps the only one who puts the true betterment of the Hawaiian people ahead of personal gain or power — believes social statistics (incarceration, obesity, diabetes, education, welfare roles) make a compelling enough statement for the extraordinary needs of the Hawaiian people. But he insists the answers cannot be found in a competing governing entity.

He deplores the waste of money into such an effort (Akaka Bill) over the years — money that could have been used to make immediate and long overdue improvements in the Hawaiian community. He also pointed out that all Hawaiians have benefited through income from ceded lands and the Hawaiian Homes program.

On the same panel with Stender, former state Attorney General Mike Lilly, of a longtime kama’aina family, pointed out that, historically, Hawaiian blood was never a requirement for Hawaiian citizenship under King Kamehameha or Queen Lili’uokalani, and is now just a “made up” requirement by OHA to give the impression of exclusivity of whatever “governing entity” they can conjure up. Lilly’s ancestors were citizens of the Kingdom of Hawaii loyal to the king and queen.

Imagine, as a citizen of Hawaii, living under two separate and, in many ways, competing governing entities: One set of laws for the favored Native Hawaiians and one for non-Hawaiians — frequently living side by side as neighbors, but ruled by different sets of laws for taxation, economic regulation, police and fire policies, two legislative bodies, building codes and zoning laws, to name just a few.

But speaking of zoning laws, even now we are seeing just a hint of what could be to come as OHA lobbies for exceptions to laws that specify height restrictions in its Kaka’ako Makai development. It is lobbying the Legislature to allow condo and office buildings twice the currently specified building heights (from 200 feet to 400 feet).

In short, OHA is spinning its wheels. Passage of any law based on blood quantum or a separate governing entity based upon race would be found unconstitutional.

It also, as I have said before, would ensure the “death of aloha.”