East Hawaii News

DOI Governance Proposal Receives Mixed Reactions

September 30, 2015, 7:46 PM HST
* Updated September 30, 7:56 PM
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One of the groups seeking to establish a self-governance for Native Hawaiians announced on Wednesday that more than 200 candidates have applied for spots in a constitutional convention and a possible ratification vote of a new Native Hawaiian government.

Na’i Aupuni, an independent organization that was formed last December, says that 40 delegation spots will be determined by a vote of certified Hawaiian voters in November. Seven delegation spots have been earmarked for the Big Island, and 32 candidates are vying for the chance to be a Hawai’I Island delegate.

“The nomination of delegate candidates is a milestone in the upcoming historic election for Hawaiians to determine if a reorganized Hawaiian government will be formed,” said Kūhiō Asam, Na‘i Aupuni president. “The candidates are diverse in their age, backgrounds, and purpose. They are representative of a good cross-section of the Native Hawaiian community.”

Wednesday’s announcement by Na’i Aupuni comes a day after the United States Department of the Interior issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Reestablishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community.

Under the DOI’s proposal, the Native Hawaiian community would ultimately decide whether to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government, what form the government would take, and whether or not it would seek a government-to-government relationship with the U.S.

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“On behalf of Na‘i Aupuni, we appreciate the U.S. Department of Interior’s recognition on the first page of its proposed rule that ‘the Native Hawaiian community itself would determine whether and how to reorganize its government’,” said William Meheula, Na’i Aupuni legal counsel. “The Interior Department’s announcement also validates our legal position that Na‘i Aupuni’s process does not violate the U.S. Constitution or federal law.”

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Some are raising questions over the DOI’s proposal, including Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i President and CEO Dr. Keli’i Akina, who says that the proposed rules are “another attempt by the Department of the Interior to do an end run around Congress by assuming powers it simply does not have. The Congress has clearly indicated that they – and not the DOI – have the power to recognize a Native Hawaiian government.”

“On multiple occasions, they considered and decided not to pass the Akaka Bill, demonstrating that the Constitutional concerns in the creation of a race-based government were real and unavoidable,” Dr. Akina continued. “Those concerns have not disappeared, no matter how much the Department tries to dodge them by focusing on ‘recognition’ as opposed to ‘organization.’”

Dr. Akina also raised the issue of how the nation-building process has divided the Native Hawaiian community, stating that there are multiple efforts that are currently being pushed.

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“Many Native Hawaiians have stated that they will not be part of the state’s nation-building process. Is the DOI referring to recognizing the result of the election being held through OHA, Na’i Aupuni, and Kanaiolowalu? Are they referring to a mobilization effort that could occur through the Hawaiian Home Lands? What about the community of sovereignty activists? The Department’s vague use of the phrase ‘Native Hawaiian community’ is both divisive and culturally insensitive,” Dr. Akina explained.

For its part, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its CEO, Kamana’opono Crabbe, supported the proposed DOI rule.

“This rule shows the Obama Administration’s commitment to Hawaiians and other native people by supporting self-governance for the Native Hawaiian community. While the United States has long supported Hawaiians as a native people, this proposed rule addresses an injustice by allowing Native Hawaiians to receive the benefits of a government-to-government relationship that has been denied them,” said Crabbe. “It is clear the Department of the Interior agrees it will be the Native Hawaiian community – and not the federal government – that would decide whether to organize a Native Hawaiian government, and whether that government would seek to pursue a relationship with the United States.”

Na’i Aupuni has contracted Election-America to handle the November vote. Among the Big Island delegation candidates is former State Representative Faye Hanohano, who represented District 4 from 2006-2014. Former OHA trustees Moanikeala Akaka and Clarence Ching are also vying to make the delegation.

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