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Hawai‘i Officials Applaud Federal Recognition of Native Hawaiian Status

September 23, 2016, 4:00 PM HST
* Updated September 26, 12:30 PM
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Office of Hawaiian Affairs photo.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs photo.

The Department of the Interior released a final rule on the administrative procedure and criteria for reestablishing a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The rule incorporates and takes into account more than 54,000 public comments submitted to the Department of Interior from the Native Hawaiian community and other key stakeholders.

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs applauds the Obama Administration for bringing Native Hawaiians closer to having equality with other indigenous groups in the United States,” said OHA Chairperson Robert K. Lindsey.

“Office of Hawaiian Affairs 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,” Lindsey said. “This rule finally remedies this injustice. 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.”

“As fiduciaries for the Native Hawaiian trust, the OHA Board of Trustees has supported federal acknowledgement of Native Hawaiian indigenous status in order to further strengthen and protect Native Hawaiian rights and resources,” said Lindsey. “Having a federal rule available to Native Hawaiians is also an important step towards achieving Native Hawaiian self-determination and self-governance.

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“During the 1978 Hawai‘i State Constitutional Convention, these two goals served as bases for the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” said Lindsey. “Constitutional convention delegates in 1978 envisioned Native Hawaiians achieving ‘self-determination, methods for self-sufficiency through assets and a land base, and the unification of all [N]ative Hawaiian people.’”

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US Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, issued the following statement:

“This is an historic step towards doing what is right and just for Native Hawaiians. For far too long, Native Hawaiians have been the only federally recognized native people without a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Generations of Hawaiians and allies have worked to restore this relationship, and this rule is one of the most significant developments in making this a real possibility.

“Although the rule establishes formal procedures for a Native Hawaiian government to reestablish its governmental relationship with the United States, it leaves the Hawaiian community with the authority and responsibility to reorganize its governing entity.

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“President Obama’s leadership and personal commitment to Hawai‘i was evident in the level of community engagement conducted by his administration and essential to ensuring this path forward for Native Hawaiians.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) also released a statement following announcement.

“For decades, many in the Native Hawaiian community have fought for the same rights and treatment as indigenous groups across the United States, like Native American tribes and Alaska Natives,” said Rep. Gabbard. “The Department of Interior announcement today simply places the decision-making authority solely within the hands of Native Hawaiians to determine what, if any, government-to-government relationship they choose to have with the US federal government.

“I had the great honor of working as a legislative aide to Sen. Akaka, who dedicated so much of his life to creating this opportunity for our Native Hawaiian community. I look forward to continuing to engage and work alongside our Native Hawaiian brothers and sisters as they determine their path forward.”

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