Feds Take First Step Toward Native Hawaiian Governance

Jun 18, 2014

Credit Flickr / jptexphoto

The federal government took a first step toward reestablishing a government to government relationship between the United States and Native Hawaiians. It would be similar to the tribal status of Native American Indian groups. The Department of Interior announced a series of public meetings over the next few months to discuss this controversial issue. HPR’s Molly Solomon has more.

Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard released a joint statement applauding the D.O.I.'s announcement: 

“We applaud the Administration’s commitment to an open dialogue, starting with listening sessions in Hawaii to provide ample opportunity for Native Hawaiians and the general public to contribute their comments and concerns. This notice represents an historic opportunity to address years of injustice and marks a positive step forward in the push for Native Hawaiian self-determination.”

Governor Abercrombie also applauded the decision and released the following statement:

“We look forward to welcoming representatives of the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Justice to discuss ideas for updating federal policy on Native Hawaiian self-determination. I commend the Obama Administration for recognizing and supporting Native Hawaiians as it works to reconcile its relationship with Native Hawaiians at the federal level.”

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs released the following statement from Colette Machado, chairwoman of the OHA Board of Trustees:

"We commend this initial effort by the Obama Administration to engage our people in a discussion about reestablishing a government-to-government relationship with the United States.  This effort is an important step toward ensuring that millions of dollars for Native Hawaiian education, health and other programs will continue to flow to our people and that our Hawaiian trusts and programs will be protected from further legal challenges.  Trustees have vowed to protect these programs in perpetuity. 

We ask all Hawaiians to make their voices heard at the public meetings, and we also urge that we respect and aloha each other as we engage with the United States government on this complex but urgent question."

The OHA release also included a statement from the agency's C.E.O. Kamana’opono Crabbe: 

"We appreciate the Obama Administration’s historic affirmation that Congress has long recognized our community’s special political status as Kanaka Maoli, the aboriginal indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. And we support the Department of the Interior’s decision to come to Hawaiʻi to speak directly with our people."

But critics of the federal process believe it could be a step backwards for Hawaiian sovereignty. "The Department of the Interior and the State of Hawaiʻi should not attempt to influence or interfere with the nation building that has been ongoing for the past thirty years," says Jon Osorio, a professor at U.H. Manoa. "The good will and aloha shown by Hawaiian activists will quickly sour if either the U.S. or the state of Hawaiʻi use tactics to divide and alienate our people from one another."

Meetings will be held on Oahu next week:

• Monday, June 23 — Honolulu— 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, Hawaii State Capitol Auditorium

•  Monday, June 23 — Waimanalo — 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School

 • Tuesday, June 24 — Waianae Coast — 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Nanaikapono Elementary School

•  Wednesday, June 25 — Kaneohe — 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Heeia Elementary School

• Thursday, June 26 — Kapolei – 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Makakilo Elementary School

Public meetings will also be held across the islands on Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. Click here for the full list of public meetings.