Locals speak first.
That’s the new rule for hearings about Native Hawaiian sovereignty being held by the U.S. Department of Interior, following complaints that the same group of people was traveling meeting-to-meeting and monopolizing the conversation.
“Yes, we’ve heard that,” said Jessica Kershaw, press secretary for the department. “We’ve been asked by the Native Hawaiian community to allow those who haven’t spoken to be able to go first.”
The panel held five public meetings on Oahu as well as one on Lanai and one on Molokai last week. Following two meetings on Lanai, the panel will hold three on the Big Island on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday’s meeting is from 6 to 9 p.m. at Keaukaha Elementary School. Meetings Thursday are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Waimea Community Center and 6 to 9 p.m. at Kealakehe High School.
The department wants residents to weigh in on whether the Obama administration should facilitate the re-establishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community and help the Native Hawaiian community reorganize its government.
It’s asking what process should be established for drafting and ratifying a reorganized Native Hawaiian government’s constitution or other governing document, or if, instead, the federal government should rely on the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian government through a process established by the Native Hawaiian community and facilitated by the state of Hawaii.
The Hawaii meetings wrap up next week on Maui, followed by meetings in Indian Country in five mainland states through Aug. 7.
The meetings have so far generated immense community interest, along with a firestorm of controversy from those Native Hawaiians for whom nothing less than a full return to the Hawaiian Kingdom will do. Others, such as Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chairwoman Colette Machado, favor the pathway to federal recognition.
Regardless of where they stand on other aspects of the issue, most of the testifiers so far don’t favor the concept of a tribe like the governance structure for American Indians.
It’s a crucial issue for the state, where 21.3 percent of Hawaii residents reported in the 2010 census that they had some Hawaiian blood, and 5.9 percent said they were pure Hawaiian. It’s even more important for Hawaii County, which, with 29.7 percent of residents with Hawaiian blood and 8.5 percent pure Hawaiian, leads the state in both categories.
In addition, some 1.8 million acres of land, 43 percent of the state and about the same percentage on Hawaii Island, is considered ceded lands, Hawaiian government and crown lands that were ceded to the state of Hawaii after annexation and statehood. They are now held in trust for the Hawaiian people, with revenues used for a public purpose.
Kershaw urged residents to submit written comments by the Aug. 19 deadline. She said people can submit comments even if they have already testified at one of the meetings.
In addition to the public meetings, comments can be submitted online at regulations.gov or via U.S. mail, courier or hand delivery to: Office of the Secretary, Department of the Interior, Room 7329, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240 (use Regulation Identifier Number 1090-AB05 in your message).
Some 132 comments had been submitted by Monday. The public can read the comments and add their own at regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;D=DOI-2014-0002.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at email@example.com.