What promises to be a heated debate among Native Hawaiians over what kind of government they want will be aired today at a meeting of the board of trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The meeting, to be held at 10 a.m. at the OHA boardroom in Honolulu, will be streamed live on the Web at oha.org/about/board-trustees. The public can submit testimony by fax to 594-1865 and it will be distributed to trustees, an OHA spokesman said.
The meeting comes as the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, an entity set up by state law, finalizes its roll in preparation for delegate elections this fall and a planned spring convention. The purpose is to forge agreement on whether Native Hawaiians will seek status as an independent nation, a government-within-a-government or keep the status quo.
But the group, which set a goal of 200,000 Hawaiians joining the roll, has so far collected only about 132,000, said Lei Kihoi, Hawaii Island’s representative on the five-member commission. There are some 530,000 Hawaiian descendants in all, with about half living in the state, she said.
OHA trustees are scheduled to talk about whether the delegate election and convention should be postponed to give the commission time to collect more signatures.
The meeting also comes on the heels of a May 20 notice from the U.S. Department of Interior signaling it’s considering whether the federal government should develop a formal, administrative process to re-establish a government-to-government relationship with a future Native Hawaiian governing entity.
And, it follows a public disagreement between OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe and OHA trustees after a May 5 letter Crabbe sent to Secretary of State John Kerry questioning whether OHA might be violating international law as it pursues the creation of a Native Hawaiian governing entity if the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist. In the letter, Crabbe said the U.S. government had acknowledged that the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaii Kingdom in 1893 was illegal.
The sequence of events illustrates how deeply divided the Native Hawaiian community is over the preferred path for governance. While some advocate a complete return to a Hawaiian Kingdom, others are pushing for a more measured approach, such as a self-governing entity recognized by the U.S. government, similar to Native American and Alaska Native tribal entities.
Kihoi said as a commissioner, she remains neutral on what the outcome should be. She just wants the convention to proceed so Hawaiians’ voices can be heard.
“You can recognize any group of people, that is fine, but now it’s time to establish our own government,” Kihoi said. “The concept will be left to the people.”
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, tried for 13 years to get a federal recognition bill passed in Congress. Now the Obama Administration has taken up the torch by working to promulgate rules to move the process along.
Crabbe and OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado, in a joint statement Tuesday, praised the move.
“The OHA-supported nation building process and the federal government’s consideration of a federal recognition process present an opportunity for a seamless transition from nation building to pursuing federal recognition, but only if that represents the desire of the Native Hawaiian people,” the statement said.
Interior Department officials also want to hear from the public, but not quite yet. Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said Tuesday that the administration isn’t necessarily moving forward with a proposed rule change, but is “just signaling that we are considering doing that.”
Once an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published, public input will be solicited, she said.
“The ANPRM would seek input from the public, including Native Hawaiians and members of federally recognized tribes in the continental United States and Alaska, on questions relating to whether the development of such a process is warranted, and if so, how it should be structured,” Kershaw said.
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