Molokai Joins Opposition to Federal Proposal
Across Hawaii, tensions are rising as the federal Department of Interior (DOI) proposes establishing a Native Hawaiian government. Last Saturday, Molokai residents joined in the widespread opposition. The slick floor of Kaunakakai Elementary School cafeteria was strewn with symbolic red ribbons, also pinned to the shirts and blouses of dozens of community members to show their disapproval.
Attendees expressed anger and mistrust with the U.S. government on whether and how the process of reestablishing a government-to-government relationship between the U.S. and the Native Hawaiian community should proceed.
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka pushed for federal recognition in Congress for more than a decade, and many Native Hawaiians have urged for such status to protect locally established rights. In response, the Department is hosting 15 public hearings throughout the state. According to the DOI, federal recognition would include Native Hawaiians amid the more than 560 tribes holding this status, and could lead to being recognized similarly to an American Indian tribe.
But many Native Hawaiians across the state have offered resounding opposition. Hawaii is a sovereign kingdom, they say, not a tribe.
“I know I am a Hawaiian national,” testified Byron Espaniola of Maunaloa “I stand for independence. I stand for the continuing of our kingdom. I stand against the prolonged occupation by a belligerent, terrible, awful country.”
In passionate testimony lasting more than three hours, many of the meeting’s 70 attendees said they opposed this effort by the DOI.
Esther Kia`aina, DOI assistant secretary of insular affairs, said the discussion is an opportunity for Native Hawaiians to be heard.
“The intent of the Obama Administration was, to the maximum extent possible, give those in the community who have urged the consideration of a government-to-government relationship under domestic law, to have their voices heard,” she said.
‘I’m Not American’
The vast majority of Molokai testifiers said a government-to-government relationship would end the quest to restore Hawaii to the status of a sovereign, independent nation, before the U.S. overthrew its government and it became the 50th state.
“I’m not American,” Hanohano Naehu, an activist and Hawaiian cultural practitioner, chanted as he spoke before officials. “Shame on you guys for perpetuating the illegality, the fraud…The DOI, all you guys right here, we don’t need to talk to you guys.”
Speakers were angry the federal government inserted itself in Hawaiian affairs, and delivered a resounding “no” to the DOI.
The DOI is seeking comments on questions such as whether the Secretary should assist the Native Hawaiian community regarding a government-to-government relationship and what process should be established for drafting and ratifying a reorganized Native Hawaiian government’s constitution or governing document.
Support for Recognition
The first hearing, held June 23 in Honolulu, revealed the opposing views within the Hawaii community and a strong opposition, which continued throughout the first six meetings.
Molokai’s Colette Machado, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, testified in Honolulu and was met with boos and loud protests when she declared her support for the federal government and encouraged officials to move forward. This led Machado to call for respect.
She continued to urge the government to continue on a path toward recognition during the Molokai meeting.
Sam Kealoha, a third generation U.S. Veteran, said he didn’t agree in totality but spoke in approval.
“We’ve been waiting 38 years at the table, waiting for any opportunity that we could talk government-to-government, that we could talk self-determination,” Kealoha said.
Davianna McGregor, vice president of the Molokai Land Trust, said Hawaii has “the right to be formally recognized by the U.S. federal government as an indigenous people as all other indigenous people are in their state.”
McGregor said she believes a recognized Hawaiian government could more effectively protect lands and resources to support decolonization.
Mahina Hou Ross, a teacher at Molokai High School, said he wants a process for drafting and ratifying a Native Hawaiian government constitution by an independent and neutral facilitating nation.
Kia`aina said DOI officials intend to discuss an international facilitator and other issues that are concerning to the community with the Department of Justice and the Department of the State.
The Fate of Hawaiian Homelands
The DOI says what exactly a Native Hawaiian government would look like is yet to be determined, and there are numerous unanswered questions about what could be gained from its establishment. Supporters believe the process could lead to protection of millions of dollars in federal funding set aside for Native Hawaiian education, health care, workplace training and other programs, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported.
Eligibility for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs are the primary benefits if the Native Hawaiian community gains a status similar to those of Native American tribes and Alaska Natives. According to the Bureau, tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government, like tribal sovereignty, and are entitled to receive federal benefits, services and protections because of their relationship with the U. S.
Several testifiers asked if a Native Hawaiian government was established, would it be able to exercise authority over the Hawaiian Homelands. Assistant Section Chief of the U.S. Department of Justice, Justin Smith, said maybe.
“The statute of the Hawaiian Homelands is not an issue at this time because Congress has set the rules for Hawaiian Homelands,” Smith said. “But, the government is a very powerful thing. Once you have a government, that government can go in and negotiate on your behalf in a lot of different places and do a lot of different things.”
Smith said a recognized government could go to Congress, making authority over the Hawaiian Homelands conceivable.
“There have been concerns by Hawaiian homesteaders who want their own government,” Kia`aina said. “That is something that would have to be considered if [homesteaders] collectively express themselves, whether it be this [type of] process [for soliciting public comments] or amending the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.”
Next Steps in the Rulemaking Process
The DOI said it was not seeking input on what form a Native Hawaiian government, constitution or governing document might take or what powers it could have.
There is 60-day comment period due August 19. All oral and written comments will be recognized and published on the DOI website, doi.gov, along with a raw transcription of each meeting. Announcements made by the Secretary of State will also be published to the website.
There are two potential routes in the next steps of the rulemaking process.
If the community response is “no,” there will be no further action, Smith said. However, if there is support then there will be an announcement that will take five to six months to move forward with a proposed rule.
The proposed rule, should it move forward, requires another round of hearings which would take five to six months of analysis. After that comment period concludes, there will be five to six months for analysis of that proposal before a final rule is considered, Kia`aina said.
Federal officials said feedback is important and encourage participation in the process and attendance at hearings over the next two weeks.