After months of debate, it looks like the U.S. Senate is finally going to vote on the controversial Akaka Bill. On Sept. 6, 2005, the Senate will say yea or nay to a cloture motion that will force a vote on S.147, which seeks to establish an office in the Department of the Interior. This office would then select a committee to oversee the forming of a Native Hawaiian Governing Council. Then the Federal Government would recognize this entity as the representative governing body of the Native Hawaiian people, putting their best interests in the hands of the Department of the Interior. Sound rather bureaucratic? It is.
Hawai’i Democratic Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka—the bill’s chief sponsor—as well as Republican Governor Linda Lingle all love the bill, but it faces significant opposition, mostly from conservative Republicans. Opponents like Senator Jon Kyl (R, Arizona) and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh like to paint the bill as pitting Hawaiian against haole. They insist the bill is blatantly racist and would lead to Hawaiian independence.
In fact, opposition to the Akaka Bill is far more complex. Just ask Dennis “Bumpy” Pu’uhonua Kanahele. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s Kanahele was a militant sovereignty activist publicly resisting federal and state laws. Held without bail in Hawai’i’s courts in 1995, Kanahele was viewed as a political prisoner in his case against federal agents. Emerging from the system in 1998 a free man, Bumpy now preaches Gandhi’s virtues of peace and nonviolence. He believes in sovereignty for the Hawaiian people through peaceful economic advocacy.
He also thinks the Akaka Bill is terrible and should be voted down. Last week I asked Kanahele why.
Maui Time Weekly: Why do you oppose the Akaka Bill?
Kanahele: Let’s say this table here represents the Hawaiian Nation before the overthrow. Each Hawaiian has an interest in a part of this table. Then let’s say that a tablecloth thrown over this table represents the overthrow and statehood. Then there is all this stuff that has happened from then on and those are the things on top of this tablecloth.
So now we have this Akaka Bill that wants to set up a governing entity and address the Hawaiian people and what they want and need. Okay, let’s talk about it, but first pick up that tablecloth and gather all the things on it and take that away. Now we can look at our table of rights and interests and see it for what it is. The Akaka Bill and its supporters are not willing to do that.
What are some of the problems with the bill?
This bill basically makes the Hawaiian people wards of the federal government through the Department of the Interior [DOI], similar to the Native American Indians. Let’s look at the track record of the Department of the Interior with regards to the Native Americans. Right now the federal government is involved in huge lawsuits over the DOI’s mismanagement of royalties of Native American lands, with over $2.4 billion unaccounted for.
The bill is also missing the infrastructure to provide the badly needed services to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians. The bill does not set up a sovereign state; instead it sets up a committee to elect a group of people. Then this group has to negotiate with the federal government to be recognized, to have land, to have rights. This is not self-determination. This bill does not immediately address the issues we have.
Attorney General Mark Bennett, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and former state Supreme Judge Robert Klein are all supporting the bill. They claim it is the last chance to make programs benefiting the Native Hawaiians legal. What do you say to this?
These people are threatening the Hawaiian people, saying we are going to lose these programs if we don’t agree to the Akaka Bill. But let’s look at these programs. They aren’t helping all Native Hawaiians. So to use the Akaka Bill to reinstate these programs is not the solution for the Hawaiian people. If this argument is so strong for them why are they grumbling when we ask OHA to bring in an international lawyer to research the Akaka Bill? Why are they so afraid of a second opinion? Why are they pouring money into marketing instead? The bottom line is education. Why haven’t they spent a whole year reaching every nook and cranny to educate all of the Hawaiians about it?
What do you say to folks like constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, the Grassroots Institute and the right-wing Republicans who claim no injustice was done to the Hawaiian people?
They have to deny that any wrongdoing occurred to make their point. But that is just denial of the truth. In actuality, the Hawaiian people are suffering a subtle form of genocide. It’s not only guns and bombs that kill people. By manipulation through the mind we have been exterminated. First we were not allowed to speak our language or practice our religion. We were made to live in fear of our own culture. Then foods like Spam, margarine and such were introduced. And liquor. Now Native Hawaiians have the worst problems with health, alcohol and drug abuse, housing and jobs. You name it, we got it and it’s the worst. That is how we are exterminated.
Is the bill racist, as these groups claim?
They may have a claim using United States law. However, right now, here in Hawai’i the Americans are illegally occupying Hawai’i. This is Hawai’i, not America. So their claim is a facade. It’s not real. As much as I don’t like being on the same side as this discriminating gang, it has brought more truth and awareness to the table.
What if the bill passes?
It won’t end the struggle for independence. Instead it will probably escalate it. It will be more detrimental than anything else. It is all about the money, the investors and the banks. These institutions will use their power to protect themselves. But they must be careful; there are human rights violations. There are protests against the occupation.
What if the bill doesn’t pass?
Eventually it will force us into international protection under international law. When the United States passed the Apology Bill they admitted to breaking the law. The Hawaiian people are the last straw regarding world peace. I am an advocate of peace and non-violence. The Queen knew what it was. It’s not about guns. It’s about repeating the truth. The kupuna and their prayers are all we have left. To stand firm in the system we have to withstand anything.
What are some of the groups that are involved in sovereignty? Do you work with any of them?
Some of the different organizations and people that have pulled different folks together are Akahi Nui (www.freehawaii.org), who claims to be the King of Hawaii, Henry Noa of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, Dennis Reysdale and John Nelson, and the Nation of Hawai’i (www.hawaii-nation.org), which ratified the Hawai’i Constitution in 1995. I am head of state for the Nation of Hawai’i. Right now I am focusing on the health and economy of the people. On Maui I had over 250 kupuna but I have lost half of them. Now it’s health first, then let’s talk about building a nation. I am preserving our national treasures as the approach to unification.
Tell me about the Hawaiian Patriotic League of the Hawaiian Islands.
These are the people who signed the petition to congress in 1897. There are over 38,000 signatures of Hawaiians. Congress didn’t have the two-thirds vote to annex they needed. These are the people who opposed annexation, my great great grandparents’ signatures are in that petition. So for many of us the struggle for independence did not begin 20 to 30 years ago, it began two to three generations ago.
What should the Akaka Bill say?
We should be talking about what would an economic base looks like for a Hawaiian government and people. There are many options that do not involve the Department of the Interior. We could start a Native Hawaiian-owned and controlled bank and make each Hawaiian a trustee of the bank. When you have a bank, deposits are leveraged 10 to 1. With the deposits OHA has we could start this bank, and create an $8 to $9 billion business and surpass what the Federal Government is suggesting for us. Then the Hawaiian trustees could get dividend checks.
We could get the Kamehameha Schools involved and dividends could be paid in educational vouchers. With an economic basis, a corporation would be protected. I am a visionary. I am always looking for a solution. Why aren’t we talking about this now? MTW