The Akaka Bill—also known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act—has endured a number of setbacks and false starts since it was first introduced 10 years ago. But it’s actually close to becoming law—perhaps closer than ever. In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed it. Five months later, Senators Akaka and Inouye agreed to tweak the bill to gain state support, removing language that Gov. Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett said gave too much power to the Native Hawaiian governing entity. (And, opponents argue, irreparably weakening the bill in the process.) President Obama has said he’ll sign it if it lands on his desk, meaning the Senate is the final hurdle.
This week, the bill got a high-profile endorsement from the American Bar Association (ABA), which sent a letter of support to all 100 Senators. “Our courts have upheld Congress’ power to recognize indigenous nations,” reads the letter. “Native Hawaiians have the right to be recognized by the Congress [and] this right is not in conflict with the rights of others.”
In a statement, Sen. Akaka said he’s “optimistic” there will be a vote during the post-election “lame duck” session. Considering how long the Akaka Bill has struggled to take flight, that would be fitting.