That’s the big question on many lips in Hawaii, following the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI)’s Sept. 23 announcement of a “final rule to create a pathway for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.” There are still many details that have yet to be worked out, but it looks like Native Hawaiians may finally get official recognition from the federal government.
“This final rule provides the Native Hawaiian community with the opportunity to exercise self-determination by reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in the Sept. 23 announcement. “Throughout this two-year rulemaking process, thousands of voices from the Native Hawaiian community and the public testified passionately about the proposal. Today is a major step forward in the reconciliation process between Native Hawaiians and the United States that began over 20 years ago. We are proud to announce this final rule that respects and supports self-governance for Native Hawaiians, one of our nation’s largest indigenous communities.”
Of course, all this assumes that most Native Hawaiians will want official federal recognition. There are more than 2,000 comments included on the proposed DOI rule, and not all were positive. In fact, many took umbrage at the notion that the fed was just setting out to create a “tribe” of Native Americans (a system that worked out soooo well for the tribes that lived in North America before white settlers moved in).
“There needs to be a provisional government organized by the Kanaka Maoli that will eventually remove the State of Hawaii from our government,” said Alfred Kahookele of Wailuku (a number of individuals submitted identical language in their comments). “Yes they are operating our government. So there is really no need to form a new government, just a body to help us transition to our rightful place.”
Another, unnamed individual simply wrote, “I am a Kanaka Maoli… what you consider a “native Hawaiian” and I DO NOT want government-to-government relations with United States! I said before and I’ll say it again… NO, NO, NO, NO & NO!!!!!!”
In a press release sent out shortly after the DOI announcement, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–Hawaii, made a pretty fair point: all the DOI is saying is that it’s now up to Native Hawaiians to decide what they want.
“For decades, many in the Native Hawaiian community have fought for the same rights and treatment as indigenous groups across the United States, like Native American tribes and Alaska Natives,” Gabbard said in her news release. “The Department of Interior announcement today simply places the decision-making authority solely within the hands of Native Hawaiians to determine what, if any, government-to-government relationship they choose to have with the U.S. federal government. I had the great honor of working as a legislative aide to Senator [Daniel] Akaka, who dedicated so much of his life to creating this opportunity for our Native Hawaiian community. I look forward to continuing to engage and work alongside our Native Hawaiian brothers and sisters as they determine their path forward.”
Given that it’s been 23 years since the U.S. government formally apologized for its role in overthrowing the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, I can’t imagine any of this will go quickly.
Photo of Kamehameha statue in the U.S. Capitol: Architect of the Capitol/Flickr