The Coming Debate on Federal Recognition for Native Hawaiians

The Department of Interior is embarking on a process that supporters say could eventually secure more land and resources for the native community.

·By Anita Hofschneider

What would a Native Hawaiian government look like?

No one knows. But as of Monday morning, federal officials are gathering public input on whether the United States should establish a government-to-government relationship with Hawaii’s indigenous community, starting with a hearing at the State Capitol.

It’s been more than a century since the U.S. overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom, and many Native Hawaiians and their supporters say some kind of federal recognition is long overdue.

While some are holding out for outright sovereignty, others note there are millions of dollars in current federal funding at stake and perhaps millions more to be gained if the Native Hawaiian community gains a status similar to those of Native American tribes and Alaska Natives.

Supporters of Native Hawaiian sovereignty sing while keeping vigil at an OHA Board of Trustees meeting in May.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

How We Got to This Point

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been advocating for the Interior Department to consider acknowledging the Native Hawaiian community as a governing entity since 2011, after a decade of failed efforts by former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka to push the issue through Congress.

Akaka’s efforts coincided with a 2000 report by the Department of Interior and Department of Justice acknowledging Native Hawaiians as an aboriginal people whose government was overthrown without their consent.

In the report, the departments urged the creation of a government-to-government relationship, noting the federal government had acknowledged its wrongdoing in a 1993 Apology Resolution.

Many in the Native Hawaiian community

About the Author

Civil Beat Staff

Anita Hofschneider

Anita Hofschneider is a reporter for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at anita@civilbeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @ahofschneider.
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Do you support providing a path to federal recognition for Native Hawaiians? Why or why not?