By a vote of 245-164, the United States House of Representatives has passed the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. If subsequently passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, the Act would transfer a percentage of public-owned lands to a native Hawaiian government within the state of Hawaii. The legislation would collect some 400,000 ethnic Hawaiians scattered across the country into a newly affiliated tribe, eventually endowed with the powers of a sovereign state, including freedom from state taxes and regulations and separate police power.
"The passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is an important milestone for all the people of Hawaii," said U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the bill's author. "We have a moral obligation, unfulfilled since the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, that we are closer to meeting today. I am optimistic about bringing the bill to the Senate floor this year."
If enacted into law in its current form, the Act would:
Establish the U.S. Office for Native Hawaiian Relations within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior.
Establish the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group.
Recognize the right of the Native Hawaiian people to reorganize the single Native Hawaiian governing entity to provide for their common welfare and to adopt appropriate organic governing documents.
Establish a Commission to: (1) prepare and maintain a roll of the adult members of the Native Hawaiian community who elect to participate in such reorganization; and (2) certify that the adult members of the Native Hawaiian community proposed for inclusion on the roll meet the definition of Native Hawaiian.
Outline the process for the reorganization, which includes forming a Native Hawaiian Interim Governing Council.
Reaffirm the special political and legal relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian governing entity upon certification required by the Secretary regarding the organic governing documents and the election of the entity's officers.
Extend federal recognition to the governing entity as the representative governing body of the Native Hawaiian people.
Authorize the United States, upon the reaffirmation of such political and legal relationship, together with the state of Hawaii, to enter into negotiations with the governing entity to lead to an agreement addressing specified matters, including the transfer of lands, natural resources, and other assets, and the protection of existing rights related to such lands or resources.
Opposition to the bill has arisen from numerous quarters. Hawaii’s Governor Linda Lingle has withdrawn her previous support and stated: “This structure will, in my opinion, promote divisiveness and litigation rather than negotiation and resolution.” During a Congressional hearing in 2009, U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Gail Heriot asked Congress: "If ethnic Hawaiians can be accorded tribal status, why not Chicanos in the Southwest? Or Cajuns in Louisiana?"