Slade Gorton & Hank Brown: The Misguided Bill to Give Native Hawaiians Special Rights





[Messrs. Gorton and Brown are former senators for Washington and Colorado, respectively.]

The Senate is poised to sanction the creation of a racially exclusive government by and for Native Hawaiians who satisfy a blood test. The new race-based sovereign that would be summoned into being by the so-called Akaka Bill would operate outside the U.S. Constitution and the nation's most cherished civil rights statutes. Indeed, the champions of the proposed legislation boast that the new Native Hawaiian entity could secede from the Union like the Confederacy, but without the necessity of shelling Fort Sumter.

The Akaka Bill classifies citizens by race, defying the express provisions of the 14th Amendment. It also rests on a betrayal of express commitments made by its sponsors a decade ago, and asserts as true many false statements about the history of Hawaii. It should be defeated.

The Akaka Bill's justification rests substantially on a 1993 Apology Resolution passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton when we were members of the Senate representing the states of Washington and Colorado. (We voted against it.) The resolution is cited by the Akaka Bill in three places to establish the proposition that the U.S. perpetrated legal or moral wrongs against Native Hawaiians that justify the race-based government the legislation would erect. These citations are a betrayal of the word given to us--and to the Senate--in the debate over the Apology Resolution.

We specifically inquired of its proponents whether the apology would be employed to seek "special status under which persons of Native Hawaiian descent will be given rights or privileges or reparations or land or money communally that are unavailable to other citizens of Hawaii." We were promised on the floor of the Senate by Daniel Inouye, the senior senator from Hawaii and a personage of impeccable integrity, that "as to the matter of the status of Native Hawaiians . . . this resolution has nothing to do with that. . . . I can assure my colleague of that." The Akaka Bill repudiates that promise of Sen. Inouye. It invokes the Apology Resolution to justify granting persons of Native Hawaiian descent--even in minuscule proportion--political and economic rights and land denied to other citizens of Hawaii. We were unambiguously told that would not be done.

The Apology Resolution distorted historical truths. It falsely claimed that the U.S. participated in the wrongful overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. The U.S. remained strictly neutral. It provided neither arms, nor economic assistance, nor diplomatic support to a band of Hawaiian insurgents, who prevailed without firing a single shot, largely because neither the Native Hawaiian numerical majority nor the queen's own government resisted the end of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The queen authored her own ouster by planning a coup against the Hawaii Constitution to recapture monarchical powers that had been lost in a strong democratic current. She later confided to Sen. George Hoar that annexation to the U.S. was the best thing that could have happened to Native Hawaiians.

The resolution falsely asserted that the Kingdom of Hawaii featured a Native Hawaiian government exclusively for Native Hawaiians prior to the 1893 events. In fact, the kingdom was a splendid fusion of both native and nonnative elements in both government and society. The definitive historian of the kingdom, R.S. Kuykendall, elaborated: "The policy being followed looked to the creation of an Hawaiian state by the fusion of native and foreign ideas and the union of native and foreign personnel, bringing into being an Hawaiian body politic in which all elements, both Polynesian and haole, should work together for the common good under the mild and enlightened rule of an Hawaiian king."

The apology falsely declared that Native Hawaiians enjoyed inherent sovereignty over Hawaii to the exclusion of non-Native Hawaiians. To the extent sovereignty existed outside the monarch, it reposed equally with all Hawaiians irrespective of ancestry. The apology falsely maintained that Native Hawaiians never by plebiscite relinquished sovereignty to the U.S. In 1959, Native Hawaiians voted by at least a 2-to-1 margin for statehood in a plebiscite. Finally, the Apology Resolution and its misbegotten offspring, the Akaka Bill, betray this nation's sacred motto: E pluribus unum. They would begin a process of splintering sovereignties in the U.S. for every racial, ethnic or religious group traumatized by an identity crisis....


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Jonathan Dresner - 8/18/2005

See my reply here.

Short version: The Apology failed to resolve the outstanding issues; that's why this is necessary.

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