Akaka Bill revision raises the stakes

SUBHEAD: The latest version set up a system in which Hawaiians might choose to negotiate away certain rights in pursuit of the larger good. Image above: The sentiment of the native Hawaiians.From http://www.stoptheakakabill.com By Jerry Burris on 23 December 2009 in th Honolulu Advertiser - (http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/20091223/COLUMNISTS20/912230341/Revision+to+Akaka+bill+raises+the+stakes) One of the big political mysteries of this waning year and the start of the New Year is what is happening with the Akaka bill. Somehow, late in the going, the measure was changed in a fundamental way. As sold to Congress and members of the public, the bill was described as a measure that would recognize Hawaiians as a political entity, entitled to negotiate with the state and federal governments over various rights of self-determination. That could mean anything from control of certain lands to setting up Hawaiian-style legal institutions to resolve disputes, particularly when traditional Hawaiian rights or practices are involved. As pitched to somewhat doubtful members of Congress and local political figures, the Akaka bill was described as simply a means of recognizing inherent Hawaiian sovereignty, the details of which would be negotiated over time with the state and federal governments. In other words, nothing changes unless the Hawai'i state government and/or Uncle Sam agree to the changes. Thus, the measure was largely symbolic. Hawaiians would gain rights only insofar as overlaying levels of government came to the conclusion it made sense to grant those rights. In fact, that is why some Hawaiians opposed the Akaka bill. Why, they asked, should we be forced to negotiate what should be our inherent rights as sovereigns? Politics is the art of the possible. And it became clear that the best sales pitch to the doubtful was to construct a measure that says nothing changes unless everyone agrees it should change. And indeed, many people of good will might have agreed to a measure of Hawaiian self-determination following the passage of a bill allowing the negotiation of such status. Then, late in the going, according to Attorney General Mark Bennett and others, the measure was turned on its head. Hawaiians would be treated much as Native American tribes, with inherent rights of self-government some of which might — if everyone thought it made sense — be negotiated away with the state or federal government. In short, the first version had Hawaiians enabled to negotiate self-government rights and powers with the state and federal government. The latest version set up a system in which Hawaiians might choose to negotiate away certain rights in pursuit of the larger good. For instance, it is likely that a Hawaiian "nation" would cede to the federal government certain powers of national defense. How did this sea change come about? Some say the new, activist Department of Justice under the Obama administration was convinced by activists in Hawai'i that shifting the status of Hawaiians to something akin to an Indian tribe made good sense. Rather than negotiating for each and every aspect of sovereignty, the bill would accept sovereignty and contemplate Hawaiians granting back some aspects to overlapping systems of government. A side effect, not insignificant, is that this new version would set the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on the back burner as the default Hawaiian political entity. Once Bennett raised the alarm, Rep. Neil Abercrombie quickly pulled back, setting the measure for passage in the House in its previous form. In the Senate, Akaka held fast to the latest version while promising to work with the Lingle administration and others on their concerns. This is no small matter, since the goal right now is to get the bill out of the House and Senate and into conference. But the stakes have grown considerably. This is no longer a matter of reconciling technical differences. It has become a matter of deciding where the ultimate power to decide the future of the Hawaiian people resides. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Akaka Bill Alive? 12/15/09 .

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