Thousands testify by deadline about Native Hawaiian recognition


More than 5,000 comments about Native Hawaiian recognition are being processed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to a government website.

The deadline for submitting comments was Aug. 19, and the federal agency is still reviewing them, DOI press secretary Jessica Kershaw said this week. She said her agency is in the process of reading through a batch of 2,200 comments, excluding the write-ins and hand-delivered documents that are still being uploaded to the website regulations.gov.

“If those comments warrant the department moving forward, Interior would do so in early 2015,” Kershaw said.

Hundreds of people in July testified on the issue in Keaukaha, Kona and Waimea. As elsewhere in the state, the vast majority testifying in person on Hawaii Island opposed the federal government getting involved in Native Hawaiian nation-building. That process is ongoing at the state level with a planned convention next year where delegates will decide what form of government should be created to address Native Hawaiian concerns.

Transcripts of the DOI hearings in Hawaii are available at doi.gov/ohr/reorg/index.cfm. The hearings that took place in Indian Country in five mainland states in early August are still being transcribed, Kershaw said. The written comments are available for review on the regulations.gov site.

It’s not clear whether more people in written testimony support or oppose the federal recognition process, but there seem to be proportionally more in favor than testified in person.

Some Hawaii testifiers are objecting to testimony being allowed from Native Americans on the mainland. Their understanding of the issue has been tainted by a minority of Hawaiian leaders who are pushing their own agenda, said David Michael Kaipolauaeokekuahiwi Inciong II of Pearl City, Oahu, in an Aug. 3 letter to DOI.

“In light of these outrageous lies, we are asking you to let U.S. Indian tribes know that we are against both U.S. federal recognition for Hawaii and attempts of U.S. tribes to influence this process,” Inciong said. “It has come to my attention that the majority of testimony already submitted online is running against the push to turn Kanaka Maoli into U.S. Hawaiian Indians.”

The department asked residents to weigh in on whether the Obama administration should facilitate the re-establishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community and help the Native Hawaiian community reorganize its government.

It asked what process should be established for drafting and ratifying a reorganized Native Hawaiian government’s constitution or other governing document, or if, instead, the federal government should rely on the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian government through a process established by the Native Hawaiian community and facilitated by the state of Hawaii.

The meetings generated immense community interest, along with a firestorm of controversy from those Native Hawaiians for whom nothing less than a full return to the Hawaiian Kingdom will do. Others, such as Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chairwoman Colette Machado, favor the pathway to federal recognition.

“I also urge that it be a pathway that is open to us, but that the decision of when and how to walk down that path is left to our people,” Machado told the panel at a Honolulu public hearing.

Regardless of where they stand on other aspects of the issue, most of the testifiers at the hearings didn’t favor the concept of a tribe like the governance structure for American Indians.

It’s a crucial issue for the state, where 21.3 percent of Hawaii residents reported in the 2010 census that they had some Hawaiian blood, and 5.9 percent said they were pure Hawaiian. It’s even more important for Hawaii County, which, with 29.7 percent of residents with Hawaiian blood and 8.5 percent pure Hawaiian, leads the state in both categories.

In addition, some 1.8 million acres of land, 43 percent of the state and about the same percentage on Hawaii Island, is considered ceded lands, Hawaiian government and crown lands that were ceded to the state of Hawaii after annexation and statehood. They are now held in trust for the Hawaiian people, with revenues used for a public purpose.