Hawaiians Seek Same Rights as American Indians

The U.S. Senate is set to debate legislation Wednesday that would grant native Hawaiians — descendants of the island's indigenous people — similar recognition and rights as those of Native Americans. Alex Chadwick talks about the bill with Haunani Apoliona, chairperson of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, Bob Newhart works up a new routine right here on DAY TO DAY. The comedian is celebrated tonight on a program on PBS.

First, this. In Washington, where attention is diverted to Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts, the Senate is considering a piece of old business today as well, a bill that would grant native Hawaiians the same legal status as many Native American tribes. It's known as the Akaka bill after its key sponsor, Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka. Some native Hawaiians still don't accept the American overthrow of Hawaii's king 112 years ago and statehood back in 1959 did not mollify them. Haunani Apoliona is chair of the board of trustees for an indigenous rights advocacy agency, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Ms. Apoliona, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And tell me, what are the key components of this bill?

Ms. HAUNANI APOLIONA (Board of Trustees Chair, Office of Hawaiian Affairs): The bill itself provides for authorization of a process that could go forward that will determine the governance structure. Although American Indians and Alaska natives similarly enjoy federal recognition--of course, American Indians and nation tribes, the Alaska natives are formed in corporations--that is not to assume the native Hawaiian governing entity that is formed by native Hawaiians would look like either one. We will develop our own unique structure of governance that is consistent with our culture that is, you know, 2,000-plus years old.

CHADWICK: Would you seek to gain some control of parts of the islands, that is to have something that we might think of as a reservation?

Ms. APOLIONA: Native Hawaiians--in 1921, by virtue of an act of Congress, certain lands were set aside called Hawaiian Homelands. There are some of our native Hawaiian community that live on homelands, but they are not reservations. Once the native Hawaiian governing entity is recognized, it becomes a discussion with the native Hawaiian governing entity, the state of Hawaii and the federal government as to any transfer of land and/or natural resources and/or any other assets that are negotiated between the three entities.

CHADWICK: Who is considered a native Hawaiian, and how many native Hawaiians are there?

Ms. APOLIONA: It is tracked back to two criteria: Those who can trace their lineal descendancy back to someone who's a original--aboriginal, indigenous person that exercised sovereignty in Hawaii. The second criteria is any lineal descendent of anyone who, in 1921, qualified under the criteria of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. So in either one, they would have to have Hawaiian blood.

CHADWICK: How many people do you think that is?

Ms. APOLIONA: Well, according to the US Census in 2000, there are approximately 400,000 Hawaiians who identified as Hawaiian.

CHADWICK: Not all living in Hawaii.

Ms. APOLIONA: Correct. There's about 260,000, I think, that are living in Hawaii.

CHADWICK: How might things be different in Hawaii if this bill passes for those native Hawaiians and for others who live there?

Ms. APOLIONA: OK.

CHADWICK: I think there are white Hawaiians who say this is...

Ms. APOLIONA: Oh, non-Hawaiians, you mean.

CHADWICK: Non-Hawaiians.

Ms. APOLIONA: Yeah.

CHADWICK: I beg your pardon.

Ms. APOLIONA: Yes.

CHADWICK: Who...

Ms. APOLIONA: Yeah.

CHADWICK: They consider themselves Hawaiians.

Ms. APOLIONA: Yes, there are people who reside in Hawaii that call themselves from Hawaii or Hawaiians. We're speaking about native Hawaiians.

CHADWICK: If you were born in Hawaii...

Ms. APOLIONA: Mm-hmm.

CHADWICK: ...and you didn't have native Hawaiian ancestry, would you be a Hawaiian?

Ms. APOLIONA: For us, native Hawaiian means you have blood; you are lineal descendent of the original indigenous people of Hawaii.

CHADWICK: Well, how might things be different for any Hawaiian if this bill passes?

Ms. APOLIONA: Native Hawaiians, like many indigenous people across this country, are the statistics in social and economic environments, the negative statistics.

CHADWICK: They don't do so well as...

Ms. APOLIONA: Right.

CHADWICK: Yeah.

Ms. APOLIONA: And so as we hope to advance and improve our native population, so will benefit the larger community. And as our governor, Linda Lingle, when--she says what's good for native Hawaiians is good for Hawaii, so, you know, I echo that sentiment. And I think people who attempt to spin a lot of fear in our community are doing the community a great disservice.

CHADWICK: Haunani Apoliona, chair of the Board of Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Ms. Apoliona, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Ms. APOLIONA: Well, thank you for the invitation and thank you to your listeners.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick, and there's more DAY TO DAY just ahead.

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