NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

For most of us, Hawaii is a tropical paradise; warm breezes, soft sandy beaches, surf and endless suffer. To Native Hawaiians, it's home, an island kingdom overthrown by the United States 112 years ago and the 50th state of the union since 1959. Now a bill calling for Native Hawaiian sovereignty is making its way through Congress. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 proposes to extend self-governance and self-determination to Native Hawaiians, much like the sovereignty of Native Alaskans and American Indian tribes. Advocates say sovereignty would help the drawn-out reconciliation process between the federal government and Native Hawaiians. Some opponents worry that it would pave the way for casino gambling, others are worried about race-based sovereignty, which they say might lead to an unconstitutional aristocracy. And some Native Hawaiians believe the bill doesn't go far enough; they want Hawaii to become a fully sovereign nation. Congress breaks in a few days for a summer recess, so time is running out of for a vote this session. Today, we'll look at the fate of this bill and talk with its sponsor, Senator Daniel Akaka.

Later in the program, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International unions leave the AF of L-CIO; others may follow. We'll get an update from the convention in Chicago, and your letters.

But first, sovereignty for Native Hawaiians. If you live in Hawaii, call and tell us how this bill would change things. We also want to hear from Native Americans and others familiar with sovereignty issues in the other 49 states. How well does it work? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

We begin with Chad Blair, political reporter for Hawaii Public Radio. He joins us from their studios in Honolulu.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

CHAD BLAIR reporting:

Good morning, Neal. How are you doing this morning?

CONAN: Very well this afternoon here in Washington.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: In essence, what does the Akaka bill call for?

BLAIR: Well, you used that word `sovereignty' when you gave your intro, but in fact, it calls for reorganization; that is in the title of the bill. What it does is, it formalizes the existing political relationship between Native Hawaiians and the US. And once it's done that, it establishes a process by which Native Hawaiians can reorganize or create a governing entity so that they can then have a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

CONAN: What's the status of the bill? It's up for consideration in the Senate. The House--this has been going on for eight years. The House has passed it previously, but it's not even on the docket there right now, is it?

BLAIR: Well, that's correct. There have been several versions that have passed out of the House. This is the first time the bill has come very close to a Senate vote. I know Senator Akaka, who is on the program later today, can give you more details...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

BLAIR: ...but we thought that this vote was going to go through last week. Our entire congressional delegation has been lobbying for this aggressively. The governor of the state of Hawaii flew 5,000 miles to lobby personally for the bill's passage. Many local media flew to the nation's capital as well to cover this, and yet it didn't happen. It was held up by several Republican senators who have reservations about the bill.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What are their objections in brief?

BLAIR: Well, it depends on who you ask. If you talk to John Ensign, Senator Ensign from Nevada, he's concerned about gaming. Of course, Nevada, home of Las Vegas and other gambling institutions, worries that somehow an independent nation, or a nation within a nation in Hawaii, could set up its own gambling. Hawaii is one of only two states, along with Utah, that doesn't have any form of gambling, and I should point out that many people from Hawaii travel to Nevada for gambling purposes. They love it very much.

Senator Jon Kyl from Arizona has his own concerns. He has expressed, as you pointed out earlier, that maybe this bill is somehow race-based, that it will, in fact, divide Hawaii between those who are Hawaiian and those who are not. Those are some of the concerns from some of the Republican senators who have put holds on the bill.

CONAN: What percentage of people who live in Hawaii would be defined as Native Hawaiians under this legislation?

BLAIR: There's about 200 to 250,000 Native Hawaiians in the state of Hawaii; that's about one-fifth of the state's population, 1.2 million. There are 400,000--over 400,000 Native Hawaiians throughout the United States. So it's a sizable amount of people that are Native Hawaiian in the state and on the mainland.

CONAN: What about the bill's popularity in Hawaii, first among Native Hawaiians and then among the rest of the people there?

BLAIR: Well, that's a very good question. It does depend on who you ask. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is the state agency that is set up to help Native Hawaiians, their public opinion polls suggest that a majority of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians do support federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, if not exactly the Akaka bill. Having said that--and most of the newspaper polls have indicated much the same.

Having said that, there is a conservative organization here that released a poll in recent weeks suggesting just the opposite, that a majority of people, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike, oppose the bill. There is some question about that. I can tell you that all of the political leadership in the state of Hawaii does strongly support the passage of the Akaka bill.

CONAN: Now the bill does not call for the establishment of anything that would be the equivalent to American Indian reservations. There are, though, a lot of lands set side for Native Hawaiians, the Hawaiian homelands. Would they be affected?

BLAIR: Well, this is a very good question. It's a complicated thing when you bring up land, but to Hawaiians land is everything. The local word here is ina(ph). Without the land, there really is nothing else; we are just a small group of islands here. The Hawaiian homelands program was set up in the 1920s--and this is prior to statehood, mind you--to give Native Hawaiians, people who can demonstrate a significant quantum of Hawaiian blood; it's an onerous criteria that the territorial government came up with. But regardless, the idea is to place Native Hawaiians on native lands so that they can do their own thing; they can farm, they can live the way that they choose to live. The program has been fraught with all sorts of problems. Thousands of people have received Hawaiian homelands; many thousands more have not. Some people have died waiting.

CONAN: And there are other areas somewhat less specifically defined. They might also be affected.

BLAIR: Yeah, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands is not exactly clear whether that would be somehow folded in into a governing entity, but presumably it would so. Ceded lands are the other questions. These are lands, crown lands--that's the Hawaiian monarchy of the 19th century--government lands, the ruling government of the nation of Hawaii at the time; and chiefly lands, lands that went to the ruling eliee(ph), as we say here in the islands. Those three groups of lands, when Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898 about five years after the overthrow, the government lands and the crown lands--about 1.8 million acres, mind you--were taken over by the territory. The remaining one-third, the chief lands, remain to this present day under private ownership of some Native Hawaiians.

So what to do with those 1.8 million acres is a big question, in part because they include some pretty valuable property. The University of Hawaii sits on ceded land. Pearl Harbor, the military base, naval base, sits on ceded lands. Would that then fall into the control of Hawaiians? Good question.

CONAN: Chad Blair, thanks very much.

BLAIR: You're quite welcome.

CONAN: Chad Blair, political reporter for Hawaii Public Radio. And he joined us from their studios in Honolulu.

And with us now is Senator Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii. He introduced the bill, well, again this year in January.

Senator, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Senator DANIEL AKAKA (Democrat, Hawaii): Good to be with you. And aloha to you and to your radio audience. I'm glad to be on today.

CONAN: Well, as we were talking with Chad Blair, he mentioned that the progress of this legislation has been held up by some objections in the Senate. What's the status now? Are you going to get a vote this year?

Sen. AKAKA: That's a good question. I wish I had an answer to that at the moment. I think you know that last week--as a matter of fact, one week ago, we should've been on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as arranged the prior week with the majority leader.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sen. AKAKA: And it was Monday morning one week ago that I called him and said, `Well, we're ready to go.' And at that time, I learned that we're not on the agenda. And his reason was that they did not arrive at an agreement with a unanimous consent request. And for that reason, we couldn't get on. I tried for Tuesday, I tried for Wednesday, still couldn't get on. And Thursday, I had called him to tell him that we would want to file a cloture motion to proceed, and he didn't call me back until midnight, almost midnight Thursday night to ask me to let's try to work something out instead of filing that cloture motion to proceed...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sen. AKAKA: ...and--which I agreed to work on it over the weekend until Monday, which is today. And the majority leader is still not back, so I've been trying to speak to the majority whip and we have not spoken yet, but--to find out what proposals they had for me as to how to proceed.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. As I'm sure you know, some of the objections include casinos. Other objections include land that's currently being used for military facilities.

Sen. AKAKA: That's correct. It could be. But really, in the bill, it doesn't--we just set up a process. And should this occur, it has to be done through the state and also the federal government. So it's not something that this Hawaiian government entity would do by itself. They can raise the issues. They will be able to discuss it and make proposals. But it has to be negotiated with the state government and the federal government before anything is really done about it.

CONAN: We just have a minute or so left in this segment, then we'll get some calls on with listeners when we come back from the break. But, Senator Akaka, can you tell us briefly why you think this bill is so important?

Sen. AKAKA: Oh, it's really important. And this is really a personal feeling for me. Let me step back with some little history. It was in 1993 that I did draft an apology bill, an apology of the United States government to the Hawaiians.

CONAN: For the overthrow of the government 112 years ago.

Sen. AKAKA: For the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii. And as you know, after I drafted and went through it--but it was in 1993, 100 years after the overthrow of the monarchy of the kingdom of Hawaii, that the bill was signed by President Clinton at that time. So an apology was made to the Hawaiian people.

But in there, I had purposely put in a word of reconciliation for the Hawaiians, and what I'm doing now is that reconciliation. And it is for the Hawaiian people to be able to bring up the issues that have been of concern to them since the overthrow.

CONAN: We'll have calls for Senator Daniel Akaka. Later, we'll talk with an opponent of the bill.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Congress is currently considering a bill that would grant Hawaiian natives sovereignty similar to that extended to hundreds of Indian tribes in the continental US. It's meeting stiff resistance in the United States Senate and, to some degree, also on the islands. We're talking about sovereignty this hour, what it would mean for Hawaii, what it has meant for tribes elsewhere in the country. We want to hear from you. If you're in Hawaii, what do you think of this proposal? If you're Native American, what are the pros and cons of self-government? (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Our guest is Senator Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii, the sponsor of the legislation. Let's get a listener on the line. And we'll begin with Emmett. Emmett calling from Honolulu.

EMMETT (Caller): Yeah, aloha.

Sen. AKAKA: Hey, aloha. Is this Emmett from Molokai?

EMMETT: No.

Sen. AKAKA: Oh.

EMMETT: Mr. Akaka, I just had a brief question for you.

Sen. AKAKA: Yes.

EMMETT: And that is, the definition of Native Hawaiian in your Akaka bill is so watered down and diluted that it would include persons with as little as 1/64th part Hawaiian. Isn't that true?

Sen. AKAKA: Well, the way the bill is written now, it really does not designate the exact percentage of Hawaiian. The definition is for the purpose of establishing the roll--that is, you know, who can be included in the roll or the entity that is being organized. And we don't designate it like it should be 1/64th. Anyone who can trace lineal descent to native peoples of Hawaii back in 1893 can be eligible.

CONAN: Even if that was as little as 1/64th, though?

Sen. AKAKA: Beg your pardon?

CONAN: Even if that lineal descent came from great-great-great-great-grandparent?

Sen. AKAKA: Yes. Well, if--and I use the word `trace' lineal descent to native peoples, you know, without a designated amount of blood like 1/64th.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sen. AKAKA: And...

EMMETT: Mr. Akaka, I had one last question.

Sen. AKAKA: Yes.

EMMETT: Isn't the Akaka bill really an attempt to change the beneficial class of the bona fide Native Hawaiians treated under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, that is persons that are at least one half the full-blooded Native Hawaiian?

Sen. AKAKA: The intent of my bill is not to change the benefits of the Hawaiian Homelands Commission or the people that are eligible for that. And as you know, my bill is to seek recognition of the indigenous Hawaiian people by the United States, and the bill sets up a process by which the indigenous Hawaiians may be able to raise their concerns with the state and federal governments.

CONAN: Emmett, thanks very much for the phone call.

EMMETT: Thank you.

Sen. AKAKA: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another caller in with Senator Akaka, another caller from Hawaii. This is Wesley in Kaneohe.

WESLEY (Caller): Hi. You know, when I was fortunate enough to be able to move to Hawaii, I did a lot of searching through the history of this place because I felt I, you know, really needed to know something about the place I was living in, and it's just shocking. Most Americans would just be bowled over at what America has done to these islands. And, you know, you can--a hundred years. I mean, the controversy you just got into there about 1/64th...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

WESLEY: ...whether that constitutes being a Native Hawaiian--you know, you can really just blame the Americans for all of this. And this was really just a total--when they say overthrow, that's just exactly right. They just came in and took it. And, you know, it's all very nasty and not a proud part of United States history, that's for sure. This is--no matter if we have consequences that we can't foresee right now or even if things are a little nebulous with this bill, it's the least that Americans can do for the native people here. This was their place; they were kind enough to want to share, you know. And ask Senator Akaka there about what people did to these islands when they got here and the horrendous numbers of deaths. It's a tragic history. This is one little thing that we could do. Thank you.

CONAN: Wesley, thanks very much for the phone call.

And, Senator Akaka...

Sen. AKAKA: Yes.

CONAN: ...I know you've mentioned a lot of that in terms of reference to the apology of 12 years ago and the history of Hawaii. Let me, though, ask you about the immediate future. Do you think this bill is going to go through?

Sen. AKAKA: I would tell you yes if we can get it to the floor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. AKAKA: And that's our problem, you know. I tell you that we have polls ready to go, but we have not had that clearance to take it to the floor. I should tell you that the majority leader, Frist, did make a commitment to me and to us that he would permit us to do it on the floor. And I would tell you that he's trying, but the Republicans, or some of the Republicans, are holding this bill up and this is very unfortunate. And they are seeking changes in it that we cannot agree to, and they are seeking language changes that we cannot agree to. And because of the holds, we're not able to take it to the floor. And today, I'm still working with Majority Leader Frist, and the majority whip, McConnell, to see whether I can get it on the floor the rest of the week, and I don't have an answer as of this moment.

CONAN: Senator Akaka, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Sen. AKAKA: You're very welcome.

CONAN: Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii, joined us by phone from Capitol Hill.

Joining us now to talk about opposition to Senator Akaka's measure is Bill Burgess, an attorney in Honolulu. He's argued several cases challenging Native Hawaiian entitlements. He joins us by phone from Oklahoma City where he happens to be on vacation.

And it's good of you to join us on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. HOWARD BURGESS (Attorney): Aloha, Neal. Thank you. It's nice to be here.

CONAN: And could you tell us briefly why you're opposed to the Akaka bill?

Mr. BURGESS: We're opposed to it because it would divide the people of Hawaii. It would basically undo the unification which started back in 1810 when Kamehameha the Great unified the islands and also all of the inhabitants of Hawaii. And Kamehameha's great contribution was that he welcomed non-natives onto his military forces and into his family, and that has set the tone for Hawaii ever since. And Hawaii today is the most intermarried, assimilated, integrated state in the nation. And it's a model not only for the nation, but perhaps for the world. Senator Inouye has acknowledged that and so has Senator Akaka. They've proudly said that Hawaii is a model for the world.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BURGESS: And the Akaka bill would reverse that. It would take...

CONAN: Well, in each of the other 49 states, Native American tribes and Native Alaskans have special situations set aside for them, some degree of sovereignty. Why should Hawaii be different?

Mr. BURGESS: The difference is that Hawaii is not--the Akaka bill is not based on a pre-existing sovereign tribe that existed at the time the United States was formed. The Akaka bill would be a radical departure from Indian law. There's something like over four million people in the United States that have some degree of Indian ancestry...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BURGESS: ...but millions of them don't have any special status. It's only those who are members of federally recognized Indian tribes that can be treated differently. But the Akaka bill wouldn't give parity to Native Hawaiians; it would give Hawaiians something that no Indian has, and that's the right to create a brand-new separate government simply because of their ancestry. That is absolutely forbidden by the anti-nobility clause. You can't give special rights to people just because they share a particular ancestry. We broke away from England to get away from lords and dukes and aristocracy. And in America, each of us is equal. We each have the right to the equal treatment of the law. That's the only basis for the future, for any of us, Hawaiians or anyone else, because if you try to have government award benefits based on ancestry, it leads to chaos and things that are just too horrible to even mention--the Nazis and all of the other--the white supremacists and all of the other evils that we're all familiar with.

CONAN: Well, again, I go back to this idea that, you know, American Indian groups--considerable intermarriage there, as well--they've managed to sort out a lot of the definitions of who is and who isn't. And as far as I know, Adolf Hitler is not stalking the reservation.

Mr. BURGESS: American Indian groups cannot--a group of American Indians can't create a new government simply because they have a smidgeon of Indian ancestry. There has to be a pre-existing sovereign government that the United States recognizes. The US and the Congress has no right to create new governments. They can only recognize existing sovereigns under the Indian Commerce Clause.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BURGESS: And there is absolutely no possibility that Hawaii could qualify for--that Native Hawaiians could qualify for recognition as an existing tribe.

CONAN: All right. Let's get a caller on the line, and this is Brent. Brent, calling us from Kansas City.

BRENT (Caller): Yes. Curious as to could this lead to any type of secession movement from the Union, and also a comment. I went to Hawaii last year on my honeymoon and we left after two days because of the underlying hostility towards--that I could feel from Hawaiians towards non-Hawaiians, and you know, we weren't supposed to go there; we had a passport mix-up, but they ended up going to Hawaii, and I just was amazed at the hostility that is held towards the tourists. I mean, not at the resorts, but outside of it.

CONAN: Some people say the same thing about New York, Brent, but anyway, go ahead, Keith--Bill Burgess.

Mr. BURGESS: Well, yeah, I'd like to respond to Brent to as to whether it could lead to secession. Yeah, the proponents of the bill--they make a particular point of assuring the separatists, and we have a radical minority of Hawaiians who are seeking independence or secession from the United States. And the proponents of the bill, including Senator Akaka himself--they go out of the way to--and Ed Case, the congressman--they go out of the way to explain to the separatists that, oh, yes, everything is still on the table, and this--you know, you can still pursue that even after the Akaka bill becomes law. So the answer to that is yes, it is a step toward secession, and openly acknowledged as such.

And then as far as being on the honeymoon and the hostility--yeah, I'm sorry to say that there is some of that, and all of us here occasionally witness it. I hope that it doesn't reflect--and I don't believe it reflects the opinion of the population in general and I don't think it represents the majority of native Hawaiians, where generally we have wonderful relations here, and hope you'll come back sometime.

CONAN: Brent, thanks very much for the phone call.

BRENT: Thank you.

CONAN: And we want to thank Bill Burgess for his time today. Appreciate it. You're in Oklahoma City on vacation? Some people would wonder.

Mr. BURGESS: I'm visiting my daughter and my three grandchildren.

CONAN: Well, that sounds like a much better reason. It's a little bit warm in Oklahoma City at the moment.

Mr. BURGESS: I'm anxious to get back to Hawaii, so I can cool off.

CONAN: I can understand that. Bill Burgess, an attorney in Honolulu, who's argued several cases challenging native Hawaiian entitlements, and he joined us by phone, as I mentioned, from Oklahoma City.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

CONAN: The concept of sovereign tribes is nothing new in American history. More than 500 Native American and Alaskan groups have legal sovereignty in the US. Joining us now to talk about the larger implications of sovereignty is Keith Harper, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. He's with us by phone from his offices here in Washington, DC.

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. KEITH HARPER (Native American Rights Fund): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: What's the basic theory behind the idea of sovereignty?

Mr. HARPER: The basic idea is that a community that has always had a government, like tribal governments, like most indigenous peoples around the world, had these extant sovereign entities that governed their people, should be able to continue to have that because it is about local control, it is about formulating the societal structure, the political framework, the normative framework that fit within the particular cultural norms of that group. And so just like we should recognize Canada's sovereign rights and the sovereign rights of various states in the United States to a greater or lesser degree, so too we should recognize tribal governments and other indigenous communities.

CONAN: This is obviously limited sovereignty; tribes don't make their own foreign policy.

Mr. HARPER: True. And sovereignty is not an all or nothing proposition. You can look around the world. United States is more sovereign than many, many other states around the world, certainly more sovereign than Iraq, for example, right now. And then there you have Puerto Rico, which has a quasi-sovereign status; the 50 states have a quasi-sovereign status. So it's not unusual to have an entity that doesn't have all the bundle of sticks of sovereign rights but some of them. It's the nature of this construct. All it means is authority to be autonomous to a lesser or greater degree. And I think what we're seeing in the United States is sovereignty is a key element to survival culturally of these distinct communities that can create their own laws and be governed by them.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail that we got from Clare Cummings(ph). `I'm a member of a small Native American tribe and have worked in Hawaii for decades with native Hawaiians. Why would they ever want to be part of the bureaucratic system and rely on the Department of the Interior that's messed up trust funds and lands for Native Americans? Sovereignty means self-determination, not having another layer of government agencies managing or, in the case of the BIA, mismanaging their affairs.'

Mr. HARPER: I don't understand--you know, I don't have all the details of the Akaka bill before me, but what I do know about it is that it--what it does--it establishes a process, a process of negotiation between a number of governmental entities; further statutes have to be enacted for implementation of the Akaka bill, and this process ought to begin. And whether and to what extent they're going to create additional bureaucracies, I presume that's something that will be hammered out in that negotiating process.

The question, I think, right now that's presenting itself is ought we start that process, and I think clearly we should in light of the culturally distinct communities that are involved here, the fact that they have a right to sovereignty. I do want to correct one thing I heard Mr. Burgess said--he said that Congress can't recognize various Indian tribes who haven't previously recognized as sovereign. That's entirely false. There's numerous acts of Congress littered throughout 25 United States Code, which expressly recognize various tribes.

CONAN: All right. Keith Harper, we're going to have to follow up that point when we come back from a short break. We'll continue this conversation on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Announcements)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. Six-party talks aimed to defuse the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions will resume tomorrow in Beijing. Today top negotiations for the US and North Korea held a rare, one-on-one meeting. And Senate Democrats argue that they should have access to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' papers when he was deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department. However, the White House is expected to cite attorney-client privilege and is not expected to give them up. You can hear details of those stories coming up later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, African-Americans are using DNA tests to trace their history beyond the plantation and the middle passage back to the specific tribes their ancestors may have come from. For Americans of all races, modern science is changing the search for the roots of the family tree. We'll talk about that tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're also talking about the impact of history on the present--in this case, how tribal sovereignty has affected Native Americans and how, if it's granted to native Hawaiians, it may change life on the islands. (800) 989-8255, if you'd like to join us. In a few minutes, we'll also be talking about an historic split today in the US labor movement.

But anyway, let's return to our guest, and we're talking with Keith Harper, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. He's with us from his office here in Washington.

And let's get a listener on the line. This is Kevin--Kevin, calling us from Phoenix, Arizona.

KEVIN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Kevin, you're on the air.

KEVIN: Hi. Well, I think Keith Harper actually just covered the point that I wanted to make, which is that the previous caller was simply wrong about the authority of Congress under the Indian Commerce Clause to recognize new indigenous governments. And it's a power that it's used frequently over the past two, three decades especially, and it's one that I think clearly should be extended to the indigenous people in Hawaii as well.

CONAN: So you see the situation as analogous. Would you agree, Thomas--would you agree, Keith Harper?

Mr. HARPER: Oh, without a doubt. Yes, I think it is plainly analogous. And this power, as Kevin has just stated, has been utilized time and time again in various form for various tribes, and there's no principled reason to make a distinction with native Hawaiian groups.

CONAN: OK, Kevin. Thanks very much.

KEVIN: You're welcome.

CONAN: Another analogy that some might draw is the long struggle for recognition. I think Senator Akaka introduced this measure eight years ago. It's not unusual to have that kind of time frame, is it?

Mr. HARPER: Oh, you know, it's not. I think that oftentimes these are--have become contentious issues. I don't always understand why. I think they're sort of baseline justice. As one of your callers said, if you know the history of Hawaiians, you know the history of Indian people in the United States, I think these are the floor of the kind of recognition of our groupness of our political framework in our tribal governments that we ought to have. So I don't understand why it's political, but sometimes it is, yes.

CONAN: As you know, there are also questions about, well, some native Hawaiians say the bill does not go far enough. They want to address the issue of full sovereignty, and I assume you hear that from Native American groups as well.

Mr. HARPER: We do. I think there is a struggle with Indian tribes in the United States to have sovereignty and jurisdiction recognized in other contexts that aren't presently recognized. I think it's a constant--a matter of being constantly vigilant to ensure that we protect our rights to autonomy. But I understand in the Hawaiian situation that those are the kinds of issues that will be addressed between--once the Akaka bill is passed, between the federal government and the state government and the native Hawaiians. And that's why I think because it's such a fair setting of the process, there's so widespread support of the bill by every major politician in Hawaii. You ask yourself, if these parade of horribles that Mr. Burgess talks about are true, then why would everybody be supportive of the bill? You don't think these folks would have understood these consequences if indeed these parade of horribles were the reality? You know, they bring up, for example, the issue of gaming. Well, the bill expressly provides that gaming will not be permitted, so again, red herring kind of issues in politics that ought not really be the sand that stops these wheels from turning in the right direction.

CONAN: Keith Harper, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. HARPER: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Keith Harper is an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, and he joined us from his office in Washington, DC.

When we come back in just a second, off to Chicago and the AF of L-CIO convention a little bit weaker than it was.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.