Star-Adv: ‘Senators cheer native voter list ‘

By Sarah Zoellick
Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6 May 2014

State senators expressed excitement Monday for the future of Native Hawaiian nation-building now that a commission has compiled a list of potentially eligible voters.

“This is exciting,” Sen. Clayton Hee, a member of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said during an informational briefing at the state Capitol. “It’s terrific.”

The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission recently announced that 125,631 Native Hawaiians are on the Kana‘iolowalu Registry, with an additional 4,500 or so names still needing to be entered.

“This is about nationbuilding; it’s not about list promulgation,” Norma Wong, a consultant who has been working with the commission, told legislators.

The committee called the informational briefing to get an update on the commission’s status after its work closed on Thursday. The meeting lasted about 90 minutes, and legislators walked away expressing eagerness to see how Native Hawaiians establish an independent, self-governing entity.

“I think it gave a lot of clarity to us in terms of what it is that … the Hawaiian Roll Commission is trying to do, trying to establish, and so I think it was very exciting,” Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Kalaeloa-Waianae-Makaha), chairwoman of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said after the briefing. “It was exciting because it helped to show me that in the end, you know, it really can be a win-win.”

In order for that win-win to happen, however, Native Hawaiians need to be successful in their appeals for recognition to the federal government. Shimabukuro said she worries that the current initiative could be subject to lawsuits — as an earlier one was in the 1990s — if the federal government doesn’t act soon.

“What kind of (became) clear in my mind is that we do need a two-part process,” she said. “Part one is that we need the federal government to just recognize Hawaiians and to say that yes, you know, there was an illegal overthrow similar to the Alaskans and the Native Americans. … Then that’ll allow (Native Hawaiians) to go forward because right now they are vulnerable, because someone who wasn’t allowed to sign the roll could say, ‘Hey, that’s discrimination.’”

During the briefing, Shimabukuro asked the commission what it hopes to gain through self-governance.

Former Gov. John Waihee, chairman and commissioner at large of the Kana‘iolowalu Commission, said the many positive outcomes for Native Hawaiians include preserving land and water use rights.

But the ability of Native Hawaiians to negotiate with the federal government could also benefit the state in many ways, he said.

“One of the things that could happen immediately would be with the return of federal lands that instead of going out for public bid could be returned back to Native Hawaiians, where it should go anyway,” he said. “Like Ford Island, for example.”

Shimabukuro said after the meeting she also sees cultural benefits to allowing Native Hawaiians to be exempt from state and federal laws.

“I’d love to see that … especially for the cultural areas, fishponds and things like that,” she said. “Right now they’re really stymied by the state and federal laws, you know, to do their cultural practices.”

She added, “To see how this all unfolds will be very interesting.”

Some critics say it’s unfolding too fast, with a constitutional convention proposed for later this year, but Hawaiian Affairs Committee member Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, KakaakoMcCully-Waikiki) disagreed.

“The process needs to continue as ambitiously as stated,” he said during the briefing.

CLARIFICATION: The Native Hawaiian Kana‘i­olo­walu Registry closed Thursday, but the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission’s work will continue until the commission is able to complete and certify the list. An earlier version of this story and a story on page B4 Tuesday stated the commission’s work closed on Thursday.

Read the full article, including photo, on the Star-Advertiser site.

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