WASHINGTON – Gov. Linda Lingle (search) and other leading Hawaiians on Tuesday won a promise of prompt Senate action on longstanding legislation to give Native Hawaiians the same rights of self-government enjoyed by American Indians and Native Alaskans.
"This bill is vital to the survival of the Native Hawaiian people, it vital to providing parity in federal policy for all native peoples in America and it is vital to the continued character of the state of Hawaii," the Republican governor said in testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (search).
The committee's chairman, Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., said the panel would vote on the bill next week, giving some impetus to a measure that has stalled in the past three sessions of Congress.
The legislation would formally recognize the country's 400,000 Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people and set up a process under which the Native Hawaiian governing entity could negotiate with federal and state governments over land, resources and other assets.
Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, sponsor of a companion bill in the House with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, called it "the most vital single piece of legislation" for Hawaii since statehood in 1959.