WASHINGTON – Bradford Lum is Irish, Dutch, German and Chinese, but it's the three-eighths of Hawaiian blood running through his veins that matters to him most.
That is why Lum and his mother, Lily, entered their names with the Native Hawaiian Registration Program, a database of people with documented proof of their Hawaiian bloodlines.
Many Hawaiians believe a catalog of all living Hawaiians, estimated at 400,000 worldwide, is the key to founding a nation, or at least gaining federal recognition, for Hawaii's native people.
"We need to be a nation within a nation," said Lum, a hula teacher in Honolulu. "But we're not even recognized as an indigenous people right now."
In a separate effort, the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would formally recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people in the same way the U.S. government recognizes American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Akaka bill, which Congress is scheduled to take up later this year, is aimed at fending off race-based lawsuits questioning the legality of Native Hawaiian programs and entitlements.
"We feel that by having federal recognition via Akaka, we would have another form of defense against race-based claims akin to what Alaska Natives and American Indians already have," said Ron Mun, deputy administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Many Hawaiians scoff at the pursuit of federal recognition. Others support a certain degree of Hawaiian autonomy, such as a separate Hawaiian government that would form a partnership with the U.S. on issues such as defense or trade. The most radical among them demand full sovereignty and the reinstatement of a monarchy.
The registry project, called "Kau Inoa" or "place your name," is the third attempt to count Hawaiians since the 1990s, when self-determination for Hawaii's native population became a more prominent issue. Many Hawaiians were inspired by the 1993 centennial of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and a congressional apology for the U.S.-backed coup that same year.
"We have been robbed of our country," Lum said. "I believe it's time to be recognized."
The Kau Inoa project so far has registered only 18,000 since starting sign-ups in January 2004, according to Hawaii Maoli, the group funded by the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs to gather and store the information.
One TV ad resembles a telecommunications commercial with neon blue lines on a world map tracing the purported links between Hawaiians. It urges Hawaiians all over the globe to help "build a nation."