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Hawaiians Grapple With Self-Government Bill

A move to give native Hawaiians the same rights of self-government and home rule currently given to American Indians and native Alaskans may have a shot at passing the U.S. Senate, but it isn't being embraced at home.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (search), is scheduled for a vote Wednesday. Akaka and Hawaii's other Democratic senator, Daniel Inouye (search), said they believe it has enough votes to pass.

But in Hawaii — where some residents say the measure is long overdue but others say it could damage property rights and divide the islands' population along racial lines — a majority oppose it. A new poll shows around 56 percent in Hawaii are against the bill, which would set up the largest sovereign nation in the United States.

The bill would also preserve race-based programs — from health care to education — that serve native Hawaiians only.

The controversy over the sovereignty of native Hawaiian lands dates back to 1893, when businessmen overthrew the monarchy after Lili'uokalani, the Hawaiian queen, surrendered to U.S. Marines. It was a bloodless coup but Hawaiians claim the overthrow was illegal.

Ten years ago, Congress issued an apology to native Hawaiians and agreed to reconciliation. Even though the apology was not necessarily meant to justify claims against the United States, today some native Hawaiians want reparations. Others say the bill is divisive and, because the islands overwhelmingly approved statehood in 1959, obsolete.

"This is a declaration by the U.S. Congress and the administration — and it lays the foundation for the reconciliation process — which must be an engagement of native Hawaiians with the United States," said Haunani Apoliona of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (search).

But Hawaii resident William Burgess said he thought the bill was a "land grab" that would hurt the state. "The bill would have the state of Hawaii surrender its sovereignty over lands, surrender sovereignty over part of population and give away one third to one half of its public lands," Burgess said.

The bill would create a new independent native Hawaiian government that will negotiate with the federal and state governments to transfer native lands and resources. Critics say that up to 40 percent of the island state could be up for grabs and native Hawaiians could sue private landowners for aboriginal homeland rights.

"Instead of them bringing about these issues all individually, there is one governing entity now to represent the native Hawaiian people and we feel that is critically important, it's fair, and it's the right thing to do," said Gov. Linda Lingle (search), a Republican who supports the legislation.

But others disagree.

"When does it stop?" asks Hawaiian historian Rubellite Kawene Johnson. "When do you stop charging people for what was wrong ages ago?"

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' William La Jeunesse.