US

Native Hawaiians debate best path to sovereignty _ tribal status or outright independence

In this July 9, 2014 photo Pookela Rodenhurst takes care of a heiau, a Native Hawaiian spiritual site where ancestors are honored, in Waimanalo, Hawaii.  Rodenhurst lives his daily life as if he’s in the Hawaiian Kingdom. He hunts for sea turtles watching for the game warden behind his back, forages for herbs in the Koolau mountains and drives without a license because he doesn’t agree to abide by Hawaii’s state laws.  As the anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom approaches Jan. 17, Rodenhurst is one of many Native Hawaiians who say the United States is illegally occupying Hawaii and should give back the islands to their ancestors who once ruled. (AP Photo/By Cathy Bussewitz)

In this July 9, 2014 photo Pookela Rodenhurst takes care of a heiau, a Native Hawaiian spiritual site where ancestors are honored, in Waimanalo, Hawaii. Rodenhurst lives his daily life as if he’s in the Hawaiian Kingdom. He hunts for sea turtles watching for the game warden behind his back, forages for herbs in the Koolau mountains and drives without a license because he doesn’t agree to abide by Hawaii’s state laws. As the anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom approaches Jan. 17, Rodenhurst is one of many Native Hawaiians who say the United States is illegally occupying Hawaii and should give back the islands to their ancestors who once ruled. (AP Photo/By Cathy Bussewitz)  (The Associated Press)

Native Hawaiians could be in line for federal recognition similar to many American Indian tribes. But the issue is inflaming distrust between moderates who support the idea and others who want to see the Hawaiian Kingdom restored.

Before Hawaii became a tourist mecca, the islands were ruled by royal families. The kingdom was overthrown by a group of American businessmen in 1893.

The federal government is now mulling a relationship with Hawaiians that could protect more than 200 programs and secure millions of dollars in federal money. Advocates have been seeking federal recognition for more than a decade.

Hawaiian nationalists insist that the kingdom should be restored. Their dominance of the debate could threaten a proposal that could give Native Hawaiians privileges enjoyed by other native groups.