Hawaiian recognition alive for vote this year

By Mark Niesse
Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) August 2010

There are enough votes in the U.S. Senate to pass a bill treating Native Hawaiians like the nation’s other indigenous groups, according to Sen. Daniel Akaka’s office.

He expects passage by the end of the year but the legislation would need to be squeezed into a busy Senate calendar, and it already failed to get consideration before senators left Washington for their August recess.

“There is still time,” wrote Akaka, D-Hawaii, in an editorial published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Native Hawaiians have not been provided the same opportunity for self-determination as the rest of America’s indigenous people. I am determined to see the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act enacted into law, so we can at long last begin the reconciliation process.”

Most Democratic and a few Republican senators would vote for the measure, giving it more than the 60 votes needed to end debate and move on to an up-or-down vote on the bill itself, said Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke.

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has committed to find time on the Senate’s schedule to bring it to the floor this year, said Clyde Namuo, chief executive officer for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

“We’re ready to go. We’re ready to rock and roll,” Namuo said Wednesday. “This has been such a long haul. Nobody wants to be too cocky about it.”

Hawaiians are the last Indigenous people in the United States who haven’t been granted federal recognition, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and Native American tribes. The bill would start negotiations for a new Native Hawaiian government and the land, money and power that comes with it.

The legislation already passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February on a 245-164 vote.

The last time it came before the Senate in June 2006, it fell four votes short of the 60 needed to end debate. This year, Democrats control 57 seats in the Senate compared to just 44 in 2006. Two independents generally vote with the Democrats.

Namuo said the bill could come up after primary elections are completed in September, when Republicans in tough primary contests wouldn’t have to worry as much about supporting a controversial issue.

The Senate returns to session from Sept. 13 to Oct. 8, from Nov. 15 to Nov. 19, and then from Nov. 29 until it concludes business.