Governor Signs Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill into Law
By Wendy Osher
A bill that formally recognizes Native Hawaiian people as “the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawai‘i,” was signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie yesterday.
U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, who has been trying to pass a Native Hawaiian recognition bill at the federal level, applauded the signing of the measure, saying the right to self-determination is, “long overdue.”
“The enactment of this bill is yet another example of Hawaii’s ongoing desire to recognize the unique contributions and traditions of the Native people in our state,” said Sen. Akaka. “Native Hawaiian values shape our sense of identity, our sense of aloha for one another, and our sense of what is pono, what is just. This new law complements our efforts in Congress and demonstrates that the people of Hawaii strongly support the right of Native Hawaiians to reorganize and perpetuate their culture and way of life,” he said.
Governor Abercrombie worked closely with Sen. Akaka while serving in Congress to back the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which was first introduced in 1999. In 2000 and 2007, then-Congressman Abercrombie successfully shepherded the legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives committees and won approval by the full House. The federal measure, also known as the Akaka Bill, has yet to gain full Congressional passage. The Governor said Act 195, the bill he signed into law this week, starts the process that will eventually lead to Native Hawaiian Recognition.
“This is an important step for the future of Native Hawaiian self-determination and the ability for Native Hawaiians to decide their own future,” said Gov. Abercrombie.
In addition to formal recognition by the State of Hawai‘i, the measure also requires the Governor to appoint a Native Hawaiian Roll Call Commission that will create and publish a list of people who are of Native Hawaiian descent. Funding to facilitate the activities of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission will be provided by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
“This Commission will put together the roll of qualified and interested Native Hawaiians who want to help determine the course of Hawai’i’s indigenous people,” said the Governor.
Governor Abercrombie has 180 days to appoint the five-member Commission. The Office of the Governor will announce the application process for consideration to be named to the Commission later this week.
More than 150 people attended the bill signing ceremony at Washington Place, including groups representing the ali’i societies and trusts; OHA trustees, Native Hawaiian civic clubs, and state lawmakers.
“For Kanaka Maoli, this measure is one more important step in a very long and arduous journey toward justice. Indeed, this journey has taken more than the span of a single life. It has taken generations,” said Senator Malama Solomon, chief negotiator of the state bill. “For all people of Hawai‘i, it marks a historic and positive step in the reconciliation process mending relations between the State of Hawai‘i mending relations between the State of Hawai‘i and the Native Hawaiian people,” she said.
“This law affirms Native Hawaiians as the first nation of these islands and provides Hawaiians the opportunity to form a new nation within this State of Hawai‘i,” said Senator Clayton Hee, author of the bill.
“The signing of this legislation will be remembered by future generations,” said Senator Brickwood Galuteria, chairman of the Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs. “This measure recognizes the first people of Hawai‘i while preserving the diversity that has made Hawai‘i home to us all.”
Governor Abercrombie continues to review legislative bills that he must either veto or sign into law by July 12, 2011.