Native Hawaiian Act: E Pluribus Unum No Longer?

The National Center’s Ryan Balis attended a Heritage Foundation event on the Hawaii sovereignty issue, and has sent along a summary for those who may be interested:

The Heritage Foundation held a luncheon Friday afternoon to discuss Senate bill S.147, the “Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.” The timing of the luncheon is critical because the Senate is expected to have floor debate on the contentious bill soon after the Memorial Day recess and may vote in early June.

S.147, which is sponsored by Democratic Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, could be one of the most explosive issues of this Congress. Among its provisions: It would create a separate “Native Hawaiian governing entity,” comprised of those of direct lineal decent of indigenous Hawaiians — essentially establishing de facto sovereignty based on race.

As the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney and others have observed, the estimated 400,000 Native Hawaiians (160,000 of whom live outside Hawaii) could opt to set up “a new Hawaiian monarchy and perhaps lead to the islands’ secession from the Union.”

On hand to discuss the Native Hawaiian bill were: Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN); Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the National Review; and moderator Todd Gaziano director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

Some highlights from the luncheon follow.

Sen. Alexander focused his presentation on the potential of S.147 to divide the country along race lines instead of uniting it: “The question this bill poses is very fundamental to the existence of our nation. It creates a new government based on race. Our Constitution guarantees just the opposite: equal opportunity without regard to race.”

He added: America’s “greatest accomplishment has been to turn all that diversity into one nation — not based on race, not based on ancestry — but primarily based upon a few founding principles which are found in our founding documents, our common language and our history as a country. That’s it.”

Instead of establishing a race-based nation within the United States, Alexander emphasized it is necessary to reinforce a sense of national identity. “Americans have always been proud of where they came from but prouder to be an American,” he said. “Particularly in this globalizing world…we need to honor the ways that help this land of immigrants keep its national identity.”

Ramesh Ponnuru added a word on how the idea of Native Hawaiian sovereignty is not analogous to recognized Native American tribal sovereignty in America. He explained, “Congress has recognized the sovereignty of those tribes rather than creating that sovereignty out of thin air.” In other cases, the federal government has recognized tribal sovereignty “after demonstrating that they [the tribes] had formed a separate and distinct community that had exercised sovereignty for a long time.”

However, the Native Hawaiian case fails on both the cultural and sovereignty counts, argued Ponnuru.

On the first test of a distinct community, “[Native Hawaiians] are not geographically separate. Native Hawaiians who live in Hawaii live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same stores, the same churches, the same schools as non-Native Hawaiians,” said Ponnuru.

Similarly dubious, Ponnuru argued, is a sovereignty legacy in Hawaii. “There wasn’t a purely race-based government in Hawaii even before 1893,” which marked the end of the reign of Queen Lydia Liliuokalani, the island’s last monarch. “The government included officials of many races. When Hawaii became a state, the sovereignty of the Native… race was certainly not recognized. The rhetoric of that time, the 1950s, was the rhetoric of the melting pot, not the rhetoric of racial separatism.”

For those interested in more information: David Almasi and I wrote a paper on this last year, which can be accessed online here.

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