Race-Based Native Hawaiian Government Questioned by Project 21 Members

Project 21 members are questioning the wisdom of separating Americans of Native Hawaiian descent from the rest of us under the law:

Black Activists Say Proposal to Create Separate, Race-Based, Hawaiian Government Conflicts with America’s “Melting Pot” TraditionsMembers of the black leadership network Project 21 are expressing concern that legislation now under consideration in the U.S. Senate conflicts with America’s “melting pot” philosophy.

Senators are expected to vote as early as this week on “The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act” (S. 147). This bill would create a native Hawaiian government with sovereign immunity akin to that enjoyed by Indian tribes. This proposed government, however, is likely to be determined on racial terms, restricting eligible voters exclusively to those of Hawaiian ancestry. Experts say this limits the voting pool to approximately 400,000 Americans nationwide – roughly 160,000 of whom do not reside on the Hawaiian Islands.

Critics say the proposal would create a virtual caste system on the Hawaiian Islands and, perhaps allow those affiliated with this race-based government to ignore various laws and safety regulations.

A similar plan for Hawaiian racial governance was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Rice v. Cayetano. A decisive 7 to 2 decision in 2000 overturned a “Hawaiian only” provision for voting for the trustees of the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), a quasi-governmental native Hawaiian lobbying organization. The OHA is now a chief proponent of S. 147.

“Allowing a race-based native Hawaiian government would create an Orwellian situation where equality and privilege is based on race and ethnicity,” said Project 21 chairman Mychal Massie. “To think of such a thing in this day and age is abhorrent. To actually attempt to codify such a notion in America, after the abolition of such racial hierarchy as slavery here and apartheid abroad, is contemptible. This plan proves that racism and bigotry can still find a foothold in our society.”

While this race-based government finds support among the Hawaiian political class and their paid advocates, a May 2006 poll commissioned by the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii found almost 67 percent of the population of Hawaii opposes S. 147, and over 80 percent generally oppose race-based preferences. Almost 70 percent of Hawaiian residents would also prefer to see a statewide referendum on the subject matter of S. 147 rather than having it decided solely at the federal level.

Furthermore, a majority of commissioners of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently approved a report critical of S. 147. Commission chairman Gerald Reynolds said the bill “would authorize a government entity to treat people differently based on their race and ethnicity.”

“This proposal is evidence of the complete disregard elected officials, on all levels, appear to have for the will of the people they are sworn to represent,” said Project 21’s Massie. “Nearly 70 percent of all Hawaiians oppose the legislation, yet they seem to be ignored. Those who have taken an oath to act in the best interest of the people now appear poised to thumb their noses, turn their backs and do what will benefit them and their colleagues.”

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