Although no one knows what the final form of the government would be, presumably some 400,000 “natives” would be invited to weigh in—even a resident of New Hampshire who has never stepped foot in Hawaii and has but a trace of Hawaiian blood would get a say in forming the new government. The most pernicious outcome is perhaps the only one that is assured: The governing entity would lead to a permanent hereditary caste in Hawaii, where natives—defined however the interim government chooses to define them—enjoy at least some rights that non-natives do not. Tax-exempt status and immunity from Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations are two possibilities.As Mary Katharine Ham points out, there has been no vote in Hawaii on whether they want to divide the population by those who can claim descendance from someone who was in Hawaii before 1893 and those who can't. Poll results indicate that the majority of Hawaiians oppose this bill, although it's being pushed through by a bipartisan group of politicians. Should the federal government take such a momentous step without even looking at whether Hawaiians support it?
John Fund points out how ridiculous it is to believe that there is some acceptable definition of native Hawaiian.
That raises the question of who exactly is a Native Hawaiian today. Hawaii is a tremendous "melting pot" success story, with a variety of ethnic groups living in relative harmony. High rates of intermarriage mean that less than 1% of the people are pureblood Native and speak Hawaiian as their primary language. Only a tenth are more than 50% Hawaiian blood. Of the nine Native Hawaiian trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, only two have Hawaiian surnames.Unfortunately, this bill looks like it will pass. The Democrats support it because they have long supported dividing us up by racial classification. Sadly, some Republicans have jumped on board this train in the mistaken impression that this will win them some votes and that Hawaiians support this bill. The Bush administration has been quite supine and hasn't shown any leadership in opposing this.
The difficulty of finding purebloods means that it takes as little as 1/256th Hawaiian blood--that is, a single Hawaiian great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent--to be counted as a "Native Hawaiian" today. Over 40% of those so classified don't even live in Hawaii. Yet Mr. Akaka insists that "Native Hawaiians have continued to maintain their separate identity as a single distinct native community." As Cliff Slater, a columnist for the Honolulu Advertiser, puts it: "That is a real stretch. Since the 1970s there has been a revitalized interest in Hawaiian culture, but it has been by all racial groups."
One hope is that the Supreme Court will strike this law down as they did in 2000 for racial classifications for voting in Rice v. Cayetano. But ever since the Supreme Court upheld campaign finance reform limitations on free speech, I have no faith in using the Court as a stopgap for odious laws.
Just think of what this bill might portend? It is already being talked about as a preface to Hawaiian secession.
What is even more disturbing is the precedent that this will create for other separatist groups. As Peter Kirnasow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has condemned this bill, writes,
Given that the act would confer sovereignty primarily on the basis of race untethered to traditional indices of tribal status, it would be surprising if other racial/ethnic groups didn’t follow the example of the act. What prevents, say Acadians, Cajuns, or Mexican Americans from doing the same?This bill is a travesty. I find it much more important than any vote on a constitutional amendment on marriage that will never pass out of the Congress. Any senator who votes for this bill deserves widespread condemnation. Let your senators know that you oppose a legalization of racial divisions in our country.
Earlier this year the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing on the Akaka bill. One of the commission’s findings was that “[t]he Office of Hawaiian Affairs currently administers a racial preference system in the form of a substantial public trust for the benefit of Native Hawaiians. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 appears to be an effort to preserve that system in the face of litigation anticipated over the next several years.”
Congressional approval of lax standards for racial/ethnic sovereignty combined with the potential distribution of racial preferences by the newly created sovereign may prove to be a powerful incentive for other racial and ethnic groups to establish their own governments.