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Lawmakers agree on final text of Native Hawaiian government reorganization act

MEDIA RELEASE

The Hawaii Congressional Delegation has released the final text of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which includes clarifications addressing concerns raised by the State of Hawaii and stakeholders in the Native Hawaiian community.

The legislation was fine-tuned in consultation between the Delegation and the White House, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and the Hawaii State Attorney General. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules will to determine a timeline for consideration on the House floor. There is currently no timeline for Senate consideration.

The changes reflected in this final text are designed to clarify the authority and powers of the Native Hawaiian Governing Entity prior to negotiations, while ensuring that the final bill is legally sound and consistent with U.S. policy toward indigenous people and their native governments.

The final text provides additional guidance on how the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the federal government, and the State of Hawaii will interact and reach mutual agreements.

“These clarifications represent a genuine effort to address the State’s concerns while maintaining the original purpose of the bill: federal recognition for Native Hawaiians,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, the bill’s author. “It is critically important that we continue to provide Native Hawaiians parity in federal policies enacted for our nation’s indigenous people. This bill provides Native Hawaiians with an opportunity for self determination and cultural preservation, while empowering them to be an equal partner with the state and federal government. More than 50 years after statehood, it is time we act to bring about meaningful reconciliation and healing.”

“I appreciate the input we’ve had from the Hawaii Attorney General and Native Hawaiian organizations to help us strengthen and clarify the intent of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act,” said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives. “Following these consultations, we’ve made clarifications that are responsive to the concerns raised, and now I look forward to bringing the bill to the House floor for a final vote.”

“We have worked for more than a decade on this piece of legislation and I would like to take a moment to thank Governor Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett for working with our staff in such a timely manner” said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. “We made significant modifications to this bill at the request of the State and I believe that it is stronger because of it. Although meaningful changes were made to address the Governor’s concerns, there remain issues that we could not resolve. Today is a new day. We have a new Administration, and this bill represents a new compromise in our goal of achieving self-determination for Native Hawaiians.

“Over the last 10 years we have held hearings, considered various versions of the bill, and marked it up in both chambers. This is a bill we can all be proud of. Now the job ahead is to get this measure adopted by Congress. We will be working to bring that about. We believe we have a bill that is constitutionally viable, and a bill that can be supported by all. I am proud and privileged to be a part of the process. I ask the Native Hawaiian community to come together and to also support this new compromise.”

“This historic legislation is now stronger following this latest set of modifications with the hard work of the Departments of Justice and Interior and the White House,” said Rep. Mazie Hirono. “I appreciate the State’s efforts to provide constructive suggestions, many of which have been incorporated into the final amendment. The next steps are to pass this bill out of the House and Senate for President Obama’s signature. Long denied the recognition and rights accorded to America’s other indigenous people, this legislation finally will enable Native Hawaiians to embark on their long awaited process of achieving self-determination.”

The changes in the final text provide additional guidance on how the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the federal government, and the State of Hawaii will interact prior to negotiations. The underlying purpose of the legislation remains unchanged: to extend the federal policy of recognition to Native Hawaiians and provide parity for Hawaii with policies towards Alaska Natives and American Indians.

As an indigenous citizens of a sovereign nation recognized by the United States in treaties and trade agreements before their government was illegally overthrown with participation of agents of the United States, Native Hawaiians should have the same opportunity for cultural preservation and self-determination as indigenous people on the on the mainland U.S.

The final text is available at: akaka.senate.gov/upload/Feb-22…

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Statement by Gov. Linda Lingle on Native Hawaiian government reorganization act:

“For more than seven years, my administration and I have strongly supported recognition for Native Hawaiians and supported the Akaka Bill.

We have supported a bill that would set up a process of recognition first, followed by negotiations between the Native Hawaiian governing entity, the State of Hawaii, and the United States. Once that was completed, it would be followed by the Native Hawaiian governing entity’s exercise of governmental powers and authorities.

Amendments made to the bill in December 2009 turned that process around. The current bill establishes that the Native Hawaiian governing entity would start with broad governmental powers and authorities, with negotiations to follow.

Although I believe the original plan to negotiate first makes more sense, my administration has tried to work with the Hawaii Congressional delegation on the new structure to establish governing powers first, with negotiations to follow.

Ultimately, although we had good and productive discussions, the current draft of the bill is not one I can support.

The basic problem as I see it, is that in the current version of the bill, the ‘governmental’ (non-commercial) activities of the Native Hawaiian governing entity, its employees, and its officers, will be almost completely free from state and county regulation, including free from those laws and rules that protect the health and safety of Hawaii’s people, and protect the environment. ’Governmental’ activity is a broad undefined term that can encompass almost any non-commercial activity.

This structure will, in my opinion, promote divisiveness and litigation, rather than negotiation and resolution.

I do not believe such a structure, of two completely different sets of rules – one for ‘governmental’ activities of the Native Hawaiian governing entity and its officers and employees, and one for everyone else – makes sense for Hawaii.

In addition, under the current bill, the Native Hawaiian governing entity has almost complete sovereign immunity from lawsuits, including from ordinary tort and contract lawsuits, and I do not believe this makes sense for the people of Hawaii.

My decision to not support the current version of the Akaka Bill is done with a heavy heart, because I so strongly believe in recognition for Native Hawaiians.

If the bill in its current form passes the House of Representatives, I would hope it can be amended in the United States Senate.”

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by Robert Gibbs on H.R. 2314, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009:

“The President recognizes that Native Hawaiians are a vital part of our nation’s cultural fabric, and they will continue to be so in the years to come. He supports the Substitute Amendment to H.R. 2314, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, as it adds important clarifications to craft a durable pathway forward.

He applauds Congressman Abercrombie, Congresswoman Hirono, and Senators Akaka and Inouye for their leadership on this issue, and looks forward to signing the bill into law and establishing a government-to-government relationship with Native Hawaiians.”

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