Arguing Against The Akaka Bill

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - July 28, 2005
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Last March I wrote a column on the Akaka Bill. I referenced Paul Sullivan’s treatise on the bill, “Killing Aloha,” and how aptly it was titled. My concluding paragraph read: “Thirty years ago I made Hawaii my home by choice because of the Hawaiian people and the culture of Aloha, a people and culture that have literally thrived in union with the United States of America. As U.S. citizens, the vast majority of native Hawaiians enjoy freedom, dignity, respect, prosperity, opportunity and promotion of their culture far surpassing that available even under their own monarchy, and unequaled anywhere else in the world today. With all of this, why would anyone want to go back to being a ‘tribe’?”

But then I thought that last line may have been too sarcastic, too harsh, so I deleted it. However, after learning even more about the Akaka Bill and the tribal model it seeks, I think I now know why some would take Hawaii “back to being a tribe.” It’s all about money, power, and guilt — “you took our land and you owe us!” There are currently 562 federally recognized Indian tribes, with another 217 waiting their turn, so it can’t be too bad a deal. It isn’t, at least not for the 20 percent or so who are the tribal leaders and elites. And lest you confuse “leaders” with chiefs in colorful feathered head gear, I’m talking “corporate” leaders wheeling and dealing with millions in profits from casinos and other tax exempt enterprises. I’m talking teams of lawyers and lobbyists in Washington. I’m talking millions in unlimited campaign donations to federal, state and local officials, a proven way to ensure the enabling legislation needed to reclaim “historical tribal boundaries.” I’m talking about the acquisition of and jurisdiction over land, water, natural resources, game, national parks, hydroelectric power sources and transmission. I’m talking about big tribal money used to purchase hotels and shopping centers far from the reservation and then, with the Department of the Interior’s facilitation, moving them into tribal “trusts” exempt from taxes, zoning regulations and environmental standards. I’m talking about the co-opting of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs by stacking it with Native American staffers and directors. Don’t look there for fair resolution of Indian/non-Indian disputes. Ex Menominee tribal chairwoman, Ada Deer, who took a key position at the BIA, once commented, “We have learned to use the (federal) system to beat the system!”

All of this is documented by Elaine Willman in her recent book, Going to Pieces: The dismantling of the United States of America. Elaine is of Cherokee ancestry. She chairs the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), “an organization seeking constitutional and civil rights for individuals on or near Indian reservations.” Her book documents “the aggressive expansion of tribalism across America.” She confirms and reports on “the catastrophic consequences” of federal Indian policy that has contributed to “the loss of constitutional protections for tribal members and millions of other citizens.” Chapter 18 of her book is titled, “Hawaii: last star on, first star off?” Of the Akaka Bill she writes, “The bill is intentionally vague as to the type of Hawaiian entity that will be designed. The short range goal is to be free of all state interference. The long range goal is to restore a (sovereign) nation of, by, and for Hawaiians defined by race alone.”

It is shibai when Akaka asserts a plebiscite is built into the bill. He only suggests voters may get a chance to weigh in if the state Constitution needs to be amended. Willman, who is pursuing a doctorate in federal Indian policy, knows of no case where a state constitution had to be amended to accommodate Indian policy. So much for the non-Hawaiian citizens having any vote on the future social, economic and governmental structure of our state.

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