The Native Hawaiian ‘Reservation’

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - January 30, 2008
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All across the northern U.S., from Washington, Montana and the Dakotas to Minnesota, Michigan and New York, Indian tribes increasingly flex their muscles, aided by steroid injections from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Over the years, Native American bureaucrats have stealthily infiltrated the BIA to the point of rubber-stamp approval of most self-serving initiatives from the nation’s Indian tribes, which then go to Congress for enabling legislation. This has been facilitated by generous tribal campaign donations to key congressional and state legislative leaders; donations which - by the way - coming from Indian tribes are exempt from the usual campaign donation limits.

Some tribes have redrawn historical tribal boundaries to claim homestead properties of non-native Americans who have lived on them for generations. Such claims frequently find favorable endorsements by the BIA and, successful or not, land titles are frozen until resolution can be litigated. In any case, the property owners are out thousands of dollars in legal fees. Appropriate governmental intervention has been historically slow.


A more insidious tactic is “reservation shopping,” whereby a tribal council identifies a perfect site - not necessarily even near the actual reservation - for a commercial enterprise, most commonly a gambling casino, but it could be a shopping center, a theme park or a truck stop. The council then applies for “reservation status,” gets a rubber-stamp approval by the BIA and summary approval by Congress. From this point, the tribe’s plans for the property require no approval by the Department of the Interior, no approval by the governor or the state Legislature, and no input from the surrounding community. According to U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D. Wash., “The deck is so stacked against the local community ... when the approving agency is acting in a quasi advocacy role.”

Some citizens in the Northwest who fight such blatant property encroachment characterize tribal sacred ground as anyplace on an interstate highway with an interchange near a metropolitan center.

Keep in mind that “tribal sovereignty” makes a tribe a coequal to the United States government above the state government. Once a property is added to the tribal “trust,” it becomes a part of the reservation, technically immune from state zoning laws, state and federal taxes, campaign spending laws, environmental laws (no EISs) and, if the tribe chooses, immune from local law enforcement. Any products like cigarettes, gasoline or - in Hawaii, anything with GET - sold on reservation land are tax-free and can therefore undercut competing enterprises on adjacent non-reservation land.

All of the above is actually happening on the Mainland.

It should not be lost on the people of Hawaii that this is the model proposed by Sen. Dan Akaka in the “Akaka Bill” - that Native Hawaiians deserve the same rights as Native Americans. Although he is quick to point out the bill itself does not detail any of the above provisions, but only provides a “framework” for negotiations between the state and a “Hawaiian governing entity.” This can mean anything from formally establishing OHA as the interim “Tribal Council” to the ultimate secession of Hawaii from the United States - “something for my grandchildren to decide,” as Akaka puts it - leaving the secession door wide open.


Only a month or so ago there was some controversy over the plans for a Hawaiian Homelands parcel in Kapolei as to whether development of the parcel should be subject to state/county planning or zoning laws.

We have just seen the long-overdue (and what most consider fair) settlement of revenues and land to OHA from Hawaii’s ceded lands. Should the Akaka Bill pass, it’s fair to say the 209 acres (in three parcels) included in this recent settlement plus the existing Hawaiian home-lands would constitute the beginning of the “Native Hawaiian tribal reservation.”

And even if OHA (backed up by the BIA and U.S. Department of the Interior) and the state Legislature could “negotiate” a future relationship as coequals, which they won’t be, OHA will have enough ceded land revenue to spread around the Legislature - unrestricted - to make the HGEA look like beginners. We can be sure OHA will get its way.

But, hey, I guess that’s what the senator has in mind!

Is that what you have in mind?

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