At DOI Hearing, Grassroot Institute Disputes Department’s Authority to Recognize a Hawaiian Nation

Grassroot Institute offers comments questioning legality of and support for a Hawaiian government

Today, the Department of the Interior held the first of a series of public meetings intended to solicit comments on a proposed rule that would, “facilitate the reestablishment of a government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”

Hawaiian Sovereignty Sign

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii was one of several groups to offer comments and testimony on the proposed rule. In its written comments, the organization urges the Department of the Interior not to pursue the proposed rule, pointing out that there is no historical basis for a Native Hawaiian government as envisioned by the rule; that there are serious questions as to the legality of the nation-building process; that there is a distinct lack of support among Native Hawaiians for the creation of a Hawaiian nation; and that the Department does not have the authority to recognize a Hawaiian government.

In commenting on the question of recognizing a Native Hawaiian government, Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President of the Grassroot Institute, emphasizes that the only such historical relationship was with the Kingdom of Hawaii, a multi-ethnic state that would not qualify as a race-based tribe:

“[T]he Supreme Court has been clear that tribes are political and not racial entities. The procedure for recognizing a tribe does not include the creation of one where no such entity existed.  While the historical circumstances of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy may be cause for debate, it is undeniable that there has never been an exclusively Native Hawaiian tribe or government either at the time of the overthrow or in the 120 years since.”

In addition, Grassroot pointed out the lack of participation in the Native Hawaiian Roll process as evidence of a general lack of support among Native Hawaiians–especially given the fact that the majority of those enrolled were imported via other lists. Moreover, there remain serious questions about the constitutionality of the race-based Roll process and the concept of a race-based tribe or government in general.

Disputing the authority of the DOI to act in this matter, Dr. Akina commented that:

“The Department of the Interior does not have the authority to recognize a Hawaiian government because the Constitution gives Congress the power to ratify treaties and recognize tribes. Neither the Executive Branch nor the states have the power to create or recognize a tribal government, which thereby makes both the existing nation-building process and any action by the Department of the Interior vulnerable to legal challenge.”

Dr. Akina, who was present at today’s hearing for the purpose of reiterating the Grassroot Institute’s written comments, was optimistic about the outcome of the DOI hearings.

“Though we believe the Department’s proposed rule to be precipitous, unconstitutional, and unwise, there is a silver lining,” he stated. “To date, many of the questions about the formation of a Native Hawaiian government have been ignored. While we may be no closer to getting answers to our concerns, we do have a forum to voice them. The expensive, time-consuming effort to tribalize Native Hawaiians has done little to help the state or the Native Hawaiian community. This is an excellent opportunity for the average citizen to have their voice heard on a critical issue that threatens to divide and reshape our state.”

Grassroot Institute’s written comments on the proposed rule can be read in full here: http://new.grassrootinstitute.org/2014/06/grassroot-institute-comments-on-proposed-doi-rule/

One Response

  1. Interesting and persuasive arguments. I would like to hear a point by point opposing response.

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