Feb 08, 2011

Kalahui Hawaii: Unity to Gain Indigenous Rights

Despite the fact that the Akaka Bill has not reached the floor for debate, the endorsement of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by President Obama boosts hope for Native Hawaiians, although an united representative entity is the necessary step to effectively seek recognition of indigenous and land rights.

Below is an article published by The Maui News


By any political estimate, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act commonly known as the Akaka Bill is dead in the 112th Congress.

For Hawaiian sovereignty claimants, it is another opportunity to prove they can establish a Hawaiian governing entity that is representative of Hawaiians and their priorities.

The key to the opportunity is President Barack Obama's decision in December to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2007, the declaration is largely a statement of principles "as a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect."

It has many elements that parallel Hawaiian claims. For example, Article 26 of the declaration specifies: "Indigenous peoples have the rights to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired."

That the 15-page declaration applies to virtually all issues raised by Hawaiian sovereignty claimants only illustrates the extent to which the Hawaiian experience is not unique. Indigenous communities around the world have been colonized, displaced or eradicated by technologically dominant societies through the eons.

The declaration itself carries no force of law. It does not mandate nations to negotiate with displaced indigenous peoples. It suggests they should and should adhere to the principles conveyed in the declaration.

The conservative Fox News Network solicited comment from John Bolton - the Bush-era interim U.N. ambassador known to be blunt, undiplomatic and to spin facts to suit his arguments. Bolton said endorsing the declaration opens the United States to legal claims of indigenous people, even with a closing provision that restricts claims "to limitations as are determined by law." ("Obama's reversal on 'indigenous peoples' rights stirs concern over legal claims," foxnews.com, Dec. 25, 2010)

The State Department said the declaration is not legally binding on the United States. But the department accepted that "it carries considerable moral and political force." That suggests the U.S. accepts that indigenous people in the United States have legitimate claims that need to be resolved.

The Akaka Bill was an attempt to resolve Hawaiian claims, but it amounted to a grant bestowed by the federal government, with the government determining what rights were to be granted. Still, the bill and Hawaii laws accept the necessity of a Hawaiian governing entity to re-establish indigenous rights.

The obstacle is that there is no Hawaiian governing entity.

The closest to an indigenous governing entity is Ka Lahui Hawaii, (kalahuihawaii.wordpress.com) which held an independent election process and formulated a constitution. But according to its website, it counts only 8,000 Hawaiians as "citizens." It is not representative of all Hawaiians. A majority of an estimated 120,000 people who consider themselves indigenous Hawaiians is not signed on.

There can be no recognized governing Hawaiian entity as long as the Hawaiian community itself remains fractured by competing factions who challenge the standing of other Hawaiian groups. Indigenous people seeking recognition of their rights need to present a unified face.

The indigenous people of Hawaii will need to prove they can achieve governance - organize themselves into a credible governing entity - before their governing entity can begin to negotiate their sovereignty claims.

Bolton, who held the United Nations in disdain for allowing minor nations to have a voice in obstructing major power policies, is correct. The U.N. declaration can be used to fuel new legal claims by indigenous people in the United States.

They cannot do it as splintered factions with conflicting goals.