Editorial| Island Voices
Federal rule denies Hawaiians the right to rule themselves
By Mililani Trask
October 6, 2016
Self-determination, as defined in international human rights instruments, is the right of all peoples to freely determine their political status, and by virtue of that right to freely pursue their economic, cultural and social development.
Under this definition, the new federal rule announced by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) is a denial of the Hawaiian Peoples’ right to self-determination.
Drafted in Washington by federal bureaucrats, the rule ensures that the new Hawaiian nation will not have any land, will not be able to raise funds through taxation and economic development, and will not be able to bring historic claims to the federal courts for redress. Reparations are owed by the United States and the state of Hawaii for the adverse ramifications of the overthrow and the system of wardship that resulted from the passage of the Admission Act.
It is doubtful that many people, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, have the time to read the 172-page rule sent electronically from D.C. But the seven-page paper accompanying it is an easy read that clarifies the true intent and impact of the rule.
That paper — “Frequently Asked Questions on Part 50-The Final Rule for Procedures for Reestablishing a Formal Government-to-Government Relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community” (seehttp://808ne.ws/2dtCkSS) — makes it clear that the Hawaiian Nation will have none of the powers and authorities currently granted by the U.S. to the Indian nations.
Hawaii is the only state in the Union where there are two state agencies overseeing the lands and resources of indigenous peoples. These agencies control a percentage of revenues (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) and land (Department of Land and Natural Resources) set aside by the United States and the state of Hawaii for Native Hawaiians, who are wards of the state.
Recognized Indian nations control their own lands, territories and resources. They have the power to zone their lands for economic undertakings and for the construction of housing, schools and medical facilities. They raise revenues through taxation, and their national establishments are exempt from federal and state taxation.
Federal statutes specifically allow for Indian nations to sue the United States directly in federal District Court to enforce their treaty rights, and for restitution. Native Hawaiians will have none of these rights under the new DOI rule.
In his recent opinion piece, OHA Chairman Robert Lindsey Jr. asserted that the new rule is a “tool for Native Hawaiians to protect what we have and pursue what we deserve” (“New rule will help Native Hawaiians achieve political self-determination,” Island Voices, Oct. 2). This is simply not the case.
As someone who helped craft the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and as an attorney who has been working on this issue for decades, I speak from an in-depth understanding of the law on indigenous rights, and as a defender of the rights of the Hawaiian people.
Lindsey also asserted that “affirming Native Hawaiians’ indigenous status strengthens Hawaiian rights and protects Hawaiian resources. This is what OHA was created to do.”
Yes, indeed. But it remains to be seen whether OHA has in fact fulfilled its sacred trust and dealt in good faith with the Hawaiian people and all the people of Hawaii.
OHA must be held to the highest standards of governance and accountability. To not do so is to betray the mission with which it was entrusted and break faith with the people of Hawaii.
Questions about OHA’s stewardship of the assets entrusted to it must be asked. And answered. It is the least the public in general, and Native Hawaiians in particular, deserve.