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HONOLULU – Their kingdom long ago overthrown, Native Hawaiians seeking redress are closer than they’ve ever been to reclaiming a piece of Hawaii. Native Hawaiians are the last remaining indigenous group in the United States that hasn’t been allowed to establish their own government, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and 564 Native American tribes. With a final vote pending in the U.S. Senate and Hawaii-born President Barack Obama on their side, the nation’s 400,000 Native Hawaiians could earn federal recognition as soon as this month — and the land, money and power that comes with it.
The measure passed the U.S. House last month. Many Native Hawaiians believe this process could help right the wrongs perpetuated since their kingdom was overthrown in 1893. The also point to the hundreds of thousands who died from diseases spread by foreign explorers before the kingdom fell. Native Hawaiians never fully assimilated after the first Europeans arrived in 1778: They earn less money, live shorter lives, get sent to prison more often and are more likely to end up homeless than other ethnicities, said Clyde Namuo, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state-funded agency founded to improve the conditions of Native Hawaiians. “It’s about correcting the injustice,” Namuo said. “When you look very closely at the numbers — prison, health, wealth, education — we are not at the level that our colonizers are at.” However, just what Native Hawaiians would receive if the federal recognition measure passes Congress is uncertain.
The bill sets up negotiations between a new Native Hawaiian government, the state of Hawaii and the federal government, but it doesn’t specify what resources Native Hawaiians would receive. Namuo said he hopes the lives of Native Hawaiians would be improved if they had more control of their own destiny. A disproportionate share of Native Hawaiians find themselves homeless, huddled beneath plastic tarps in beach camps or living in shelters. Native Hawaiians make up 28 percent of the state’s homeless who received outreach services, while accounting for about 20 percent of the population, according to last year’s report by the University of Hawaii Center on the Family.
Congratulations to the Hawaiians!