By Jere Krischel
In a recent debate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9d_p7uLfVw), our local politicians once again deceptively framed the Akaka bill as one that would provide some sort of â€œparityâ€ between Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians.
Djou stated, â€œI think Native Hawaiians should have the same self-determination rights as Native American Indians.â€Â Hanabusa identified herself as one of, â€œthose who feel that Native Hawaiians should at least have the same rights as Native Americans and Native Alaskans.â€
The problem is, they simply gloss over exactly what â€œrightsâ€ theyâ€™re talking about.Â My cousin is part Native Hawaiian, and not part of any tribe.Â My son is part Cherokee, and not part of any tribe.Â Exactly what â€œrightsâ€ do Djou and Hanabusa think my son has that my cousin doesnâ€™t?
Neither my cousin, nor my son, get any tribal benefits.Â Neither of them have any inherent right to tribal lands, or casino income.Â Neither of them have any right to tribal membership, or tribal governance.Â But somehow, the Akaka Bill is supposed to bring the â€œrightsâ€ my son has as a Native American to my Native Hawaiian cousin.
Maybe what they really mean to say is that all Native Hawaiians, of even the smallest degree of ancestry, deserve parity with *tribal* members.Â Maybe they believe that every Native Hawaiian deserves to have a stake in a tribal casino, and a stake in tribal lands, and a tribal leadership which can remove them from the tribe for any imaginable pretext without any constitutional protections whatsoever.Â Maybe what theyâ€™re really saying is that Native Hawaiian blood alone should confer rights that Native Americans and Alaskans by blood alone donâ€™t have.
There are two problems with this position.Â First off, theyâ€™re not really promoting â€œparityâ€ with Native Americans and Native Alaskans at all â€“ theyâ€™re saying that Native Hawaiians, by blood, deserve special treatment compared to Native Americans and Native Alaskans who arenâ€™t tribal members.Â By creating a special bit of legislation to bypass the standard tribal recognition process, theyâ€™re establishing a brand new set of rights, conferred simply by racial background, to Native Hawaiians with even a single drop of Native Hawaiian blood.
The second problem is particularly pernicious â€“ if the precedent is set that unrecognized indigenous people deserve a separate sovereign government, without the protections of the U.S. Constitution, what is to stop every person in the United States, with even the smallest drop of native blood, to demand a â€œreorganizationâ€ into their own new, sovereign government?Â As dangerous as U.S. Tribal law currently is, opening the floodgates to rights determination simply on the basis of race, rather than political history, can only be seen as even worse.
If Djou, Hanabusa, and Case really believe in equality, they should be working towards is ensuring that *all* Americans have the same rights, regardless of ancestry.
What this means is not an extension of existing tribal governments, but a dissolution of them.
It means writing a bill that explicitly declares that all citizens of the United States must enjoy the same rights of self-determination, neither more nor less than their neighbors.
It means ensuring that that a pure Cherokee born in the U.S., and a Native Hawaiian born in the U.S., get the same rights and protections as a first-generation Nigerian who was just naturalized yesterday.
It means not having to ask someone what race they are before deciding what rights they have.