Politics & Policy

Hawaiian-Nation Bound

Our 50th state is set to become a race-based state.

Martin Luther King Jr., famously dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Three decades later, at least in Hawaii, that dream is imploding.

In 2005, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D., Hawaii), is pressing for a future where his “grandchildren and great-grandchildren” may be allowed to establish a nation, born out of what was once Hawaii–entirely race-based. Though the senator says he himself is not a proponent of independence itself, the trajectory he’d put his home state on may end there.

Unlikely as it seems now, your grandchildren may one day need a passport to sunbathe in Maui. And the starter pistol that set the 50th state on the road to a wholly un-American independence day would have been fired by the United States Congress.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005, now sitting on Capitol Hill, promises to establish a dangerous precedent. The bill would create a tribe consisting of direct descendants of those indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, wherever they now are. The bill, proponents say, would allow Native Hawaiians to “exercise their right to self-determination by selecting another form of government, including free association or total independence.”

Although it’s easy to assume that this is exactly how Native Americans operate in the United States, the analogy doesn’t fly. Indian tribes generally existed before statehood as tribes, and continued living, working and associating as tribes. There is no such recognized Native Hawaiian population. In a state where intermarriage is high, there is no active, mainstream “Native Hawaiian community” clamoring for independence. Congress, on the slim chance the act is adopted, would have manufactured it–and for no good reason.

The move is stunning given the lip service we collectively give to equal rights. As former Department of Justice lawyer (my NRO colleague) Shannen Coffin pointed out in recent House testimony, in this bill “racial discrimination by Congress is the first step in the formation of the Native Hawaiian government.” The bill “specifically defines, as a matter of federal law, the racial group eligible to determine the governmental organization and membership of the Native Hawaiian government.”

As a paper from the Republican Policy Committee in the Senate puts it: “Federal Indian law should not be manipulated into a racial spoils system. If Congress can create a government based on blood alone, then the Constitution’s commitment to equality under the law means very little. Rather than putting that constitutional question to the Supreme Court, Congress should answer the question itself and defeat this legislation.”

Ironically, despite the current push, at the time Hawaiians voted to join the union in 1959, the territory took pride in its diversity, that it was a “melting pot.” And, in fact, even under a monarchy, Hawaii was never a race-based entity. As one historian described the kingdom: “The policy being followed looked to the creation of an Hawaiian state by the fusion of native and foreign ideas and the union of native and foreign personnel, bringing into being an Hawaiian body politic in which all elements, both Polynesian and haole, should work together for the common good under the mild and enlightened rule of an Hawaiian king.”

Even if you are continental-U.S.-bound with no hope or desire to sit on the sun-drenched sands of Waikiki, you should care about this bill. As Coffin told Congress, “The bill sets a terrible precedent of racial separateness and, if followed in other instances, would balkanize the American people.”

In a 1995 case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia warned: “To pursue the concept of racial entitlement–even for the most admirable and benign of purposes–is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of the government, we are just one race here. We are American.”

The Hawaii bill is unconstitutional–relying on racial voting restrictions that fly in the face of the 15th Amendment–and likely to get bogged down in courts for years to come, if passed. But before we even get to the judiciary determining its legality, something demeaning would have already happened: The Congress of the United States would have embraced racial mandates.

“The bill,” says Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “is the triumph of the politics of racial identity and ethnic pleading over the American creed. It’s the logical conclusion to multiculturalism run amok–the balkanization of America. And it sets a very troubling precedent for further ethnic separatism.”

And yet, with the support of some prominent Republicans, including the governor of the state, Congress is currently set to set out an “Aloha” welcome mat to a race-based Hawaii.

Ask Greg Brady what happens when you mess with ancient, bad taboos. You don’t want to go there, Congress.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


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