The Times claims that “a solid majority of residents” of Hawaii support the Akaka bill. It doesn’t specify what polling it is basing that claim on, but the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii found 67 percent opposition to the bill.
The Times also claims that the bill “explicitly forbids casinos.” This is far from the most important issue in this debate, but as far as I can tell, the Times’s claim is not true. The bill says that the new native Hawaiian government may not engage in gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That’s not the same thing. IGRA regulates Indian tribes’ gambling activities, but does not confer on them the authority to conduct those activities in the first place. If the bill passes, the new government could claim the inherent sovereign right to conduct gaming–and without the restrictions of the IGRA.
The Times writes: “After languishing for years, the bill is heading for a Senate vote. This has prompted outraged editorials and op-ed articles warning that a Pacific paradise will become a balkanized banana republic.
“Those worries are misplaced. The bill’s central aim is protecting money and resources — inoculating programs for Native Hawaiians from race-based legal challenges. It is based on the entirely defensible conviction that Native Hawaiians — who make up 20 percent of the state’s population but are disproportionately poor, sick, homeless and incarcerated — have a distinct identity and deserve the same rights as tribal governments on the mainland.”
We’re not supposed to be worried about the potential for racial balkanization, because all the bill does is bless race-based benefits. Somehow I don’t find that reassuring. As numerous commentators on the bill have pointed out, native Hawaiians don’t meet the usual criteria for recognizing Indian tribal sovereignty: They’re not a separate and distinct community that has exercised sovereignty for a long time. They live, shop, work, and pray alongside non-native Hawaiians, and they intermarry at high rates. To this argument the Times responds that native Hawaiians do indeed have a distinct identity, as a “poor, sick, homeless and incarcerated” liberal client group. That’s not the kind of thinking that Congress should encourage.