HONOLULU—A proposal by the Obama administration to create a new relationship with ethnic Hawaiians may have backfired.
The U.S. Department of Interior is holding a series of hearings about the plan, which, it said in a statement, would determine “the best path forward for honoring the trust relationship that Congress has created specifically to benefit Native Hawaiians.”
The vast majority of native Hawaiians who testified during a recent hearing were indignant, and even outraged, that the federal government would try to insert itself or side with any faction of native Hawaiians.
They scolded, shouted at and questioned the motives of Interior Department officials. Many said they want the Hawaiian monarchy restored to power and the U.S. government out of Hawaii.
Congress has enacted more than 150 statutes over several decades specifically for native Hawaiians, yet the federal government hasn’t negotiated directly with the Kingdom of Hawaii since it was overthrown in 1893, the Interior statement said.
Hawaiian activist Bumpy Kanahele, who heads the organization Nation of Hawaii, told Interior officials: “We don’t need you to come in to tell us how to govern ourselves. Let us figure it out.”
University of Hawaii Hawaiian studies professor Jonathan Osorio said the feds shouldn’t intervene and impose additional “aggression upon our nation.”
While the debate is stirring up an already racially divided community, constitutional experts argue President Obama and the Department of Interior have no legal right to create such a relationship and has no business holding these hearings in the first place.
Former Hawaii State Attorney General Michael Lilly has said native Hawaiians have no tribe, and therefore, the United States cannot enter into a treaty relationship.
“The current effort to recognize a separate ethnic tribe by the Department of the Interior is unconstitutional because, under the Constitution, it is the Congress that has the plenary power to recognize tribes and ratify treaties,” Lilly said. “That power does not reside in the executive branch of the federal government or with the various states. So the current effort aimed at creating a tribe of Hawaiians has no legal basis.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a “tribe” is a political and not a racial entity, Lilly said. “If there was such a tribe, then all the multi-ethnic peoples who were citizens of the Hawaiian monarchy would be members of that tribe,” Lilly said.
Hans von Spakovsky agrees. He’s a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation who spent four years working in the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically on such issues.
“Not only is it unconstitutional, but the administration has no authority to enter into such a relationship,” von Spakovsky said. “It is a sign of how the Obama administration believes in official discrimination and sanctions it. They continue to divide up our country and raise the walls between different races. I find it disgusting that they want to do this.”