Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Honolulu-Star Advertiser - December 5, 2016 - By Tim Hurley

A campaign to bring about a ratification vote for the draft Native Hawaiian constitution has received a boost with a pledge of support from an association of more than 100 Native Hawaiian organizations.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and its Policy Center leadership are planning to launch a campaign to educate the community about the constitution and join efforts to raise private capital dedicated to holding a ratification vote.

Former Gov. John Waihee described the announcement as good news. He said $265,000 has already been raised by the group that convened following the Na‘i Aupuni Aha, or constitutional convention, in February.

“Our hope is to hold the ratification vote in 2017, but that, of course, is contingent on our raising sufficient funds,” Waihee said.

The constitution, approved by an 88-30 vote at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Course in Maunawili, describes a government led by executive, legislative and judicial branches and representing only descendants of the indigenous people who lived in the islands before 1778, or Western contact.

Na‘i Aupuni, the organization set up by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and underwritten by OHA trust funds, was originally supposed to pay for the ratification vote.

But the nonprofit bowed out shortly after the convention, saying it would be better to raise private funds going forward to avoid the same potentially lengthy legal challenge it faced when the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and other groups accused it of using public funds for a racially exclusive election.

A group of aha participants soon joined up with Waihee to map out a pathway to ratification. The plan called for raising $2 million to educate Native Hawaiians about the new constitution, register new voters and stage a ratification vote.

Under the plan, a second election would be held if the constitution is ratified, allowing the new nation to select its officers, including a president, vice president and 43 members of a unicameral legislature.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, meanwhile, published a regulation allowing a Native Hawaiian nation to apply for formal recognition by the United States. The move by the Obama administration offered a path to the nation-within-a-nation status that was blocked by Republicans in Congress for years.

But then Republican Donald Trump was elected, spreading a cloud of uncertainty over the process. Many are wondering whether the new president will find a way to overturn the regulation. If not, will he reject an application once submitted? Does he even care?

Michelle Kauhane, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement president and CEO, said her organization decided to step up its support of the ratification vote campaign, in part to counter what she called a widespread misconception that Trump will upend the law.

Kauhane said some folks are under the impression that the rule was created through executive order and is therefore easily rescinded by the president.

But that’s not true, she said, because the Part 50 rule was instituted through the notice-and-comment rule-making process, making it a fully codified regulation that would take as much effort to reverse as it took to create, including public hearings.

CNHA Policy Center Chairwoman Robin Puanani Danner said she intentionally avoided asking the president for an executive order because administrations change and executive orders are too easy to undo.

“Think of all of the federal regulations on the books, and if it were easy, administrations would be stripping federal regulations left and right every four or eight years,” said Danner, also chairwoman of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly.

But Ilya Shapiro, a member of the Grassroot Institute Board of Scholars, urged the Trump administration to act immediately to rescind the rule.

Writing last week in the National Review, Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., also urged Congress to reject it through the use of the Congressional Review Act, a law enacted in 1996 that allows the reversal of a rule issued in a previous session of Congress.

The act has been used only once in 2001, to reverse President Bill Clinton’s final rule on ergonomics, but the law might find new life once Trump takes office because the White House, Senate and House will be controlled by the same party.

Kauhane, who was an aha participant who voted in favor of the constitution, said the document deserves an up-or-down vote by the Native Hawaiian people.

“Is it perfect? No,” she said. “But I really believe it was the best work accomplished by a diverse group of Native Hawaiians working together during that time.”

Kauhane said CNHA spent the past three years helping to push the federal government rule-making process, and that now that it’s finalized it’s time to focus on educating the community about the draft Native Hawaii constitution.

CNHA is expected to organize six or seven symposiums across the state and on the mainland describing the content of the constitution and its implications for Native Hawaiians.

“For the next year our priority is getting information out into the community,” Kauhane said. “With federal recognition embedded in the Code of Federal Regulations, it will be up to future leaders over the next decade to pursue or leave on the table.”

Former Gov. Waihee said the money raised so far has come from 141 individuals and organizations and is being held by the Tides Foundation’s Aloha Lahui Collective Action Fund.

The campaign’s alohalahui website asks Hawaiians to help raise a nation by offering a donation, while its sister Hawaiiannation.com website describes the nation-building process and includes a copy of the constitution.

Meanwhile, the ‘Aha Aloha ‘Aina, a coalition of more than 40 Hawaiian organizations and businesses, has been holding a series of community meetings condemning the Native Hawaiian constitution.

Coalition leaders claim the constitution is part of a state-controlled and predetermined effort to reduce the Native Hawaiian people into an Indian tribe and to block any path toward independence. In the process, the leaders fear, the state would seize nearly 2 million acres of Hawaiian crown lands, or ceded lands.

More than 2,000 people reportedly have attended the informational meetings across Hawaii and on the mainland, during which attendees have been encouraged to back out of their Native Hawaiian voter registration or, at the least, vote no in the ratification election.