Thursday, May 26, 2016


Originally Published At In 2003

Natives, Senators and Oil
 - The Connection Between Drilling In The
 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge And The Akaka Bill.

By Anne Keala Kelly

Part One -

Hours before the war in Iraq officially began on March 19th, the Boxer Amendment stripped a provision from the budget bill that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Had the President announced the beginning of the war sooner, it's unlikely the amendment would have succeeded. Now, as debates about the value of oil intensify, it will become increasingly difficult to keep drilling out of the Refuge. After all, how can we justify risking American lives in the Middle East to secure that region's oil reserves without being willing to drill the wells dry in our own back yard? 

This story is about that untapped oil at the top of the world and the surprising connection between it and the Hawaiian Federal Recognition bill, referred to as the Akaka Bill. It's a peek behind the curtain of how the politics of oil can corrupt the politics of native peoples. It shows how the Alaska oil industry has stepped into the Native Hawaiian community to secure Senator Daniel Akaka's support for drilling in the Refuge, and to convince Hawaiians to oppose the Gwich'in people. 

The Gwich'in are an Alaska Native tribe fighting to keep the oil industry out of the Refuge. As a federally recognized tribe, the Gwich'in are subject to the plenary powers of Congress, which means Congress has absolute power to make determinations that directly impact their environment and food source. The United States' classification of Hawaiians and how that would affect their political future is part of the debate over the Akaka Bill, which seeks to define them, like the Gwich'in, as federally recognized "Native Americans." Among Hawaiians who oppose the bill, such a definition is viewed as an attempt to extinguish the dual political status Hawaiians have as indigenous people and citizens of an occupied, independent Nation State that was illegally annexed by the US in 1898. 

Connections between what is happening with the Gwich'in people, and what may happen with Hawaiians should they choose to go the way of federal recognition, don't end with the plenary powers of Congress or Senator Akaka's vote on drilling. Hawaiians and Gwich'in actually have another critical link in common - that being how Alaska's oil industry has, via the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, influenced Hawaiian politics on the issue of the Akaka Bill. The answer to why this connects the Gwich'in struggle to keep drilling out of the Refuge with Hawaiian debates over the Akaka Bill, is discovered by examining who has power over federal dollars for Hawaiians and who is pressuring them to accept federal recognition.

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

Three years ago, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was organized to help non-profits that provide Hawaiian healthcare, housing, education and cultural programs apply for or keep federal funding. Robin Danner, a Native Hawaiian who, at 36, moved home to Kauai a little more than 4 years ago and led the way to assemble the Council, becoming its first President and CEO. After living 25 years in Alaska with her parents, and brothers and sisters, she brought a working knowledge of how Alaska natives have navigated the path to native corporate and non-profit federal contracts. 

Once established, the Council quickly came to include nonprofit powerhouses who handle most of the millions of federal dollars earmarked for Native Hawaiians. It also includes CEOs and trustees from Native Hawaiian trusts like the Queen Lili'uokalani Trust, which has a modest portfolio that benefits Hawaiian orphans, and the billion-dollar Bishop Estates Trust, now called Kamehameha Schools. Since its inception, the Council has become part of the status quo, serving as facilitator of the prestigious Administrative Native American federal contract, which is worth $1.2 million, and directed by Robin's younger sister, Jade Danner. The Council has also received a pledge of $100,000 from Bank of Hawai'i, and other institutional support, including $100,000 from the Inupiat-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

 The need for an organization like the Council became apparent in the wake of the US Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Rice vs. Cayetano, allowing non-Hawaiians to elect trustees to the state agency, Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Since then, funding and tax breaks given to Hawaiian non-profits and trusts have come under legal attack as unlawful, race-based benefits. (See "Rice on Rice," page 17 of this issue of HIJ). 

Lesser- known, less well-connected Hawaiian non-profits looking for funding have joined or considered joining the Council, hoping to team up with other non-profits. But what has apparently emerged as the Council's most pressing concern is not what most Hawaiian non-profit organizers were expecting. In September 2002, the Council's 1st Annual Native Hawaiian Conference took place at the Sheraton Waikiki. With a personal visit from Senator Daniel Akaka and videotaped messages from the Hawai'i Congressional delegation that were shown daily, the gathering took the shape of a well-financed sales pitch and rallying cry for the Akaka Bill. 
The Council held its second gathering in Waikiki in August 2003. This time the congressional giant himself, Senator Daniel Inouye, addressed several hundred Hawaiians in person, assuring them that there now exists a "rare demonstration of unity" between Hawai'i state, local, and federal lawmakers on the matter of federal recognition. Inouye then went on to urge Hawaiians to do the same and unite behind this bill.

Part Two Tomorrow...