Will Senate OK Akaka's Hawaii Race Test?

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has company in the Aloha State. Barack Obama’s former pastor has proclaimed that America is really two peoples, one black, one white. Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka (D.) is pushing a bill that would divide his state’s residents into two groups: Native Hawaiian and non-Native. Sen. Akaka’s bill is as foolish and regressive as the sermons of the Rev. Wright.

While many Americans have denounced Wright’s racism, one version of the Akaka bill sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives last fall by a vote of 261 to 153 and now awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would confer upon Native Hawaiians a tribal status like that afforded to American Indian tribes. Because Hawaii has been a cultural melting pot for generations—the 2000 U.S. Census found the state the most multiracial in the country—the tribal idea doesn’t easily square with Hawaiian reality. Unlike recognized pre-existing Native American tribes in the other 49 states, the Akaka bill does not require Native Hawaiians to meet any of the seven criteria that federal law mandates for tribal recognition, such as a geographically and culturally distinct community with an established and long-standing government.

Instead, the bill creates a tribe out of whole cloth, defining Native Hawaiians as descendents of the “indigenous, native people” who occupied the islands and exercised sovereignty there prior to the peaceful overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.

To sort out who is a Native Hawaiian, the Akaka bill creates a nine-member board with “expertise in the determination of Native Hawaiian ancestry and lineal descendancy.” Those with at least one drop of Native blood, as determined by the board, will then be considered members of the tribe and be eligible to create their own government: the “Native Hawaiian Governing Entity.” They also would become beneficiaries of any entitlements or programs designated for Native Hawaiians. Based on U.S. Census data, the Akaka bill would apply to about 400,000 people: 240,000 on the islands (20% of Hawaii’s residents) and 140,000 Native Hawaiians living on the mainland.

Supporters of the bill argue that it will benefit poor Native Hawaiians and soothe racial bitterness by rectifying past injustices. Introducing the bill, Sen. Akaka said on the floor: “The legislation I introduce today seeks to build upon the foundation of reconciliation. It provides a structured process to bring together the people of Hawaii, along a path of healing.”

Columnist George Will predicts that the bill will mobilize the “ethnic grievance industry.” According to, a website established by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to promote the bill, the measure is endorsed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the NAACP.

History should teach Americans that classifying people by race is risky business. While many of Hawaii’s poor are Native Hawaiians, some are drawn from Hawaii’s 40% Asian population, while others are black or white. On the other hand, many Native Hawaiians, particularly on the mainland, are doing just fine without the Akaka bill. The 2005 American Community Survey found that Native Hawaiians living in California enjoy a higher average income than Californians as a whole.

As for the claim that the bill will bring people together? Nonsense. The bill is as poisonous as Jeremiah Wright’s belief that the education gap between blacks and whites can be bridged by racial double standards in student discipline, curriculum and expectations. And it’s as ludicrous as Wright’s assertion that all black people worship one way, and all white people worship another. America has come a long way towards racial harmony. Legislation that seeks to redress grievances by pitting one person’s ancestors against another’s is a step backwards.

The Akaka bill, opposed by a 2-to-1 margin of Hawaiians according to a Grassroots Institute of Hawaii poll, will not create neighborliness. Passing different laws for different races never does. That the bill has come this far only shows how timid many Americans are when the ethnic grievance crowd peddles its racialist theories.

Already approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Akaka bill can be brought forward for a vote by the full Senate whenever Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to do so.