U.S. Senate committee chair calls Akaka bill reasonable, prudent 5-3-07

HONOLULU (AP) - The chairman of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs committee said Thursday he believes the Native Hawaiian self-governance process laid out in the Akaka bill is reasonable and prudent.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told a hearing of his committee in Washington that he supports those who want to pass the legislation.

“Native Hawaiians, just like Indian tribes, are the first Americans. They were here long before my ancestors showed up,” Dorgan said in an audio recording of the testimony released by Sen. Daniel Akaka's office.

Akaka, D-Hawaii, the bill's sponsor and namesake, said the measure is needed because the U.S. backed overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 deprived Native Hawaiians of their culture, land and way of life.

“Native Hawaiians were disenfranchised,” Akaka said.

The committee will vote on the bill on an undetermined date.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources on Wednesday approved the bill by voice vote. It is now eligible for being brought up on the House floor.

The bill would secure self-governance rights for Native Hawaiians that are similar to those held by American Indian tribes.

It would clear the way for Hawaiians, whose population is estimated at about 400,000 nationwide, to create a governing body that could negotiate with state and federal governments for the control of natural resources and land.

Some Hawaiian groups oppose the bill, however, saying it would put Hawaiians under federal control, further distancing them from their goal of sovereignty.

Hawaii's attorney general, Mark Bennett, testified before the committee that the bill has strong bipartisan support from member of the state's legislature and county councils, as well as mayors and GOP Gov. Linda Lingle.

“We believe this bill is fair, equitable, just, constitutional and, with respect, long overdue,” Bennett said.

The legislation failed in Congress last year when the bill's supporters were unable to round up the minimum 60 votes needed to move the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote.