Some people will do anything to get their hands on federal wampum. Across the country, scam artists claiming to be oppressed "indigenous peoples" have used dubious family histories, altered documents or shady land claims to win government recognition as Indian tribes.
Now, there's a new group that wants in on all the special rights, free benefits and racial preferences that accompany sovereign tribal status: Native Hawaiians.
This week, the Democrat-controlled Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill to give Native Hawaiians the right to create their own "governing entity" that would negotiate lucrative land deals with the U.S. -- just as many cash-hungry, casino-owning Indian tribes do.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would set up a Native Hawaiian fiefdom in Washington similar to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A "United States Office for Native Hawaiian Relations" would direct federal policy. To enforce this racial separatism bureaucracy, a "Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group" would oversee a plethora of public health, welfare and education programs for Native Hawaiians only.
What is a "Native Hawaiian" anyway? It's not a Filipino-American whose family has lived in Maui for three generations. Or a Japanese-American whose family migrated to Honolulu before World War II. Or a white American from Kealakekua Bay whose ancestors include 18th-century explorer James Cook. Natives of Hawaii are defined not by state citizenship and residency, but by blood relation to the islands' original Polynesian inhabitants.
Local government forms ask residents of the Aloha State to calculate and document the amount of Native Hawaiian blood they and their children possess. Those with the proper "blood quantum" receive special housing privileges, employment consideration, retail discounts and exclusive schooling. The "right" kind of Hawaiians proudly carry racial passports that recall apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany and the antebellum South. Under Sen. Akaka's bill, members of the bogus Native Hawaiian "tribe" would be allowed to create a race-based voting registry of citizens and to investigate individuals' backgrounds to verify their blood purity.
Giving Native Hawaiians Indian tribal-like status and immunity from federal civil rights laws is historically absurd and legally treacherous. At no time in their history have Native Hawaiians organized, acted or existed as a tribe. When the U.S. annexed Hawaii, all of its citizens -- native and non-native -- became Americans. Unlike legitimate Indian tribes that retained quasi-sovereign powers after ceding their lands to the U.S., no group of Native Hawaiians ever established a treaty right to self-governance and exemption from our federal Constitution.
Only last year did a legal challenge to one of Hawaii's patently unconstitutional race-based programs finally reach the U.S. Supreme Court. In Rice v. Cayetano, the high court struck down the state's Hawaiian-only restriction for voting in elections for a state agency that administers hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked exclusively for natives. The court ruled that the racial restriction clearly violated the Fifteenth Amendment and noted that "it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of by his or her own merit and essential qualities."
But the restless natives in Hawaii are not about to let the U.S. Constitution get in the way of their racial spoils racket. Sen. Akaka's bill is on its way to the Senate floor. And though it would perpetuate the same illegal race-based voting scheme just nullified by the Supreme Court, the legislation's prospects of passing are considerably greater than a snowball's chance in a flaming luau pit. Hawaii Republicans (an endangered species) refuse to oppose the bill publicly; timid Republican leaders in Washington (an overabundant species) don't have the stomach to challenge these zealous minority Balkanizers.
Moreover, the full Senate has already approved $35 million for Native Hawaiian-only education programs, including money for construction of Native Hawaiian-only public schools, and there is unquestioning bipartisan support for reauthorizing several Native Hawaiian-only health programs.
If the Akaka bill becomes law, you can bet that every other aggrieved racial and ethnic group will be running to claim tribal-like "sovereignty" and cash in on their manufactured status as separate foreign governments.
United States of America? Aloha.