HONOLULU (AP) — The group that organized a gathering of Native Hawaiians to draft a constitution for self-governance said Wednesday it won't hold a vote to ratify the document, in an apparent move to avoid further legal rulings against its efforts.
Nai Aupuni said the gathering's participants were the best ones to take the next steps on the constitution, which was approved last month. The group will return more than $100,000 in state grant money that was allocated to cover the cost of a ratification vote, said Bill Meheula, Nai Aupuni's legal counsel.
"The participants have evidenced a remarkable willingness and ability to identify leadership, build critical teams and respectfully support the voices of many divergent opinions," Kuhio Asam, president of Nai Aupuni, said in a statement.
"It is for these reasons that we are deferring to the aha participants to further advance their work," he said, using the Hawaiian word for meeting or convention.
The participants last month approved the constitution by an 88-30 vote, with one person abstaining. The document allows room for recognition by the U.S. government while holding out for the possibility of independence.
Nai Aupuni is a private group that received grant funds from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency. Nai Aupuni had planned to hold an election for 40 Native Hawaiian representatives to a convention to draft a constitution and then organize a ratification vote. But plaintiffs sued, alleging a race-based election for the delegates was unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in response to the lawsuit, issued an injunction that prevented votes from being counted. So Nai Aupuni canceled the election and instead invited all 196 candidates to participate. More than 150 people accepted the invitation, and the convention was held anyway.
Meheula said the group hopes the case will be dismissed now that the election has been canceled and it won't be holding a ratification vote.
Kelii Akina, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs and a Native Hawaiian, criticized the decision.
"After the millions that have been spent on the state's nation-building process, from the marketing and lobbying efforts to the aha, what do the Hawaiian people have to show for it? An unconstitutional race-based election effort and a 'constitution' that the state seems to want to wash its hands of," Akina said.