By B.J. Reyes
While most of the attention to the national Democratic Party platform focused on the exclusion – then reinsertion — of “God” and “Jerusalem” in the party platform, the section of particular interest to the Hawaii delegation was left untouched.
That section falls in two paragraphs on Page 50 of the 7o-page national party platform, entitled “Moving America Forward,” and states that the party supports efforts for “self-determination and sovereignty” of native Hawaiians.
The section on tribal sovereignty in the Democratic Party platform reads:
Tribal Sovereignty. American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are sovereign self-governing communities, with a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States. President Obama and Democrats in Congress, working with tribes, have taken unprecedented steps to resolve long-standing conflicts, finally coming to a resolution on litigation – some dating back nearly 100 years – related to management of Indian trust resources, administration of loan programs, and water rights.
The President worked with Democrats to pass the HEARTH Act to promote greater tribal self-determination and create jobs in Indian Country. The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve care for Native Americans. Democrats enacted the Tribal Law and Order Act, support expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include greater protection for women on tribal lands, and oppose versions of the Violence Against Women Act that do not include these critical provisions. We will continue to honor our treaty and trust obligations and respect cultural rights, including greater support for American Indian and Alaska Native languages. Democrats support maximizing tribal self-governance, including efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of Native Hawaiians.
Dante Carpenter, Hawaii Democratic Party chairman, said the language was put forth by the state delegation through the platform committee meetings leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Said Carpenter in a telephone interview from Charlotte:
“I think it was consistent with previous action. It’s pretty hard to say they’re not entitled to it. It was not a whole section attributed to that, but it was part of the protection of the sovereign entity aspects of the indigenous peoples of America. … For all intents and purposes we did get our message included in part of the platform package.”
As in the past, the inclusion of such language was sought in support of the efforts of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who is retiring after this year, Carpenter said.
The federal Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the Akaka Bill, would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own governing entity and negotiate with federal and state governments on land use and cultural issues.
While Hawaii’s congressional delegation has worked behind the scenes to try and win support for the measure, time is running out on get something done before Akaka leaves office.
The latest version of the bill was introduced at the start of last year by Akaka and U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye. It was reported out favorably by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, but has never been advanced to the Senate floor for a straight up-or-down vote.