HONOLULU (AP) — A constitutional convention of Native Hawaiians has adopted a governing document that will go out to a vote for ratification, the organization behind the gathering announced.
The proposed constitution, approved Friday by an 88 to 30 vote with one abstention, allows room for recognition by the U.S. government while holding out for the possibility of independence, said Na'I Aupuni, an organization that says on its website it's dedicated to "establish a path for Hawaiian self-determination."
The U.S. Interior Department is giving Native Hawaiians an option to have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The plan would extend to Native Hawaiians recognition similar to what many Native American tribes have had for generations. However, the department stresses that the Native Hawaiian government won't automatically be eligible for federal American Indian programs, services and benefits unless Congress allows it.
Under the proposed constitution, citizens of the Hawaiian nation would be any descendants of the indigenous people who lived in Hawaii before 1778, when the first Europeans made contact with the islands. It also says citizenship in the Native Hawaiian nation shall not affect U.S. citizenship. The government would be led by a president and vice president and advised by an island council, plus a legislature with 43 members representing the islands and Native Hawaiians, as well as a judicial authority.
The delegates to the convention were brought in by Na'i Aupuni. The proposed constitution will be presented to a vote by Hawaiians, Na'i Aupuni has said.
The Interior Department will negotiate the issue of recognizing Native Hawaiians as a nation with representatives of the community.
Opponents of the push for recognition by the U.S. government say it's a move to make Native Hawaiians like American Indians. They also say the effort does nothing to correct the wrongs of the overthrow of the Native Hawaiian government by a group of American businessmen in 1893.
"The attempt to establish a single race-based nation violates the Aloha Spirit and goes against the will of the majority of Hawaiians," said Kelii Akina, president of public policy think-tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
Money being used in this political process should be redirected to advance Native Hawaiians through education, housing, commerce, and health care, Akina said.
Until the 1893 overthrow, the United States recognized the Hawaiian nation's independence, extended full diplomatic recognition to the Hawaiian government and entered into several treaties with the Hawaiian monarch.
The United States annexed Hawaii five years after the overthrow. Hawaii became a state in 1959.