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Native Hawaiians applaud recognition

Akaka Bill is advancing in Congress

August 26, 2009
By MARK NIESSE, The Associated Press

HONOLULU - Native Hawaiians rallied around speeches Tuesday urging them to embrace pending federal legislation intended to give them more control of their future.

Unlike pro-independence protesters during last week's 50th anniversary of statehood, this crowd of more than 1,000 gave a standing ovation in support of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's fiery address seeking a government-sanctioned Hawaiian entity.

''Make no mistake about it: The entire fate of the Hawaiian people is going to be decided in the next 10 years,'' the Hawaii Democrat said at the eighth annual Native Hawaiian Convention. ''We will never, never have an opportunity again to have a president of the United States and a Department of Justice that's on our side.''

The bill would grant Hawaiians some self-governance by treating them similarly to Native American tribes and Alaskan natives.

They also applauded a similar message from Lt. Gov. James ''Duke'' Aiona.

''As a Native Hawaiian, I appreciate the conflicting feelings many of us have about statehood given the events surrounding the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy,'' said Aiona, a Republican. ''When will we as a community be able to achieve consensus on these important issues and turn talk into results?''

The legislation, called the Akaka Bill after Hawaii Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, is again advancing in Congress after a decade of efforts. It could become law as soon as this year.

The Native Hawaiian Convention this week features sessions on indigenous programs, culture and priorities. It is sponsored by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement at the Hawaii Convention Center.

''We know that our future is up to us,'' said Robin Puanani Danner, president of the council, following Aiona's speech.

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