Attacks on Native Hawaiian homeownership legislation as race based
Indianz.com reports the contested passage of a bill to reauthorize the Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity Act, first passed in 2000. The law, in fact part of a much older and uncontroversial program to assist Native Hawaiians, has apparently become a target of republican law makers as “race based.” There are a couple of scary things about this.
First, the program actually implements an 87 year old program that’s at the core of the trust relationship between Native Hawaiians and the U.S., the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. That act was intended to partially address the devastation caused by the annexation of Hawaii by placing 200,000 acres in trust to provide homes for Native Hawaiian families. The program didn’t work at all (surprise!--remember allotment?). By 1990, most of the land was used for purposes other than homesteading, almost none of it by Native Hawaiians. Hundreds of Native Hawaiians had died waiting for an allotment of homelands. In the first meaningful effort to address this, the Homeownership Opportunity Act guarantees loans and provides funding to help Hawaiian Natives get homes on the land that is supposed to be theirs.
The second scary thing is that this seems to be part of a broader effort to limit some federal Indian legislation, such as funds for urban Indian health care, as race based.
Here are excerpts from the article and a link to the full article:
http://www.indianz.com/News/2007/002124.asp Democrats in the House secured passage of a Native Hawaiian housing bill on Wednesday, defeating a Republican effort to block the measure as unconstitutional.
The 272 to 150 tally broke down along party lines. All 227 Democrats present voted in favor of H.R.835, the Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity Act, a bill to reauthorize Native Hawaiian housing programs.
In contrast, all the no votes came from Republicans. Only 50 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in supporting the measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii).
"Please don't punish people that are trying to own their own homes, to keep their own homes, because of some ideological difference that we might have," Abercrombie said yesterday afternoon.
Abercrombie decried the partisan response to the bill, noting that another Native Hawaiian housing bill was supported by Republicans in the 109th Congress. Even Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) signed on as a sponsor of that measure but he came out in opposition to H.R.835.
Bachus argued that the bill violates the U.S. Constitution by singling out Native Hawaiians for benefits based solely on their race. "So this disturbs many of my colleagues on my side of the aisle," he said on Tuesday night.
Bachus and other Republicans were able to raise enough doubts about the bill that it failed to pass when it came up for consideration last week. On March 21, Abercrombie brought the bill up under "suspension" of the rules. ***
"This is not a bill about Native Hawaiian sovereignty," said Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Arizona) yesterday afternoon. "It does not confer any special rights to the Native Hawaiians, nor does the bill suggest that Native Hawaiians should be given a status equal to that of Native Americans."
The bill has not been considered in the Senate, where it faces hurdles from Republicans who successfully blocked a Native Hawaiian sovereignty bill last year by raising the same constitutional issues. Their efforts have been supported by the Department of Justice, whose political appointees have argued against "race-based" legislation.
Native Hawaiians are a target because they are not considered to be in the same legal category as American Indians and Alaska Natives. But the GOP campaign also threatens tribes in the 48 states and Alaska, with debate over reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act highlighting attempts to restrict services to urban Indians and certain Alaska Natives.
"Under the Supreme Court's decisions, there is a substantial likelihood that legislation providing special benefits to individuals of Indian or Alaska Native descent based on something other than membership or equivalent affiliation with a federally recognized tribe would be regarded by the courts as a racial classification," Frederick Breckner III, a deputy assistant general at DOJ, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee at a March 8 hearing.