Native Hawaiians can't get recognized through BIA


Last updated 7/27/2013 at 2:25pm

WASHINGTON, DC—Native Hawaiians have been told that they can't get federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. On March 19, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn to a House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs that the regulations apply only to groups in the “contiguous 48 states and Alaska.”

“We are not able to consider Native Hawaiians under our current regs,” Washburn told the House committee. “Our regs leave out Native Hawaiians.”

Up until this time, Native Hawaiians have been treated the same way as tribes in the continental U.S. But according to the BIA, they aren't able to exercise sovereignty in the same way, although this is a situation that could be changed by Congress.

“They're indigenous, just like Native American Indians [and] Native Alaskans,” Representative Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa) told the committee.

U.S. President Barack Obama who was born in Hawaii, supports granting federal recognition to Native Hawaiians. However, since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Rive v. Cavetano, in which Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., while still a private attorney, unsuccessfully argued that Native Hawaiians enjoy a trust relationship with the U.S. government.

“They are truly the indigenous group from the state of Hawaii,” Rep. Faleomavaega stated.

The BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment reports to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. It's this department that handles federal recognition petitions.


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