By Andrew Walden (Originally published in Hawai`i Free Press May 7, 2008)
Are you Hawaiian? Perhaps not for long.
California Indian tribes are giving Hawaii a preview of what can be expected under the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ proposed Akaka Tribe. They are throwing out members—and some say it is all about money.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle on April 20, 2008: “From San Diego to Clear Lake, 57 tribes are cashing in on the annual $7.7 billion California Indian gambling boom, and some are throwing out many of their own members - all, critics say, so those remaining can pocket more cash. In many cases, that amounts to monthly allowances of up to $30,000 per person. The numbers of those receiving shares were relatively small to begin with - only an estimated 39,000 of the 350,000 American Indians in this state, according to studies by the state attorney general, the U.S. Census Bureau and others.”
If the Akaka Bill becomes law, Hawaiians will be forced into something King Kamehameha abolished in creating the Hawaiian Kingdom—a tribe. And that tribe will have authority over who is or is not officially allowed to enroll.
At stake will be land and shares in revenues from Akaka Tribe ownership of thousands of acres of valuable Hawaii real estate. Nobody explains this better than the Akaka Bill’s chief proponent in the U.S. House Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
Speaking to the House Committee on Natural Resources on May 2, 2007, Abercrombie explained: “The bottom line here is that this is a bill about the control of assets. This is about land, this is about money, and this is about who has the administrative authority and responsibility over it.”
The Chronicle points out: “Because of the tribes' sovereign status, there is little outside oversight of how the money is divvied up and used. Under Proposition 1A, passed by voters in 2000, casino tribes have to contribute to a statewide pot that allocates individual grants of $1.1 million to each of the state's 51 other tribes that do no gambling. But they are not required to give anything for the rest of California's Indian population that is not enrolled in tribes - roughly 89 percent.”
Already the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is embarked on a process by which many Hawaiians will be excluded from the body politic of the Akaka Tribe. By requiring Hawaiians to sign up on the “Kau Inoa” roll—funded and ‘facilitated’ by OHA--those nearly 50% of Hawaiians who oppose the Akaka Bill tend to be excluded. Under the Akaka Bill the Department of the Interior is directed to assemble, "a roll of the adult members of the native Hawaiian community who elect to participate in the reorganization of the native Hawaiian governing entity." The Akaka Tribal electorate in turn determines the requirements for membership in the Akaka Tribe.
How many could be excluded? The Picayune Chukchansi tribe of California has expelled almost half of its 1,500 members. According to the Chronicle, “It's the biggest disenrollment of any tribe in California….The (tribal) council explains it as a readjustment of records to more accurately reflect who deserves to be a Picayune Chukchansi and an official member of the tribe.
"’Each tribe, under sovereignty, has the right to set its own membership, and that may be difficult at times, but it is necessary,’ said Chanel Wright, a spokeswoman for the tribe. ‘It's about doing what's best for the tribe.’
“But (77-year-old former tribal vice-chair Mary) Martinez and the 600 other outcasts say it's all about greed. They blame the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, a gigantic building of neon, slot machines and card tables that for five years has reeled in millions of dollars for those lucky enough to call themselves tribal members.
“‘They kicked me to the curb so they could keep more money for themselves,’ Martinez said, tearing up as she visited the historic grinding rock, used by local Indians for millennia, near the tribe's rancheria. ‘Our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew.’"
But the tribal governments aren’t kicking everybody out. Because tribes have sovereignty and government-to-government relations with the US government, they are exempt from state law and many federal laws. One rare exception was the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act which according to John Gramlich of Stateline.org, “would give state law enforcers unprecedented authority to monitor child molesters living on tribal land (in six states).”
Gramlich reports in a May 15, 2008 article: “There are more than 636,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, but there are no reliable estimates for how many live on American Indian land, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Indian Health Service, a federal agency that seeks to improve health in tribal territories, estimates that one in four girls and one in seven boys will fall victim to sex abuse on American Indian lands.”
So what is the response of tribal authorities?
According to Stateline, “Tribal officials are raising objections because they see the provision as an erosion of their sovereignty…. 75 Native American communities in the six states…last year petitioned the U.S. Justice Department (to opt out).” Fortunately for the pedophiles’ victims, an Act of Congress would be required.
Criminals wanted by off-reservation police become especially beholden to tribal authorities. Since tribal authorities could at any moment hand a criminal over to the State police, criminals are likely to do whatever the tribal authorities require of them.
That is just the type of electorate needed to ensure that the authorities get their way. Once enough law-abiding tribal members become ‘disenrolled’, the criminal element becomes an intimidating factor over the rest and the tribal authorities control the criminals.