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Rough Waters for Na’i Aupuni Elections

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creative commons


Honua Consulting
Credit Honua Consulting
Trisha Kehaulani Watson, JD, PhD, Owner and Senior Consultant with Honua Consulting

On Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an injunctionhalting the Na'i Aupuni election.  The Grassroot Institute, supported by the national conservative organization, Judicial Watch, is suing to stop the Na'i Aupuni election on grounds that it is unconstitutional because it involves only Native Hawaiians.  Na'i Aupuni claims theirs is a private election, privately funded, and therefore legal.  

Na'i Aupuni has responded by extending voting until December 21, 2015.  A statement by the group asserts its proceedings are legal and will be allowed to proceed once the case is heard at the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  They ask the court for an expedited hearing so the planned constitutional convention of delegates can proceed this summer.

Last month, HPR profiled Na’iAupuni, an organization founded to help establish a path toward Hawaiian self-determination. The election for delegates to a proposed constitutional convention was set to conclude November 30th, though concerns about the process persist among members of the Hawaiian community.  The compilation of the voter registry has been a longstanding concern, well covered in the media including by Dr. Trisha Kehaulani Watson at the Civil Beat link provided below.  HPR’sNoeTanigawa spoke with Dr. Watson, a long time participant in the Hawaiian nation building process, about her continuing concerns.   

In this extended interview, Dr. Watson expands on her concerns about the current Na’I Aupuni election process, and mentions ways she feels it could have been more culturally appropriate.

  Dr. Watson advocates a two year education process for both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians leading to a Hawaiian referendum on whether a constitutional convention or some other process should ensue. She expands on her point of view in this Civil Beat article.

Listen to HPR’s conversation about the Na’i Aupuni elections with their attorney, William Meheula.

In a recent email exchange, Mr. Meheula responded to some of Dr. Watson’s concerns:

NT:  Were the email addresses, street addresses, phone numbers, or names of those on the roll of names Na’i Aupuni is using as its voter base ever released?  To whom?  

WM:  The district voter names and addresses and any email were made available to candidates from the same district on the condition that the candidate commits to useof the information only for purposes of this election and no other purposes.  They were not made public. 

NT:  What’s your response to the contention that people were unknowingly and unwillingly added to the roll, then faced an onerous process to opt out? 

WM:  This claim was rejected by Judge Seabright because both before and after OHA transferred lists to the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, the OHA registrants were repeatedly notified that if they did not want their name transferred, OHA would not do so and after the transfer, they have the right to opt out through a simple form that is on the Commission’s website.   Out of about 90,000 OHA registrants about 600 have opted out.   

NT:  Are there any rules in the constitutional convention process that bind the action of Na’I Aupuni’s principals to the decisions of the delegates? 

WM:  On the Na’I Aupuni website, it states the delegates are free to decide what they want without restriction and they are free to make whatever recommendation they want for the voters to decide on or not. 

NT:  Is it true that only people registered among the 89 thousand in the current list will be eligible for native Hawaiian benefits and programs from the federal government in the future?

WM:  No not true – if the delegates draft a constitution, that constitution will define membership.  Na‘i Aupuni has no relationship with the Department of the Interior and any rules it may adopt will not limit the delegates’ political options at the ‘Aha.

NT:  How is voting going? 

WM:  We will all find out on December 1st. 

NT:  Will there be any election oversight? 

WM:  Yes, by CW Associates.

Voting in the Na’i Aupuni election ends November 30th.

On November 24th, 2015, the Grassroot Institute announced they had filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court asking for an injunction that would halt the Na’i Apuni election while the case is being determined.

The Federal Department of the Interior’s Office of Hawaiian Relations states:

"In 1993, Congress enacted the Apology Resolution, which offered an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for its role in the overthrow and committed the Federal government to a process of reconciliation. As part of that reconciliation process, in 2000 the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice jointly issued a report identifying as its lead recommendation the need to foster self-determination for Native Hawaiians under Federal law.  Members of the public are encouraged to provide comments in writing by email to part50@doi.gov, onwww.regulations.gov (docket no. DOI-2015-0005), or by U.S. mail/hand delivery to the Office of the Secretary, Department of the Interior, Room 7228, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240.  Comments will be accepted through December 30th, 2015.

Here is the federal Department of the Interior’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).  Dr. Watson recommends reading Section 50-44F, Page 59132, which she says makes clear the establishment of an official government to government relationship between the U.S. and a Hawaiian nation does not affect current state and federal land agreements.

Members of the public can provide comments in writing by email to part50@doi.gov, onwww.regulations.gov (docket no. DOI-2015-0005), or by U.S. mail/hand delivery to the Office of the Secretary, Department of the Interior, Room 7228, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240.  Comments must be received on or before December 30, 2015.

Here's the link for commenting on the federal rule. 

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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