Once again the Akaka Bill, designed to secure self-governance rights for native Hawaiians, is being seriously entertained by the Democratic-controlled Congress. Indigenous Hawaiians contend that their ancestral rights were abrogated when the United States colonized the island archipelago in 1893. Despite having been defeated by last year’s Congress, this bill is back on the agenda like a bad penny.
Should the bill become law, it would secure self-government rights for native Hawaiians even though they now represent one percent of the islands’ population and a total dispersed population of 400,000 nationwide. Presumably this small segment of the population could negotiate with state and federal authorities for control of natural resources and land.
While most native Hawaiians support the measure, some radical groups oppose it, arguing this bill will put Hawaiians under federal control thereby militating against the goal of sovereignty.
But the essential reason for opposing the bill is Katsas’ concern that it will be a precedent for others who will claim preferential treatment and a separate government. Acadians, for example, who form the base of Louisiana’s “Cajun Country” are descendents of those who settled in the area after being deported from Nova Scotia in 1755 and might use the bill to claim an Acadian government for Louisiana.
Opening this Pandora’s Box has no end. Every group with ancestral ties to the nation’s founding could conceivably demand preferential treatment. History is filled with mistreatment and claims of malfeasance, but addressing every concern with special treatment would divide the nation in ways that duplicate conditions prior to the Civil War.
It is noteworthy that an America already balkanized by race and ethnicity is now put in the position of having to consider ancestral rights. Groups seeking privilege have now found refuge in the courts and politicians who pander to subcultures.