Native Hawaiians should regain some of the self-governance powers lost when the islands’ queen was overthrown more than a century ago, the House decided Wednesday.
The White House threatened a veto, saying the legislation that passed by a 261-153 vote would divide Americans “along suspect lines of race and ethnicity.”
The bill would give the 400,000 people nationwide of Native Hawaiian ancestry the right to form a governing entity that could negotiate with the state and federal governments over such issues as control of natural resources, lands and assets. The interior secretary would have to approve that governing body.
To win over critics, the legislation spells out that the Native Hawaiian government could not take private land or set up gambling operations similar to those allowed to Indians.
The bill would not affect military facilities in the state and Native Hawaiians would not gain new eligibility for programs and services available to Indians.
The House GOP leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, said “granting broad government powers to an exclusive group based on race is simply unconstitutional.”
Republican opponents of the legislation also said it could open the door for Native Hawaiians to declare territorial independence from the United States.