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Death Tax Repeal Permanency At of 2005--Motion to Proceed

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2006. Unfortunately, this bill has been mischaracterized and therefore misunderstood by many.

Sponsored by Senator DANIEL K. AKAKA and Senator DANIEL K. INOUYE, the bill brings into focus the unique political and legal relationship that the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, Native Hawaiians, have with the United States. The United States has treated Native Hawaiians in a manner similar to that of American Indians and Alaska Natives since Hawaii became a territory in 1898. All that this legislation does--with the substitute amendment that addresses some concerns raised by the Departments of Justice and Interior--is extend the Federal policy of self-governance and self-determination to Native Hawaiians, thereby providing parity in Federal policies toward American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.

More than 160 statutes have been passed by Congress recognizing the political and legal relationship that Native Hawaiians have with the United States. These statutes demonstrate how Congress has repeatedly acknowledged the legal and political relationship between Native Hawaiians and the United States. Just as it has done with the other indigenous people of this country, the Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, Congress has established Federal programs to address the health, education, and housing needs of Native Hawaiians. As an indigenous people that exercised sovereignty over lands now comprising the State of Hawaii, Native Hawaiians are seeking parity with other federally recognized indigenous peoples. S. 147 is the vehicle for which this can be achieved.

Beginning with the debates of the Continental Congress and continuing in the records of discussion and correspondence amongst the framers of the Constitution, it was recognized that the aboriginal, indigenous people who occupied the lands now comprising the United States had a status as sovereigns that existed prior to the formation of the United States. Based upon the recognition of that preexisting sovereignty, the U.S. Constitution--article I, section 8, clause 3--vests the Congress with authority to regulate commerce with the three classes of sovereign governments identified there--foreign nations, the several States, and Indian tribes.

In numerous rulings over the ensuing 215 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that legislation enacted to address the conditions of the native people of the United States is constitutional and does not constitute discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity because the sovereign status of the Indian tribes is the basis for the government-to-government relationship the tribes have with the United States.

The Court has thus consistently drawn a distinction between legislation that addresses the conditions of the native people of the United States on the grounds that the United States has a political and legal relationship with the Indian tribes--a relationship that is not predicated on race or ethnicity but rather on sovereignty--and legislation that addresses the conditions of specific groups whose members are defined only by reference to their race or ethnicity--African Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc.

The status that the Constitution recognizes in Indian tribes was later extended to Alaska Natives in their capacity as aboriginal, indigenous people of the United States, and it is on the same basis that the Congress has enacted legislation for the aboriginal, indigenous people of Hawaii.

Many opponents of the bill are attacking and classifying reconciliation efforts between the United States and the Native Hawaiians as race-based. However, anyone who has a clear understanding of Hawaii's history cannot deny that Native Hawaiians are Hawaii's indigenous peoples, nor can they deny that Native Hawaiians have a legal and political relationship with the United States based on their status as Hawaii's indigenous peoples. It is offensive that laws intended to seek justice and equality for African Americans are now being used to oppress native peoples.

We must be fair and thorough while deliberating the merits of this legislation. It is unfair to pick and choose what aspects of the Constitution and related statutes do and do not apply. This is an opportunity that each Member of this Chamber has to demonstrate their commitment to recognizing and respecting the aboriginal, indigenous people that had a status as sovereigns that existed prior to the formation of the United States. The time to recognize Native Hawaiians and their contributions to our country is now. I urge my colleagues to support efforts of the Senators from Hawaii to secure Federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

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