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Statement of Michael B. Enzi

 

S. 147, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2006

 

June 5, 2006

 

Mr. President.  I rise in strong opposition to S. 147, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2006. 

 

We must celebrate racial diversity in our nation.  Racial diversity defines the cultural norms and values that make America the “melting pot” that is so amazing.  America ’s foundation is built upon many diverse races and cultures uniting to become one nation, but while we can celebrate those diverse cultures, we must remember that we are all Americans and we must work to bridge gaps, not widen them.  

 

 

Everyday millions of Americans pledge their allegiance to our flag.  They stand for the freedoms and rights guaranteed by our Constitution.  One of the essential clauses of this pledge remains, “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”   A source of our strength is our diversity, and still, despite our diversity, we are melded as one Nation, under God.

 

 

When I return to Wyoming , I often attend swearing in ceremonies.  It is an honor to watch people become citizens of this great nation.  Swearing in ceremonies are moving experiences that I cherish.  At a swearing in ceremony, people from every background and every nation come together to celebrate America .  Every American should take the time to watch a swearing in ceremony because when they do, they will realize the privilege that comes with being an American citizen.  They come in as citizens of India, China, Mexico, Germany , and many others, but they leave as Americans. 

 

 

Although many citizens of this country practice and honor diverse traditions that are unique to their culture, one core similarity exists: we are all Americans.  Racial diversity is important, but it should not be the rationale for the establishment of a separate sovereign government. 

 

 

Wyoming is the home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe Tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  As part of the United States , these tribes have been recognized for nearly one hundred fifty years as sovereign nations.  The Eastern Shoshone community was granted sovereignty during the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1863 before Wyoming became a state.  Over the years, other Native American and Alaskan tribes gained sovereignty by meeting the criteria laid out in our laws.  Native Hawaiians now seek sovereignty similar to that of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives through this legislation. 

 

 

While I understand their desire to be granted sovereign immunity, the facts and circumstances surrounding Native Hawaiians are different.  It does not make sense to waive or change the requirements that others had to meet.

 

 

Our government has never created an Indian tribe.  Sovereignty has only been granted to preexisting tribes and only in special, rare circumstances after statehood. 

 

 

 

In order to be federally recognized, a tribe must meet several criteria.  A tribe must prove it existed and operated as a tribe for the past century.  Additionally, the tribe must distinguish itself as a separate and distinct community both geographically and culturally.  Finally, the tribe must have a preexisting political structure that is clear.  Native Hawaiians do not meet these criteria. 

 

 

A distinct community does not exist according to the standards outlined in the proposed legislation.    Within the United States and the state of Hawaii , Native Hawaiians live integrated among all races. 

 

 

During the “fall” of Queen Liliuokalani, a “Native Hawaiian” government was not present.  All races coexisted under the reign of the monarchy.  Non-Natives even held high positions within the government.   

 

 

In 1898, at the time of annexation, there was no political effort to treat Native Hawaiians similar to Alaska Natives or Native American Tribes.  The same held true when 94 percent of Hawaiians voted to become a state in 1959.  Ninety-four percent of Hawaiians voted to become Americans.  In fact, at that time, advocates of Hawaiian statehood emphasized the cohesive diversity, the “melting pot” nature of Hawaii .

 

 

In addition, in 1998, the state of Hawaii ’s Supreme Court brief from the case of Rice v. Cayetano expressed the government’s belief that, “The Tribal concept simply has no place in the context of Hawaiian history.”

 

 

If the proposed legislation passes, the progress we have made over the past century to improve racial equality regresses.  Instead of uniting the country we divide it, and some of the darkest hours of this Nation occurred when people were separated because of race.  This legislation is based solely on the ideology of race.

 

 

We are all Americans, and as such, we need to be united.  Although I respect the desire of Native Hawaiians to be a federally recognized sovereign nation, I strongly urge my colleagues to oppose S. 147.

 

I yield the floor.