Native Ancestry Defined

Published July 1, 2006

Native Hawaiian ancestry is defined in the Akaka bill as being those who are “direct lineal descendants of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people” of the archipelago, qualifying under any of the following three criteria as defined in the bill (directly quoted here):

“1. resided in the islands that now comprise the State of Hawaii on or before January 1, 1893;

“2. occupied and exercised sovereignty in the Hawaiian archipelago, including the area that now constitutes the State of Hawaii;

“3. an individual who is one of the indigenous, native people of Hawaii and who was eligible in 1921 for the programs authorized by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (42 Stat. 108, chapter 42) or a direct lineal descendant of that individual.”

The language in item 2 appears to be intentionally vague. King Kamehameha united the islands in 1810, but there are few family records from that period, which makes the point moot. It is actually a political statement intended to establish a “sovereignty” for Native Hawaiians as the bill defines them even though the monarchy, not the people, was sovereign over the territory at the time.

Under these definitions a person with any percentage of Hawaiian ancestry, no matter how small (known as the “one-drop” rule), could qualify as Native Hawaiian regardless of what the makeup of the rest of his or her heritage might be. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Census 2000 put the total Native Hawaiian population at 401,162, with just under 60 percent living in Hawaii and the rest in various other parts of the country.

Anyone certified by the commission created under the bill as Native Hawaiian would be eligible to participate in the creation of the Reorganized Native Hawaiian government whether they lived in Hawaii or not. The one-drop rule also means the number of Native Hawaiians will continue to grow.

— Don Newman