The Right Coast

August 30, 2005
More on Hawaii: Who Are Today's "Native Hawaiians"?
By Gail Heriot

In my last post, I argued against the Akaka bill (which is scheduled for September 6th cloture vote in the U.S. Senate). If passed, the bill would put in motion a process under which ethnic Hawaiians would form their own self-governing Indian tribe, and thus (it is hoped) preserve from constitutional attack the extensive set of special benefits that are currently made available to them by the State of Hawaii. The Akaka bill is in essence an end-run around the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Here's some more information that you may find interesting: Hawaii is a one of the best examples of a racial melting pot in the world, and it has been for many generations. Even during the short-lived Kingdom of Hawaii, intermarriage was common. The Hawaiian royal family itself intermarried with people of other races. As a result, the overwhelmng majority of "Native Hawaiians" who qualify for special benefits today (and who would qualify to participate in the creation of the tribe) are of mixed race. This should be kept in mind whenever you hear argument that "we" owe "them" or "they" owe "us." We are they, and they are we.

According to the statistics posted on the web site of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (the agency that administer the special benefits programs in Hawaii), only about 3.95% of Native Hawaiians have what the OHA not-so-delicately calls a "blood quantum" that is "100% Hawaiian." Only 34.88% have a "50% to 99% Hawaiian" "blood quantum." And 61.17% have a "blood quantum" of less than 50%." These figure were obtained back in 1984. We've had another generation since then, and you can bet that intermarriage has continued and probably even accelerated. That's the wonderful thing about love. It can transcend even the silliest of politics.

And here's a further thought to ponder: My suspicion is that the descendents of 19th white settlers on Hawaii are much more likely to be of mixed race than the descendents of whites who came to Hawaii relatively recently, simply because they've had more opportunities over the years. That makes for an interesting situation. If those 19th century white settlers are the ones who wronged the 19th century Native Hawaiians, isn't it funny that we in the 21st century would think that we're making things right again by conferring special benefits on their descendents?

This racial stuff will tie you in knots in the end. That's why it's best to stay away from it.