The Right Coast

September 29, 2005
Hawaiian Population Explosion?
By Gail Heriot

For the last few months, I've been blogging about the proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, popularly known as the "Akaka bill," which, if passed, will authorize ethnic Hawaiians to retroactively form themselves into the nation's largest Indian tribe. If you still haven't heard about this ill-advised item of legislation, check out my op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which explains why ethnic Hawaiian leaders want such a thing. (Hint: They believe tribal status will immunize Hawaii's massive system of special benefits for ethnic Hawaiians from constitutional scrutiny.)

Here is another reason to oppose the Akaka bill: By the year 2050, the number of ethnic Hawaiians in the country is expected to double from approximately 401,162 to 987,602. More and more people will be on the receiving end of special benefits for ethnic Hawaiians, which include special housing, special schools, special home loans, special employment opportunities and special business loans. What is a very bad idea today will be completely untenable in the future.

What I find interesting is that Akaka bill advocates apparently regard this projected population increase as good news for the political prospects of the bill and the so-called Hawaiian sovereignty movement in general. Hawaiian sovereignty activist Lilikala Kameeleihiwa (nee Lily Dorton), former chair of the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies, put the matter bluntly in the Honolulu Advertiser:

"'I'm seeing that we need to be a majority of the population if we're going to get political change,' she said. 'We, as Hawaiians, would like to have more control over our land base so that we can raise our children in a Hawaiian manner so we can practice our culture, so that we have land on which we can make our schools that we can use to produce healthy, happy Hawaiians.' Kameeleihiwas said she's disappointed that the Kamehameha study does not show Native Hawaiians growing at a faster clip. At a recent rally attended by approximately 10,000 suuporters of Kamehameha's [racially exclusive] admissions policy, she urged Native Hawaiians to make as many babies as they could. She continues to make that call. 'I don't want to have to wait for 2050 for us to double our population.' she said. 'Instead of the next 50 years, I'd like to do it in the next 20 years.'"

It's curious. A century ago, Americans were told that ethnic Hawaiians were a "dying race." In the 1900 census, for example, there were only about 40,000--a number thought to be less than the number in 1800. During the 1920s, Congress was urged to (and did) pass homestead legislation granting special housing benefits to ethnic Hawaiians -- in part because of the belief that ethnic Hawaiians were dying out as a race. They needed special help just to survice---or so it was thought.

But the 2000 census indicates that just over 400,000 ethnic Hawaiians live in the US--a tenfold increase over 1900. Of course, not all those 400,000 are "full-blooded" ethnic Hawaiians; some are mixed race. But the "dying race" stuff was always a myth. Hawaiians weren't dying off in the 20th century. They were intermarrying with people of other races. While the number of "full-blooded" Hawaiians was stagnant, the number of part Hawaiians was expanding at a furious pace--and still is.

In some ways, Kameeleihiwa is being very sensible to view this as good news. More ethnic Hawaiians means more voting power. More voting power means more political clout. Why wouldn't that be good news for a growing group? But in another sense, it exposes Hawaii's racial benefits sytem for what it is: a raw power grab. It's all about politcal clout. The argument isn't that the Akaka bill is good policy or bad policy for Hawaii as a whole. The argument is that ethnic Hawaiians must do everything they can to become a majority in Hawaiian politics, and that once they do they will be free to impose their will. It's not pretty.

Here's hoping the Akaka bill is soundly defeated.