(BIVN) – A move to exclude Native Hawaiians from federal legislation that would reauthorize funding for native housing programs is being challenged by Hawaii’s congressional delegation.
Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono spoke out at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee meeting in Washington D.C. today, as lawmakers held a hearing on the Bringing Useful Initiatives for Indian Land Development (or BUIILD) Act of 2017.
Committee chair Senator John Hoeven, a Republican serving North Dakota, called it the “Chevy model of reauthorization.”
“The engine of the Build Act is the reauthorization of the Indian Housing Block Grant, which was the centerpiece of (Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, or NAHASDA) when it was first introduced and passed this body back in 1996,” Sen. Hoeven said. “In previous versions of the NAHASDA reauthorization , there were over 20 different pieces of legislation including some of the more controversial – (like the Native Hawaiian Block Grant). Instead of just reintroducing all the past bills, I wanted to take a fresh look at getting a bill across the finish line.”
“Now, I know that some members on the committee of expressed their desire to include some of these previous positions in this bill, a different vehicle, or a combination of both,” the chair said. “With that I am willing to work with any member here on finding a path forward. this is one of the reasons why I wanted to have a legislative hearing early on, as we are doing – like today – so we can roll up our sleeves and work toward finally getting these bills to the President’s desk.”
Hawaii U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, shared his concerns at the hearing.
“By leaving out Native Hawaiians, this bill is an attack on my state and my people. It dishonors the legacies of Dan Inouye and Danny Akaka. And it threatens the future work of this committee,” Senator Schatz said. “I strongly urge this committee to preserve the good work of this committee and the spirit of bipartisanship by changing course and including Native Hawaiians going forward.”
Schatz underscored the “broad bipartisan support for including Native Hawaiians in similar legislation in the past”.
Also present at the hearing, although she is not a committee member, was Sen. Mazie Hirono, who said the BUIILD Act “strikes a blow not only to the 37,000 Native Hawaiians who would benefit from their inclusion, but also over 500,000 Native Hawaiians in our country.”
“But this is about much more than just stripping out Native Hawaiian housing programs from a bill,” Sen. Hirono said. “At a time when we see ‘us against them’ perspectives rising in our country, we cannot allow ‘divide and conquer’ tactics to undermine collaborative efforts to bring people together. I understand that suggestions have been made to native tribes that supporting Native Hawaiian programs may jeopardize funding for their own programs. I strongly oppose those suggestions and believe that dividing native communities is, frankly, unconscionable.”
Senator Hirono also submitted written testimony on behalf of the Hawaii Congressional Delegation in opposition to the Act.
Both senators noted the attendance of Native Hawaiian community advocates at the hearing, including Robin Danner the chair of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly and representatives from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The advocates were not invited by the Indian Affairs Committee to testify.