|Native Hawaiians can't seek federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said on Tuesday.
In 1978, the BIA established a process to determine which tribes deserve federal recognition. The
regulations in 25 CFR Part 83, however, only apply to groups in the "contiguous 48 states and Alaska."
"Our regs now leave out Native Hawaiians," Washburn said at a House
Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs hearing on federal recognition.
"We are not able to consider Native Hawaiians under our current regs."
Native Hawaiians have long been treated in a manner similar to tribes in the continental U.S. But they aren't able to exercise sovereignty in the same way, a situation that could be resolved by Congress.
"They're indigenous, just like Native American Indians [and] Native Alaskans," observed
Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).
President Barack Obama, who
was born in Hawaii, supports federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.
But bills to extend the policy of self-determination to the island's indigenous people have been controversial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court
decision in Rice v. Cayetano, in which now-Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., as an attorney in private practice, unsuccessfully argued that Native Hawaiians enjoy a trust relationship with the federal government.
"They are truly the indigenous group from the state of Hawaii," Faleomavaega noted.
The BIA's Office of
Federal Acknowledgment, which handles federal recognition petitions, reports to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Oversight Hearing on "Authorization,
standards, and procedures for whether, how, and when Indian tribes should be
newly recognized by the federal government: Perspective of the Department of the
Interior" (March 19, 2013)
Audio from House hearing on BIA's federal
recognition process (3/19)
Kevin Washburn to
appear at hearing on federal recognition (3/18)
Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs
sets hearing (3/12)