Hawaii Braces as Obama Talks Apologies for Natives

After speaking before thousands of cheering journalists at the Unity 2008 convention in Chicago July 27, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) answered a question from the audience about the possibility of a federal apology to Native Americans.

Quoted by a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter attending the convention, Obama said:

There's no doubt that when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans as well as other persons of color in this country, we've got some very sad and difficult things to account for. ...

I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged. ...

I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.

Resolutions apologizing to American Indians are now pending committee action in both the House and Senate. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is a key sponsor of the Senate resolution. Governments in Australia and Canada have both recently apologized to the descendants of their native populations.

The comments by the Democratic presidential hopeful came on the same day the presumptive Republican candidate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), announced his support for the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, whose organizers July 3 filed 334,658 signatures to appear on the state's general election ballot.

The initiative reads: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." It has been tagged in news reports as an initiative which "would outlaw affirmative action." Similar civil rights initiatives backed by former University of California regent Ward Connerly are law in Michigan, California, and Washington. Others will be on the November 4 ballot in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma as well as Arizona.

Obama's remarks drew special attention in Hawaii, where Obama is known by local Democrats as "Hawaii's third senator." Just weeks after winning his Illinois Senate seat in 2004, Obama visited Hawaii and met with state Democratic leaders. At the top of their agenda was the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.

Also known as the Akaka Bill, if enacted it would create a Hawaiian tribal government -- in spite of the fact that there never has been a Hawaiian tribe. Establishment of a tribe would allow Hawaiians to sidestep any restrictions on race-based benefits. McCain is strongly opposed to the bill.

Obama's agreement to support the Akaka Bill led to his receiving important early-money support for his presidential campaign from Hawaii Democrats -- many of whom had given similarly important early-money support to a little-known Arkansas governor in the early 1990s. Hawaii Democrats closely tied to Kamehameha Schools and former Governor John Waihe`e launched a draft Obama campaign in late 2006.

Waihe`e cronies were central to the Clinton administration's Asian money scandals. That support lead to President Bill Clinton signing the so-called "Apology Resolution," public law 103-150, November 23, 1993.

The Apology Resolution was sold as a "simple apology" by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) -- as Obama would say, "just words." Brownback is now using almost identical language to justify his Indian Apology resolution. The Akaka Bill, which is based entirely on the Apology Resolution, is "deeds."