Akaka bill and Hawaiian tribe -- Summary of history from 2000 through 2014, of the Akaka bill in Congress, and other efforts to create a state-recognized tribe or to get federal recognition through administrative rule changes, executive order, Congressional legislation, or stealth maneuvers by Senator Inouye.

(c) Copyright 2015 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved


The "Akaka bill" to create a federally recognized Hawaiian tribe was in Congress continuously for 13 years, from summer 2000 through the end of 2012. There were perhaps 20 different versions of the bill; and occasionally two or three versions were pending at the same time. The bill passed the House in three different Congresses. It nearly passed the Senate by stealth at the end of 2000. On several occasions during the 13 years Senator Inouye tried to attach the Akaka bill as a rider to "must-pass" military appropriations bills; including a couple times when he inserted it "by reference" as a single sentence deep inside them at the last minute without consulting other Senators. In later years Inouye also tried to simply add the Hawaiian tribe to the list of federally recognized tribes in a single sentence deep inside the Department of Interior appropriations bill, but his subterfuge was discovered and deleted. The closest it came to passage by normal methods in the Senate was June 2006 when a cloture motion to stop a Republican filibuster was debated for about 6 hours during two days, with dozens of Senators speaking on the floor; but failed by 4 votes.

In December 2012 Senator Inouye unexpectedly fell ill and was hospitalized and died; at the same time Senator Akaka was in his final few weeks before retiring. Senator Akaka stood on the Senate floor and begged his fellow Senators to pass the bill in tribute to Inouye, but they wisely ignored his plaintive plea. During the 113th Congress from 2013 through 2014 there was no Akaka bill in Congress. Instead, the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs made use of Act 195, Hawaii session laws of 2011, to build a new racial registry and make plans for an election of delegates to write a tribal constitution. Meanwhile the Obama administration began a process of rewriting the rules for federal recognition of Indian tribes generally, and working toward creating a new rule specially formulated to accommodate an expected application from the OHA-created "tribe."

Looking ahead to the final two years of the Obama administration 2015-2016, it is expected that President Obama's Department of Interior will indeed proclaim a new rule specifically to make it easy for a Hawaiian tribe to get federal recognition by executive order without any need for a bill to be passed by Congress. It is also expected that the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs will hold an election for the people on its racially-exclusionary registry to elect delegates to write a tribal constitution which the registry members will then ratify; and a tribal council will be elected; and the tribe will then apply for and be granted federal recognition under terms of the newly proclaimed Department of Interior rule. Of course there are many things which could go wrong in either the state or federal processes. Observers might want to keep in mind that there have been several cases when a tunnel was being dug from both sides of a mountain, but then the two sides failed to line up properly to meet at the middle. And of course a rule for federal recognition unilaterally proclaimed by executive order under a Democrat President in 2016 can just as easily be rescinded and the recognition of a Hawaiian tribe can be revoked by executive order under a Republican President in 2017.


For a thorough history of the Native Hawaiian Recognition bill from its birth in February 2000 through 2002 and beyond, focusing on the pattern of stealth and deception in creating the bill and trying to pass it, see:

For the complete history of the Akaka bill in the 108th Congress alone (2003-2004), including all versions of the bill's text, and news coverage of political activity related to it (a total of perhaps 200 pages plus links to additional subpages), see:

For a short history focusing on the stealth tactics during the 108th Congress, see:


The history for the 109th Congress (2005-2006) included pleasant surprises in the House of Representatives. The bill stayed bottled up in the committee which had jurisdiction (Natural Resources) and never even came to a vote in that committee. However, the House Judiciary Committee took notice that the bill was threatening to come to the floor in the Senate, and did not want to see a repeat of House stealth maneuvers from previous years. Therefore the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing where opponents of the bill were actually allowed to testify along with supporters of the bill -- the first time any opponents have ever been allowed to testify in any hearing in Washington in either the House or the Senate. As a result of that hearing a group of 21 House members wrote a letter to Speaker Hastert demanding that the bill be killed (even though it had never yet had a hearing in the Resources committee).

The history for the 109th Congress (2005-2006) was tumultuous in the Senate and in the media. Several Senators blocked the bill by placing holds on it. An attempt to bring the bill to the Senate floor in summer 2005 was blocked by God (Hurricane Katrina). In June 2006 there were more than 6 hours of debate on the Senate floor during a two day period leading up to a recorded vote on a cloture motion (a motion to overcome holds on the bill, cut off debate, and bring the bill to a vote). A cloture motion requires 60 votes. There were only 56 votes in favor, including several Republicans who strongly oppose the bill but had made an agreement in late 2004 to support cloture (although they would then be free to vote against the bill itself, and in fact had publicly announced their opposition). Following the failure of cloture in June 2006, the bill remained dormant through the end of the year. Dozens of nationally-known political commentators wrote articles strongly opposing the bill, and major newspapers published editorials and news reports (including a New York Times editorial in favor of the bill). Website coverage for the 109th Congress includes over 2,000 pages of news reports, commentaries, transcripts of the Senate floor debate from the Congressional Record, etc. An 80-page index lists all items in chronological order and provides links to webpages which provide full text of all items for each segment of time. See:


The 110th Congress ran from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2008 under Democrat control. The U.S. House Committee on Resources passed Akaka bill unamended May 2, 2007. The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Akaka bill May 3, 2007 and passed it unamended on May 10, 2007. In October 2007 the Akaka bill was scheduled for floor action in the House. On October 22, 2007 President Bush issued a strongly worded statement opposing the Akaka bill and pledging he would veto it if it reached his desk. Nevertheless, the House held a floor debate on the bill on October 24, and passed the bill by a vote of 261-153 after a failed attempt to amend it and/or send it back to the Resources committee. Every Democrat voted in favor. Transcript of the floor debate, and record of the YEAs and NAYs, is provided. In Honolulu, the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held extensive hearings with testimony on several islands, in the face of a strong and vitriolic propaganda campaign in the media against the committee taking up the issue (the committee in previous years had been stacked in favor of Hawaiian sovereignty, but its membership now was more evenly divided and there were fears it might oppose the bill). On November 15, 2007 the committee voted 8-6 not to make any recommendation to the national commission. Throughout 2008 there were many news reports, letters, and commentary on all sides of the issue, but no further action. The Senate Democrat leadership never tried to bring the bill to the floor because the Republicans made it clear they would filibuster. During the last half of 2008 economic issues, and the election, took priority, and the bill died without ever being brought to the Senate floor. A lengthy index of all significant news reports, letters, cartoons, and commentaries provides links to the full text of every indexed item, broken into several time periods. The index is at:


The 111th Congress ran from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010 under Democrat control. The Democrats had a huge majority in the House, and for most of the two years the Democrats also had a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate; and a President who had promised to sign the bill when it passed. Nevertheless, civil rights activists in Hawaii, and Republicans in the Senate, stopped the bill. A major factor in the death of the Akaka bill was a combination of overreaching by Hawaiian zealots who insisted on trying to ram through the most dangerous version of the bill ever, and incompetence by Senators Inouye and Akaka who tried sneaky maneuvers behind the scenes and then failed to act promptly to enact a so-called compromise version.

During the two year period there were five major different versions of the Akaka bill. Versions 1,2,3 had been previously introduced in Congress during various years from 2000 to 2008. Version #4 was the most dangerous, and was introduced in the House committee barely days before the committee hearing, and drew strong objections from Hawaii's Governor and Attorney General. The committee forced Rep. Abercrombie to withdraw version #4 and passed version #3 on which it had held a hearing with public testimony. But Congressman Abercrombie later went to the House floor, substituted version #4 in place of #3, and was successful in ramming #4 through to passage on the House floor. Version #5 was a compromise with Governor Lingle in an attempt to get some Republican votes in the Senate, but version #5 was not formally introduced until mid-November 2010 and died in the lame duck session a couple days before Christmas without without any committee hearing or floor action.

Here are more details. Three matched pairs (companion bills with identical content) of the Akaka bill were introduced in early 2009. Their dates of introduction and bill numbers are: February 4, 2009, S.381 and H.R.862; March 25, 2009: S.708 and H.R.1711; May 7, 2009: S.1011 and H.R.2314. Hearing on H.R.2314 on June 11, 2009 (Kamehameha Day) before U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources (video and transcripts available). Markup set for July 9 was postponed at last minute because Republican minority ranking member Doc Hastings demanded to know Dept. of Justice and Obama administration's views on the bill, and perhaps because of OHA and Native Hawaiian Bar Association objections to restrictions on the powers of the Akaka tribe. Hearing on S.1011 on August 6 in U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Webcast, written statements by invited witnesses, and news reports, are provided. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights letter to Congressional leaders once again blasts Akaka bill. Zogby poll results released Dec. 15 show strong opposition to bill. Major amendments planned to be rammed through House and Senate committee markups Dec 16 and 17 were strongly opposed by Hawaii Governor and Attorney General. House committee passes unamended (original) H.R.2314 Dec. 16. Senate committee passes heavily amended more dangerous version Dec. 17. Jan 28, 2010 OHA and Hawaii Attorney General propose amendments to the Senate amended bill. At least one Republican Senator placed a hold on the bill. Feb. 23 2010 Akaka bill most dangerous version #4 was substituted on the House floor to become HR2314, and passed the House that same day by vote of 245-164. March 23 Governor Lingle letter to all 100 Senators opposes current version of the bill; Huge White House briefing in June for Akaka bill lobbyists confirms Obama will sign the bill when Senate passes it. Compromise reached to amend bill so Lingle will support it. Compromise bill formally introduced November 15, but might be only a decoy. 4 Senators publicly deplore Inouye stealth maneuver to attach Akaka bill to must-pass omnibus spending bill as part of continuing resolution to keep government running. In the lame duck session, December 2010, the Akaka bill itself was never considered by the Senate and never included inside any other bill. But a trillion dollar omnibus spending bill containing 6000 earmarks included an earmark calling on the Department of Interior to do a study of how to create a Native Hawaiian Indian tribe. That spending bill was withdrawn from the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid when he figured out there were not enough votes to pass it, and so the Akaka bill died.

The index for the 111th Congress, summarized in the above three paragraphs, is at


The 112th Congress (January 2011 to December 2012) was controlled by Democrats in the Senate and by Republicans in the House. The Akaka bill was introduced in the House Committee on Natural Resources, but died in committee without even a hearing. In the Senate the first version introduced in the Indian Affairs Committee was passed by the committee but went nowhere, although Senator Inouye made two stealth maneuvers in October 2011 and September 2012, inserting a short paragraph deep inside the Department of Interior appropriations bill to place the State of Hawaii Act 195 tribe on the list of federally recognized tribes; but Republicans blocked it. A second version of the Akaka bill that was extraordinarily powerful and dangerous passed the Committee on Indian Affairs in one minute on September 13, 2012. On December 17 Senator Inouye died following several days of hospitalization under intensive care for respiratory problems; and on that same day Senator Akaka had a favorable committee report sent to the Senate for the substitute new version of the bill and it was placed on the Senate calendar under general orders. On December 20 Senator Akaka (retiring in a few more days) made his farewell speech and asked his colleagues to pass the Akaka bill in honor of Senator Inouye. There was no further action, and the 112th Congress came to an end on New Years Day with rushed passage of the "fiscal cliff" bill. For the chronological index to published news reports and commentaries for 2011-2012, with links to subpages containing full text of all items, see


The 113th Congress, January 2013 to December 2014, was controlled by Democrats in the Senate and by Republicans in the House. Senator Inouye had died in December 2012, and Senator Akaka also retired. Throughout the entire 113th Congress there was no Akaka bill. The State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs made use of Act 195, Hawaii session laws of 2011, to build a new racial registry and make plans for an election of delegates to write a tribal constitution. After a year of building the new "Kana'iolowalu" registry and spending millions of dollars on it, only 9300 people had signed up. So the state legislature passed a bill (Act 77, session laws of 2013) to allow all 108,000 names from the previous "Kau Inoa" registry, gathered during 7 years, to be added to Kana'iolowalu without permission from the Kau Inoa signers, despite the fact that Kana'iolowalu contains additional, controversial affirmations. In June 2013 the Hawaii and Alaska delegations met and reaffirmed their joint cooperation to pass the Akaka bill, and Senator Schatz gave his maiden speech in the Senate asking his colleagues to support it, even though there was no Akaka bill to support. Newspapers reported that the Obama administration was working on an administrative process for federal recognition of a Hawaiian tribe without Congressional action, and editorials supported this approach. Retiring OHA trustee Oswald Stender says he regrets that OHA has spent $10 Million during 9 years to get only 120,000 signatures on the combined racial registries out of 527,000 possible. In 2014 OHA reopened the racial registry and spent more millions of dollars on it. OHA met with Hawaiian independence activists who oppose federal recognition, and OHA pledges it will be a neutral facilitator to bring ethnic Hawaiians together to decide their future. OHA CEO sends letter on official stationery to Secretary of State John Kerry, citing work of Keanu Sai, asking for official ruling on whether the Kingdom of Hawaii still exists and has sovereignty, and says if so then OHA will stop the nation-building effort for fear of prosecution for war crimes. From June 23 to July 8, 2014 officials from U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Justice, on short notice, hold 15 public hearings on several Hawaii islands to take testimony regarding advance notice of proposed rule-making to create a Hawaiian tribe; hundreds testify, and most are hostile. November 2014 election re-elects all 4 of the 9 OHA trustees who were up for re-election, plus one new trustee to replace retiring Oz Stender. The new trustee, Lei Ahu Isa, says Act 195 was a mistake and calls for its repeal. For the chronological index to published news reports and commentaries for 2013-2014, with links to subpages containing full text of all items, see


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(c) Copyright 2015 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved