Friday, July 31, 2009

The Akaka Bill, The Chamorro Tribe and Decolonization

Alot of people who are working towards decolonization on Guam, and I mean this primarily in a political status sense, usually don't think very concretely about how it would actually happen or what it would entail. There is alot of emphasis on what is deserved or owed to Chamorros, but less talk about how we can make it happen and what we would need to do, and who we would need to get involved. Todu ma konfotme na bula na debi di u macho'gue, lao manu na gaige i diniskuti put hafa este siha yan taimanu sina ta na'fanhuyong este na guinife?

The United Nations is always named as having a role in this, but while it provides the framework for how to do it, it isn't a major player or force in any way. Gi este na kinalamten, kulang daffe'. The UN is what is always has been, a symbolic force, which can be used for great good or evil if powerful nations are inclined to use it, and not much else the rest of the time. That's why, the United Nation's has been calling for the decolonization of Guam for decades now and it hasn't had any effect on whether or not Guam will get decolonized.

All of the serious work would have to be directed towards Guam's government and community and different parts of the Federal government. The Department of Interior, which will soon get Chamorro Tony Babauta as Assistant Secretary to the Insular Areas, would be key since they are one of the government organs which can claim to own Guam. The US Congress which has legal authority and power over Guam is also crucial. The most important starting point there would be the committee which Babauta used to work for the House Committee on Natural Resources, under which we find the Subcommittee on the Insular Areas, Oceans and Wildlife and its Chairwoman Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo from iyo-ta gof bunita na isla. Also playing a role in this will be the Department of Justice, which will be asked by practically everyone what the precedent is for something like this, and not just the racist accusations, which are the thing usually mentioned (that a political status vote violates the US Constitution since only those politically defined as Chamorros could vote). One of the key issues will be determining what sort of precedent there is for Guam becoming independent should that status be chosen. One of the strangest things I've ever heard, but I'm sure would become a common antagonistic talking point in this issue is that independence would be impossible for Guam to pursue, since that strategy has been tried once before and failed miserably. The precedent that this talking point refers to is the Civil War with the South seceding from the United States. Whatever the Department of Justice states, it would probably use this example to argue against it, saying that there is no legal, domestic framework to allow such a thing to take place.

In other words, even getting the Federal Government to work with us on this issue, and keep them from simply shutting it down or denying it (which is the usual tactic) seems like an almost impossible task. There is a whole nasty taranas waiting for Guam the halls of American political power. There is alot of homework to be done before we could make anything like this happen, and there is one example which has been in the halls of Congress for more than a decade now, that we should study up on, and pay close attention to. I'm referring of course to the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act, or as its more commonly known as The Akaka Bill.

The Akaka Bill is nothing like working towards decolonization. It represents, by most definitions the complete opposite. Decolonization is about creating some sort of process to mitigate the effects of colonization and create the conditions where the way forward can be defined by those who have been historically denied the right to self-determination in their own lands. The Akaka Bill represents an act of closure and legal engulfment. Native Hawaiians can make a very real and very compelling case that they are a colonized people. There is no way of denying this and there is no way of arguing, at least legally or morally that the fact that Hawai'i is a state, has lots of military bases or has lots of white people affect that pure fact in any way.

The Akaka Bill is a means of further legalizing the colonization of Native Hawaiians, by further subsuming them in mas taranas of American legal fictions, to hurl out a couple more makkat na shovelfuls of dirt burying their claims to sovereignty. The Akaka Bill would provide further evidence of the colonization of Hawai'i being resolved, in that it would reduce Native Hawaiians to another type of Native Americans. Another tragic community for whom sovereignty in almost every sense is reduced to a definition that the Supreme Court of the United States, the Governor of the state that claims you, or the Department of Interior determines for you. In some senses, there might be some benefits to Native Hawaiians having Native American status, it would mean that there would be more legal protection or Federal funds for Native Hawaiians programs. From the perspective of politicians I can understand why people in Hawai'i would want to support this, since its one of those ways in which you can appear to be working for a particular voting/ethnic group. The Akaka Bill represents a smaller and easier solution to a problem that few want to admit to and even less want to deal with.

Last year, a group called The Chamorro Tribe lobbied the the Guam Legislature introduce a resolution calling on the US Congress (which has control over the rights of those who live on Guam), to grant recognition as Native Americans to the Chamorro people. A bill was drawn up, and Senator Judy Guthertz's main argument for this effort was that it would afford Chamorros and the people of Guam more power and more access in terms of being respected, heard and getting Federal funds. The bill was later withdrawn when people began to question if the appearance of the tribe movement was tied to the efforts of some to legalize casino gambling on Guam.

The argument from the Chamorro Tribe itself was that since Chamorros are already American citizens and since there is no other way of seeking a different political destiny or status (can't be independent and too far away and too small to be a state), they might as well get the Federal recognition as an indigenous people of the United States. By obtaining this status, they would have more political power and more rights and in a far better position than the colonized status they are in now, since it would above all formalize their US citizenship. For someone who knows some about the history of Native Americans and their current relationship to the Federal and to state governments, its almost na'chalek, lao mas na'triste to hear somebody advocate that becoming Native American in status is a great way to obtain more rights and protections. Lao bai hu sangani hamyo, hafa i bali-na este na tinilaika estao kontat ki kontra i lai i casino gambling? Este na i mas impottante yan gaiprobecho na rason para ta fa'Natibu Amerikanu hit. Mas taibali yanggen machappak este.
Troy Doney's post from the website Reznet titled "Chamorro People Fight for Rights, Recognition" although obviously written by someone who isn't very knowledgeable about Chamorros or their status, echoed some of my concerns.

I've never heard of anyone pursuing Native American status because they wanted rights. It sounds counterintiutive, like binge eating for world hunger. I guess new things can be found under the sun.

"The Indian Naturalization Act would automatically naturalize us, thereby making us legal constitutional citizens of the United States and affording us all protections and rights under the Constitution of the Untied States," said Frank J. Schacher, chairman of the Chamorro Tribe.

The Chamorro Tribe are indigenous to the Mariana Islands, a part of the American territory of Guam. While they are represented in states like Hawaii, California, Texas, Washington and Nevada, the bulk of the Chamorro Tribe is on Guam (65,000) and the Northern Marianas (19,000).

Since Guam won't be made a state, the Chamorro Tribe has decided to pursue America citizenship through the Indian Naturalization Act. I may not be sure of the INA process, but I do know that there are 562 federally recognized Tribes and Tribal entities. Not many of those are getting a good deal from the U.S. Indian Country is still plagued with economic dearth, a healthcare crisis, denial of human rights, institutionalized racism/apathy, endless suspicion of gambling-based schemes and a myriad of other societal challenges. I'm still amazed to read that there's a group out there who wants to become Indians so they can be respected by the United States.

It's like some weird alternate universe, where up is down, left is right and Native Americans don't have to fight for their basic human rights every step of the way.
I wish the Chamorro Tribe luck in their pursuit to join Indian Country. There's a large number of federally unrecognized tribes who have claims just as valid as the Chamorros', though, so I hope they aren't in a rush.

I also wish the Chamorro Tribe luck, because if they accomplish their goal, it's only a matter of time before they have something the U.S. wants or do something the U.S. doesn't like. Then they'll see just how solid their rights are in the eyes of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.

Both the Akaka Bill and the efforts of the Chamorro Tribe seek place a colonized and an indigenous people even further under the control of their colonizers. They are interventions meant to secure a place for Native Hawaiians or Chamorros, to help give them a space, a voice, a framework through which they can perceive more clearly their status or their rights. But this thinking is built first, on the premise that there is nothing beyond the United States, that there can be no sovereignty for its indigenous and colonized people save for what it allows, and second, that the United States Federal Government or the United States general has a good track record in terms of treating its indigenous people and is anggokuyon nu este na kosas. These are both two things which I frankly don't accept, and should never be the limits by which a colony of anyone defines their future. You can argue that no other country in the history of the universe would be a better colonizer, but you haven't changed the argument with that assessment, you've just admitted to colonialism, but attempted to make an excuse for it. Attempted to justify it or argue that there are some countries who should control undemocratically and hypocritically other places, since they are best colonizers that history can afford.

But regardless of whether or not I agree with the Akaka Bill, there is much that Guam can learn from it. From the way its been treated over the years, the problems its run into, the strategies that have been used to get it this far. Its a case study that can help Chamorros when the day finally does come that self-determination and decolonization for Guam reaches beyond just the activists on Guam, or even just Guam alone, but becomes something that must be addressed in Washington D.C. or elsewhere. It is for that reason that I was intrigued when I came across this article below from The Hawaii Independent. It covers the five key players right now who will be crucial in deciding whether the Akaka Bill passes this time or fails again.

One thing that activists often forget (and not just on Guam, but anywhere) is that the rightness, morality or justice of their cause does not necessarily mean your side will win. Just because they are right does not mean they will win their fight, or that they will see the change that they want. The arc of history being long and the idea that it bends towards justice, might provide some solace for those who believe that truth is the ultimate magical weapon, and that all one need do is be secure in their belief and proclaim it, but when faced with insurmountable odds, almost impossible odds, such as the task that faces those who wish to decolonize Guam, you need far more than truth. You need strategy, you need allies, you need pressure, you need to work and you need to be prepared for your desire, your dream to be swept up into the chaos of the world, that it will be challenged, it will be changed, it may even be compromised, but you must keep fighting.


The Akaka Bill's 5 Most Important Players
Jarrett Keohokalole
The Hawaii Independent

It has been a long, hard road for the Akaka Bill, which has seen nine years of controversy both at home and in Washington with numerous attempts and failures to get the bill to the President’s desk. But Sen. Daniel Akaka is hoping that in this go-around the new faces in Washington will hold the key to success for the bill.

Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Senate by wide margins, as well as the White House. In this new world of DC Democrat domination, Sen. Akaka and the rest of the Hawaii Congressional delegation believe that 2009 will be the year his dream of Native Hawaiian recognition will become a reality—if certain players on Capitol Hill are on board.

In Washington, things aren’t always as they seem. The bill came frustratingly close to passing in 2006, when Sen. Akaka was confident he had secured the two-thirds majority he would need in the Senate to block a filibuster of the bill. Things looked promising until President George W. Bush sent down a memo days before the vote indicating that he would veto the bill if it passed. The majority quickly vanished, as did the bill’s chances.

The newest version of the Akaka Bill is currently in a holding pattern in both the House and Senate, as both Sen. Akaka and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-HI, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives, gear up for what they hope to be the final push to get the bill passed.

For his part, Abercrombie has in past attempts mustered strong support for the bill from both Democrats and Republicans in the House. The bill actually passed in the House twice before eventually fading in the Senate.

President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, so the Senate appears to be the last major hurdle the bill needs to clear.

Sen. Akaka has had less success developing bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate. On several occasions, different tactics allowed by Senate rules have been employed by Senate Republicans to stall or kill the bill, sometimes by unnamed Senators who refused to identify themselves. Though they have lost ground in the Senate, Republicans can still put up a fight regardless of support from the Democrat bloc.

Their most powerful tool up to this point has been the filibuster, where Senators deliberately debate the bill for an indefinite amount of time to prevent a vote. A senator can motion to end the debate in order for a vote to take place, but a two-thirds majority is required to do so. This equates to 60 votes in the Senate, which Sen. Akaka has been unable to gather up to this point.

The new political environment in Washington presents both opportunities and problems for Sen. Akaka.

Aside from the Hawaii Congressional delegation and the President, there are several key groups of senators that will play an important part in the life or death of the bill. The following are five individuals from each of these factions to watch for. They may hold the key to either the long-awaited success of the Akaka Bill, or it’s again celebrated demise:


5. Sen. Al Franken, D-MN – The Freshman

Sen. Al Franken is one of the fresh faces in Washington that Sen. Akaka hopes will tip the scales in his favor. Franken represents the much heralded 60th vote for the Democrats in Senate, giving them a filibuster-proof “supermajority.”

There are ten new senators in this session of Congress, eight of which are Democrats. According to Office of Hawaiian Affairs administrator Clyde Namu’o, the Democratic Caucus has indicated support for the bill. However, expecting bloc support for the bill from these new senators is not guaranteed.

Todd Gaziano, Director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies for the Heritage Foundation (a conservative public policy institute), believes that while there are more Democratic votes in the Senate than there were in 2006, the numbers aren’t going to add up the same way.

“It doesn’t necessarily change the vote tally completely from the last time the Akaka Bill was in the Senate,” Gaziano said.

He believes that while the new Democratic majority means more Democrats in Congress, it also means that there are more Democrats who are representing traditionally Republican states. These senators, along with other Democrats who will be running for reelection in 2010, may be be squeamish about supporting more controversial legislation at the same time that health care, energy, and other divisive issues are being debated.

It remains to be seen whether these new senators will support the bill or not, and with so many other high profile issues stealing the spotlight, it’s unlikely that we’ll see anyone take a position until they have to. So Sen. Akaka can’t be sure which way any of them are leaning until the bill hits the floor of the Senate for debate.

That is with the exception of Franken. He and Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, also a freshman senator, are both members of the Committee on Indian Affairs, where the bill will be heard and debated before it reaches the floor of the Senate.

Being on the committee gives Franken and Udall a chance to review and bring up concerns about the bill before the other six freshman Democrats have their chance on the floor of the Senate. This should provide a clue into whether either of them intend to support the bill or have reservations about it.

The Democrats do hold a majority in the Committee on Indian Affairs, and it should pass through without issue.

If Franken or Udall have issues with the bill, they’ll be the first of the freshmen Democrats in the Senate to make them known.

4. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE – The Blue Dog

Sen. Nelson is a prominent conservative Democrat who serves with Sen. Akaka on the Senate Armed Services Committee and with Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Conservative Democrats, sometimes known as “Blue Dogs,” are currently key players in the health care debate. Blue Dogs in the House have threatened to block the legislation because of its price tag, and Nelson has come out in opposition of the bill and also attempted to delay it in the Senate, a clear break from the party that has been applauded by conservatives and vilified by liberals.

Gaziano believes that Blue Dogs may also balk at the thought of supporting another potentially controversial piece of legislation while they are fighting their own party and the President on health care.

“Blue Dogs are being forced to vote on a lot of things and they don’t like it,” Gaziano said.

On the other hand, Nelson could be a key ally for Sen. Akaka in negotiating bipartisan support for the bill. He was part of a group of Republican and Democratic senators who were able to broker a deal to pass the Economic Stimulus bill earlier this year and has worked on several occasions with Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, to reach compromises between the parties.

Although Nelson did vote for cloture in 2006, it does not confirm that he is in favor of the current version of the bill, or even if he was in support of the latter version. That particular vote simply meant that he would allow the bill to come up for a vote.

3. Sen. Harry Reid, D – NV – The Senate President

Does he really want to talk about the Akaka bill right now? Senate President Harry Reid certainly has a lot on his plate. Just last week he admitted that Congress will not meet President Obama’s deadline on health care, meaning that if the issue is resolved, it will not be before Congress reconvenes in the fall.

Reid also needs to bring the energy bill before the Senate, which narrowly passed in the House of Representatives and should be hotly contested in the Senate.

Assuming the Akaka Bill passes out of committee, what will be interesting to see is when Reid decides to bring the Akaka Bill to the floor of the Senate.

Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow for the Cato Institute (a Washington DC based conservative public policy research institute), believes that Republicans would only be able to stall, not kill the bill.

“If he [Akaka] can convince the party leadership to make this a higher priority, then it could happen this year,” Shapiro said.

And that’s a big “if.”

At best, Shapiro believes the bill will have to wait its turn until the President’s legislative agenda has been addressed.

Once the bill does get to the floor, it will take time to argue the bill – but will that time be available?

2. John McCain, R-Arizona – Republican who voted for cloture in 2006

Twelve Republicans in the Senate voted to invoke cloture in 2006. There are a variety of reasons these Republicans did this. Several, like Inouye’s longtime ally Sen. Ted Stevens, R - AK, supported the bill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R – AK, is a co-sponsor.

Other senators reportedly exchanged votes for support of their own legislation. The question is, will these senators do it again?

Of the twelve Republicans, seven are still in office. Senators Chuck Hagel and Pete Domenici retired, while the other three were defeated, two by Democrats. One of the defeated senators was Norm Coleman, who was beaten by Franken.

Of the remaining seven, McCain is the most well known. He also serves on the Indian Affairs committee.

The reason McCain and the other Republicans who voted for cloture are so important is that for many of them, their stance on the bill is unclear. Again, a vote for cloture doesn’t necessarily mean a vote to pass it.

McCain was originally opposed to the bill, but apparently changed his opinion of the legislation after Gov. Linda Lingle lobbied congressional Republicans to support it.

In 2006, Sen. Akaka was four votes short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture—with these twelve Republicans supporting it. According to a source familiar with the situation, Sen. Akaka had 61 senators pledge to vote for cloture but ended up with only 56 after Bush issued the veto threat, so it’s likely there were several more Republicans who initially gave Sen. Akaka the green light.

If McCain and the remaining Republicans who supported the bill in 2006 do so again in 2009, Sen. Akaka would very likely have the votes to put the Akaka Bill to a decision.

1. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona – The Leader of the opposition

If there is one person in Washington who has been most responsible for the stoppage of the Akaka Bill these past nine years, it would arguably be Kyl.

“Jon Kyl is the leader of the efforts against the Akaka Bill,” Shapiro said.

Kyl is the minority whip and thus the number two ranking member of the Senate. He has been a staunch critic of the bill since it was first introduced. He has testified several times that he believes the Akaka Bill will promote the creation of an unconstitutional race-based government.

In 2004, the bill stalled in the Senate because a senator who had declined to identify himself (which is allowed by Senate rules) placed a hold on the bill. OHA later discovered that the anonymous Senator was Kyl.

There are other Republican Senators, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Ten, that stand in opposition of the bill. But a Senate insider who declined to be named said that the bill once again may come down to Sen. Kyl.

With all of that said, in 2006 Kyl was in fact one of the twelve Republicans to vote for cloture. This apparently happened as a result of a trade off with Sen. Akaka. When asked about the vote for cloture, Kyl said, “I made a commitment, and I honor my commitments.”

However, the vote simply meant that Kyl would not filibuster the bill.

According to Gaziano, even if cloture is voted on and passed, Sen. Kyl still has one valuable ally on his side that will ultimately determine the fate of the bill: time.

The process of invoking cloture can only take place after a minimum amount of debate and amendments have been argued on the Senate floor. If Democrats try to rush things, Kyl can stir up a hornet’s nest of opposition by using delay tactics including shutting down the Senate.

“It might take a week or slightly more to get the cloture vote,” Gaziano said.

Once cloture is invoked, Senators are allowed another minimum amount of time to testify before the motion is put to vote, which could take up an estimated 50 to 80 hours of additional floor time. “The Senate normally doesn’t meet for 50 hours in a week,” he added.
Gaziano pointed out that if Democrats try to bully the bill through on the floor, Republicans in the minority can shut down all committee hearings while the bill is being debated on the floor, forcing the Senate to grind to a halt to debate a single bill.
In addition to the President’s ambitious package of legislation, the majority of time Congress spends in session is already spoken for by the myriad of mandatory authorization and appropriation bills that are required to be passed in every session.

So if Kyl does decide to press the issue when the Akaka Bill hits the Senate floor, will Democrat leaders be willing to invest a week or more of valuable floor time to get the bill passed?

“It could happen, but it would be very costly to liberals to spend that time,” Gaziano said.

1 comment:

Misa said...

I tried to bookmark your blog and the technology does not allow it. Not happy. I googled Chamorro because the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival is seeking films for the April 29, 30 May 1 Festival, 2011, and I would really like Pacific Island film to be here and on the issues on the radar. Can you help me get the word out? The website is My email mjoo Also wanted to refer you to Journey to Justice blog and the story of the Winnemem Tribe of northern CA and their ceremony for salmon in South Island New Zealand and connection with the Maori people to bring the Chinook Salmon back to their home waters on the McCloud River in CA.
I am excited to keep reading your blog whether or not I can bookmark it!


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