Native Hawaiians weigh in on federal funds, protections

Photos are on display at a workshop called, “The Art of Hula,” at the Western Regional Native Hawaiian Convention, Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — Bipartisan staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs were at the first Western Regional Native Hawaiian Convention held in Las Vegas to highlight that Congress has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in dedicated federal funding, the most ever, for Native Hawaiians and to seek input on amending legislation to extend protection to Native Hawaiian art and artists for the first time.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, was not at the convention but addressed attendees in a video Wednesday and told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an email, “Over the last few years, we delivered the largest amount of dedicated funding to the Native Hawaiian community ever.”


“In the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, we’ve made historic, bipartisan progress to gain broad support for Native communities. And we’ve worked hard to make sure Native Hawaiians are heard and included in any bill that impacts their community, ” Schatz said.

Schatz thanked colleagues in the Senate Appropriations Committee for helping to secure the historic funding, adding that it’s “a unique moment in history.”

“The way I look at the work we’re doing is to try to understand all the injustices that have occurred, and then to try to reverse them in a systematic way, ” he said. “We have a president, the first-ever Native Interior Secretary, and the public recognizing the need to right historical injustices.”

The decision from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, or CNHA, to hold the conference on the mainland also provided an opportunity for committee staff to meet with Native Hawaiian attendees and provide updates on Native Hawaiian equities in the 118th Congress, while garnering feedback on legislative efforts.

CNHA President and CEO Kuhio Lewis said the decision to host a mainland conference came because there are now more Native Hawaiians living outside of Hawaii and it’s important to unite the community for myriad reasons, including advocacy.

“There is strength in numbers, ” Lewis said. “There are Native Hawaiians living in all 50 states. That’s a powerful tool ; rather than just two senators, you now have 100.”

The conference drew about 2, 000 attendees, some 65 % from states outside of Hawaii, he said.

Schatz said, “Native Hawaiian issues are national issues. Our committee is at the convention this year to hear directly from the Native Hawaiian community and help us shape a number of bills this Congress, including 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization, the draft ARTIST Act and the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Act.”

Committee staff hosted a formal listening session Wednesday to get feedback from Native Hawaiians on the latest amendments to the Respect Traditional Indigenous Skill and Talent (ARTIST ) Act of 2023, which if passed, would update the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

IACA was first passed in 1935 as a “truth in advertising ” federal law to protect Native American arts and crafts from counterfeit sales in the United States. IACA has been amended three times since its passage, and over the past four years the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs received testimony calling for reforms.

“The ARTIST Act is about protecting Native artists and their works against counterfeits and strengthening existing law to enforce these protections. Native Hawaiians aren’t currently covered by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which provides these protections to other Native artists, ” Schatz said. “Hearing directly from the Native Hawaiian community on issues that directly impact them is critical, and that’s why our committee is at the convention this week. Comments we receive from the listening session will help us shape legislation and serve as a resource for future discussions.”

If ARTIST passes, the new amendments are expected to :—Add protection for Native Hawaiian-produced arts and crafts.—Expand enforcement and improve the ability of federal officers to arrest and prosecute violations.—Create a grant program to fund arts programs in schools.

Preliminary feedback during the session was favorable, although some testifiers said adequate enforcement would be critical, and that language in the bill must clearly define Native Hawaiian in a way that offers adequate protection, while not making ancestry impossible to prove.

Makalika Naholowa ‘a, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and president of the National Native American Bar Association, also noted a lack of legal resources with only about 20 Native attorneys nationwide practicing intellectual property law.

Kaleiheana Stormcrow, a Native Hawaiian artist, cultural practitioner and scientist, testified, “I think it’s super important that Native Hawaiians are included in this act. Our cultural and intellectual property has not been protected for far too long. It really hurts my heart to see non-Hawaiians benefiting from our cultural practices while many of us are unable to survive here on the islands.”

State Rep. Daniel Holt, co-chair of the state legislative Hawaiian caucus, said Native Hawaiian products must have the same protections afforded to Native Americans.

“Aloha is not for sale. Aloha is our way of life. I ask that you please show our lahui aloha by passing the ARTIST Act and giving Native Hawaiian-made products the protections that they deserve, ” Holt said.

The conference follows several other recent Hawaiian equities actions taken by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Last month, Schatz held a virtual meeting with Native Hawaiian farmers and producers from across the state to discuss the needs and priorities of the Native Hawaiian community in the 2023 reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which first passed in 1933 and only meaningfully addressed the unique needs of the Native producers for the first time in 2018.

Key Farm Bill priorities for Native Hawaiian producers, include :—Equity for Native Hawaiians in program access.—Grant navigation assistance.—Recognize traditional ecological knowledge.—Defray high shipping costs.—Cost share and match waivers.—Productive repurposing of unused agricultural lands.

Schatz and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, vice chairman of the committee, earlier this month also led committee passage of S.1723, a bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, and for other purposes.

“The impacts of federal Indian boarding school policies led to some of the same outcomes for Native Hawaiians as for other Native communities, including the loss of language and culture. It’s important that the federal government continues to enact laws—like the Native American Language Resource Center Act and Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act—to help right these historical wrongs, ” Schatz said.


Federal funding for the Native Hawaiian community :—$200 million +: Native Hawaiian education, including $170 million for Native Hawaiian education program.—$69 million : Native Hawaiian health care.—$54 million : Native Hawaiian housing, including $5 million for emergency rental assistance and access to new programs at Treasury, including for homeowner assistance.—$2 million +: Federal funding to support Native Hawaiian cultural tourism opportunities.

Also includes new funding and programs for the Native Hawaiian community :—$90 million : New funding for broadband deployment on Hawaiian Home Lands.—$25 million : New Native Hawaiian climate resiliency and adaptation funds.—New public safety resources, including $3 million to establish a new Native Hawaiian Resource Center on domestic violence.—Technical fix to clarify that Native Hawaiian organizations have access to federal grants to serve survivors in their own communities.—New landmark Native language laws.—New behavioral health resources for Native committees.

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