Who is Hawaiian, What Begets Federal Recognition, and How Much Blood Matters

78 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2011 Last revised: 21 Feb 2011

Date Written: April 14, 2010


The Akaka bill proposes to federally recognize a Hawaiian governing entity similar to those of federally recognized Indian tribes. As the Akaka bill will institutionalize a political difference between Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, who is Hawaiian is a timely, and controversial, issue. Also controversial is whether Congress possesses the authority to federally recognize a Hawaiian governing entity. This article addresses three questions that probe the heart of the controversy surrounding the Akaka bill: who is Hawaiian, what begets federal recognition, and how much blood matters. After analyzing relevant Indian jurisprudence, this article demonstrates that political history, not indegeneity, begets federal recognition. As such, it is the political-historical, not racial, definition of Hawaiian that is legally significant to the Akaka bill. Since, however, the Akaka bill utilizes an ethnic Hawaiian blood eligibility criterion, another important question – and one Justice Breyer raised in Rice v. Cayetano – is how much blood is necessary to distinguish ideological self-identification from legitimate racial identity. To the extent racial preferences may coexist with the equal protection components of the Constitution, this article contends that a preponderance of preferred blood is the logical quantum, but a fifty percent requirement is the most practicable.

Keywords: Pure Equal Treatment, Federal Recognition, Hawaii, Ethnic Hawaiian, Blood Quantum

Suggested Citation

Garcia, Ryan William Nohea, Who is Hawaiian, What Begets Federal Recognition, and How Much Blood Matters (April 14, 2010). Asian-Pacific Law & Policy, Journal Vol. 11, p. 85, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1758956

Ryan William Nohea Garcia (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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