Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
United States Senate

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
22 May 1997

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be here to testify aobut Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, an important guideline governing racial and ethnic data collection by federal agencies. Your leadership on convening this hearing is to be commended, particularly since OMB is expected to decide whether or not changes will be made to the directive this fall.

Once again, I continue to strongly advocate that the federal government rectify a longstanding misperception that Native Hawaiians are not indigenous peoples. In 1993, congressional and 1994 OMB hearings, I proposed to reclassify Native Hawaiians in the same category as American Indians and Alaskan Natives rather than the Asian or Pacific Islander category. After reviewing the April 23 hearing record which your subcommittee held on this subject matter, I am further convinced that federal officials have yet to recognize the gross disparities of Native Hawaiian statistics in the Asian or Pacific Islander category.

I am deeply concerned about the two main arguments against my proposal. First, it is argued by federal officials that my proposal would likely disrupt their ability to monitor trends or skew the statistics in the affected populations. I find such statements baffling and misguided. Any disruption of either the Asian or Pacific Islander or American Indian and Alaskan Native category is negligible compared to the benefits which federal officials will accrue in being able to fairly assess the Native Hawaiian community. Between 1980 and 1990 the Native Hawaiian population increased by 22.4 percent, compared to the American Indian or Alaskan Native population which increased by 37.9 percent. The aggregate Asian or Pacific Islander population by contrast doubled in size between 1980 and 1990, just as it did between 1970 and 1980. As a result, the Native Hawaiian percentage of the Asian or Pacific Islander category decreased from 4.6 percent in 1980 to only 2.9 percent in 1990. If Native Hawaiians were added to the American Indian or Alaskan Native category for 1990 Census purposes, they would have comprised 9.7 percent of the category. I believe that this is fairer for statistical purposes and because the aggregate demographics of the American Indian or Alaskan Native population more closely match the Native Hawaiian population.

If one simply looks at health statistics, for example, Native Hawaiians are more comparable to American Indians and Alaskan Natives rather than the healthier Asian populations in infant mortality, cancer, and life expectancy rates. A 1987 Office and Technology and Assessment Report found that Native Hawaiians had a death rate 34 percent higher than the death rate for all other races in the United States. One alarming statistic was the death rate for diabetes. Native Hawaiians die from diabetes at a rate 222 percent higher than for all other races in the United States.

If you look at other federal statistics like immigration, you might wonder what use the current Asian or Pacific Islander category serves federal officials when it comes to Native Hawaiians. According to the 1990 Census, over 63 percent of the aggregate Asian or Pacific Islander population were foreign born. This means that this category is largely comprised of individuals who have immigrated to the United states. Comparatively, only 1.3 percent of Native Hawaiians were foreign born. The 1990 Census also revealed that over 63 percent of the Asian or Pacific Islander population speak an Asian or Pacific Islander language at home, compared to 7.7 percent of Native Hawaiians. In education, 37 percent of the total Asian or Pacific Islander population over the age of 25 had completed college, compared to 12 percent of Native Hawaiians and 9.3 percent of American Indians or Alaskan Natives. I implore federal officials to explain to me how these aggregate social and economic trends are fair to Native Hawaiians.

Mr. Chairman, the second concern raised about my proposal is that it would adversely impact federal programs for American Indians and Alaskan Natives. OMB Directive No. 15 specifically states that the directive should not be viewed as determinants of eligibility for participation in any federal program. it should also be emphasized that the majority of federal programs established for the benefit of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, particularly the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, are based on a trust relationship between the federal government and federally recognized American Indian tribes. My proposal does not, and I repeat — does not — affect the government-to-government relationship which exists between federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives and the federal government. It also does not affect the political status of Native Hawaiians. That is something, we, as Native Hawaiians, will resolve through the legislative process. Let me make this clear. OMB Directive No. 15 cannot grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians. Federal recognition can only be granted through the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition process, treaties, Presidential executive orders, statutes, and case law.

While Native Hawaiians are culturally Polynesian, we are are descendents of the aboriginal people who occupied and exercised sovereignty in the area that now constitutes the State of Hawaii. Like the varying cultures among the hundreds of American Indian tribes and Alaskan Native groups, Native Hawaiians also have a unique political and historical relationship with the United States. Our current classification by the federal government denies us our identity as indigenous peoples.

In closing Mr. Chairman, I simply urge that when Congress and the appropriate federal agencies prepare for the 2000 Census, any proposed changes to OMB Directive No. 15 should be based on the merits fo the relevant issues, not political expediency and popularity contests. There is no one in the federal government who can deny that Native Hawaiians are native peoples of the State of Hawaii. it is high time that Native Hawaiians be properly classified.

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to testify on this important issue.


I recommend that the following changes be made under Directive No. 15:

    1. Definitions
      The category of "American Indian or Alaskan Native" in paragraph 1 (a) of the directive should be changed to "American Indian, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian", and defined as "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America or the Hawaiian Islands, and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition."
    2. Utilization for Recordkeeping and Reporting
      The category of "American Indian or Alaskan Native" in paragraph 2 (a) of the directive for minimum designations for race and ethnicity should be changed to "American Indian, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian."

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