By Pat Omandam
Native Hawaiians will have their own category in the next U.S. Census, according to the federal Office of Management and Budget, which sets race and ethnicity standards for all federal activities.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka announced today the office will revise its 20-year-old race and ethnicity standards to include native Hawaiians as one of five categories for data collection used for federal civil rights compliance, statistical reporting and general program and grant administration.
The changes also mean Hawaiians will be removed from the Asian/Pacific Islander category and given a separate category of "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander" when the 2000 U.S. Census is conducted. The five race categories in the census will now be American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, White, Black/African American, and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.
"On the face of it, it appears much better than the position that we've been in, which is to be subsumed under a category including other people, whom we did not consider to be native or indigenous," said Haunani-Kay Trask, one of several Hawaiians who lobbied to reclassify native Hawaiians at the federal level.
"If, in fact, it proves to be what I think it is, then we should all be very happy with Akaka's office because he's been on record for years saying that we are not Asians, that we should be in a native category," Trask said.
The Office of Management Budget noted that Hawaiians presented compelling arguments that the standards must reflect data accurately describing Hawaiians' social and economic situation.
It said native Hawaiians will no longer be overwhelmed by data collected for the much-larger Asia category, where native Hawaiian representation comprised just 3 percent.
Federal agencies will begin using the new race and ethnicity standards immediately.
Akaka, who with Hawaii's congressional delegation worked to revise the standards, spearheaded opposition to a federal task force recommendation in July that native Hawaiians remain in the Asian and Pacific Islander category.
A month later, a Hawaiian working group of public and private agencies, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the state compiled data and vigorously fought to justify this revision.
The change is an important step toward improving the federal government's relationship with Hawaiians, Akaka said.
More important, the inclusion in the revised guidelines should heighten the federal government's sensitivity to and consideration of the political status and rights of native Hawaiians, he said. "Native Hawaiians have a unique historical and political relationship with the United States."
"For the first time in 20 years, all federal forms in the country will recognize this, and all Americans will finally know who we are as a people."
But one member of the working group sees the changes as a disadvantage. Former state Human Services Director Winona Rubin fears the Hawaiian population of 200,000 may be left out since it will be a small category. She said the logical step would have been to classify them with American Indians to better reflect the country's native and indigenous peoples.
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