HONOLULU - Hawaii lawmakers and supporters of a push to recognize Native Hawaiians as a sovereign people are launching a yearlong effort to recruit people to take part in its governance.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie joined former Gov. John Waihee and others Friday at a ceremony in Honolulu to begin creating a base roll of native Hawaiians.
"For all of us who aloha Hawaii, now is the time to stand and be counted," said Waihee, Hawaii's first Native Hawaiian governor and chairman of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.
The roll is a step toward Native Hawaiians forming their own government, similar to many American Indian tribes across the United States. The state officially recognizes Native Hawaiians as the only indigenous people of Hawaii, but the federal government does not. Federal legislation for Hawaiian recognition hasn't passed despite more than a decade of efforts by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
"This is something that will make a huge difference," Akaka said in a video message to those attending the ceremony held in a large lanai at Washington Place. Across the street from the state Capitol, Washington Place is the former home of the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen Liliuokalani.
A separate group of Hawaiian nationals are protesting the push, saying the state doesn't have lawful authority to make way for a separate Native Hawaiian government and the process is excluding non-Native Hawaiians and Hawaiian nationals.
Waihee said the effort will help ease tension between Native Hawaiians and other Hawaii residents.
An emotional Abercrombie said the effort has become part of his calling to live in and serve Hawaii.
"Mahalo for welcoming all of us who are Hawaiian in our hearts," Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie proclaimed the next year to be dedicated to the effort in Hawaii. The commission will collect names through July 2013 and submit them to the governor's office late next year.
A state analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data shows that 290,000 Hawaii residents identify as either fully or partially Native Hawaiian. Native Hawaiians represent the state's fourth-largest race, both among those who identify themselves as of a single race or multiracial. Hawaii has more Caucasians, Filipinos and Japanese.
The number of people who identified only as Native Hawaiian stayed the same in 2000 and 2010 at just over 80,000. That represents less than 6 percent of Hawaii's total population of nearly 1.4 million.