The month-long selection of delegates for a constitutional convention is seen by some as a key step forward for Native Hawaiian self-determination, and by others as a racially exclusive and unconstitutional exercise.
Election results were due Dec. 1, with more than 100,000 Native Hawaiians eligible to vote.
A federal judge in October ruled that the election could go forward because it is a private poll conducted by a nonprofit, not one held by the state. A lawsuit filed by native and non-native residents in August argued that it is unconstitutional for the state to be involved in a race-based election.
While supporters of the election have expressed confidence that it will ultimately be declared legal, opponents called the Supreme Court order a “victory.”
"First, it's a victory for Native Hawaiians who have been misrepresented by government leaders trying to turn us into a government-recognized tribe," Kelii Akina, one of the Native Hawaiian plaintiffs and president of think tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, said in a statement. "Secondly, it is a victory for all people of Hawaii and the United States as it affirms racial equality."
According to the Supreme Court order, the nonprofit holding the election is prohibited from “counting the ballots cast in, and certifying the winners of, the election described in the application, pending further order” from the Court.
Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous American group in the U.S. that has not yet been allowed to establish its own government, according to The Associated Press.
The U.S. Department of the Interior in September announced a framework under which the Native Hawaiian community could form a unified government and establish a formal relationship with the United States government.
Under that proposal, the Native Hawaiian community rather than the U.S. government would determine “whether to reorganize a Native Hawaiian government, what form that government would take, and whether it would seek a government-to-government relationship with the United States,” according to an agency release.