Hawaiian Activists Fight US Military Bases


6-28-07, 12:00 pm

Two Hawaiian land rights activists visited Sydney in June and spoke to The Guardian about their struggles against US militarization of Hawaii and their support for protests against the Talisman Sabre war games in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland.

Terri Keko’olani and Leimaile Quitevis are Indigenous leaders from the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. They are both long-time activists who have campaigned tirelessly US militarization, environmental destruction and the decimation of their traditional Hawai’ian culture.

The Guardian: Can you tell us about your organisation?

The group that we are representing is DMZ Hawai’i/Aloha Aina — a network of communities and organizations in Hawai’i, which oppose the occupation of Hawai’i and are opposing the expansion of military forces in Hawai’i. It is a network of organizations and individuals working to counter the US military’s negative social, cultural and environmental impacts in Hawai’i.

In 1898 our country was an independent nation. It was called the Kingdom of Hawai’i. In 1898 the United States participated in the overthrow of our government. Since that time we have been under occupation by the US military in our own homeland.

As soon as the takeover took place the military took root and started to grow. One of the first places that was strategic was Pearl Harbor, which we call Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa

It was the hugest fishery, in the island of O’ahu. The US used possession not only as a commercial port but as a military port. They used our islands as a calling station for war.

Once the Spanish were kicked out the Americans then had a war with the Filipinos and they sustained that war from our islands.

World War II came along and their ships are there in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked and then several ships went down, big fires, and today Pearl Harbor is one of the most contaminated naval sites in the world — there are about 800 contaminated sites in the Harbor.

The US military owns about a quarter of the island of O’ahu and it has control over it — the army, the Marine Corps, the navy and the marines.

Since 9/11 there has been the biggest build-up of military expansion. Right now the army has proposed bringing in 300 Striker 20-ton tanks and there is a very big campaign among people to stop the Strikers from being stationed in our islands.

We are really experiencing a lot of pressure and also a lot of money is coming in to expand not only the bases but life on the bases.

The army intends to seize an additional 25,000 acres of land on O’ahu.

The US military in Hawai’i is the largest polluter of our land. In total there are about 1,000 identified contaminated sites.

These are some of the messages we are trying to convey to the people of Australia — if you allow the US military to come into your country, which is a sovereign country, you are allowing this type of experience. It’s no good. It’s going to bring a lot of toxicity, a lot of contamination. You will not be able to access these lands.

We had an experience with the army as well. They don’t tell you the truth. I personally asked the army whether they used depleted uranium. They said no. But just a year ago we found in army communications and memos, a memo which stated that they had used depleted uranium in an army training area.

Our movement in Hawai’i as such, has been non-violent. We have an issue of taking non-violent resistance but we have not gone to the streets.

We are very firm and we are moving forward to reclaim and to reinstate our government that represents our interests as native people.

Hawai’i now is under US occupation. We are a state of the United States. But there is an undercurrent of native people in the midst of nation-building right now. There are people who have already had plans to reinstate the Kingdom of Hawai’i. There are people who are thinking along the lines of creating a new constitution.

The main idea I want to get across is that our people are moving forward in building a nation.

When it comes to the militarization of our lands we are totally opposed to it. There are people in our community who were for it because they believed that it would provide us with income and they became addicted to that kind of money.

The military economy is not sustainable to an environment at all. These are some of the contradictions we are talking to our people about.

We have to get out of a dependency on a military economy.

The Guardian: How has emigration impacted upon Hawai’i?

White people have a lot of land. We had in our history missionaries who came from the east coast of America — they were American missionaries, Calvinists who settled and actually taught our chiefs their economic system and language.

They translated our language into a written form and gave us Bibles.

We have missionary families who actually became capitalists. Their missions were cut off from getting funds and they had to learn how to survive in our country without the mission funding.

So they emigrated, some of them married but they began to actually help put the laws together for land ownership and eventually became the land owners.

So they had a huge part to play in the imbalance that took place in our system — introducing private property, registering private property and holding a lot of that private property such as running sugar and pineapple plantations.'

The Guardian: What is the meaning of Land to the Indigenous population?

We are the land. There is really no separation. When you look at the lot of the places where the bases are — that’s where some of our most secret sacred sites are too.

There is no separation. Our elders, our ancestors are buried in that land which gives us guidance to do the things that we need to do.

A lot of it has been damaged and destroyed. At the same time we have a very strong movement to rebuild things that have been damaged by reclaiming our ancient fish ponds.

The two biggest challenges are the developers and the military. We have a strong will and a lot of people are committed to the land and do the work that is needed in our communities.

The Guardian: Has this been a long struggle?

Before the 1900s, the land Commissioners mostly came from missionary families. Land commissioners held a very important position and were in charge of all the land titles.

So there was much arguing with the titles and the deeds and the land commission awards for each lot of the land.

Missionaries actually introduced the concept of private ownership to our society. Prior to that there was no such concept.

A lot of our culture today is based on a communal idea, not only of the land but of our society.

It’s something similar to the [Indigenous] people here — you cannot own land. It’s part of who you are. There is always a conflict between native land and environment and ideas that were introduced from a Western capitalist point of view.

Even though we have that part of our history where there was conflict, our chiefs in the 1800s knowing that we were getting pushed into a very modern world … began to think about how they were going to use their lands in order to help our people. There were chiefs who put aside their estates for the benefit of our people. For example, there was a Bernise Pourheepship, she put aside her lands for the benefit of education of native Hawai’ian children. Luna Leelo his lands for the elderly; Hono Colondily for orphans; …

Today there is a movement in Hawai’i by right-wing Americans to break the estate saying that we are ALL Americans now and that these estates are based on ethnicity of a people should not be legal.

Hawai’ian homelands are lands that are set aside for the use of our people. In order to qualify you have to have 50 per cent blood, there is a blood content. You have to prove through birth certificates etc that you have 50 per cent — not 49 per cent.

For many of us, we definitely want to keep these estates alive but at the same time we realize that our goals are higher and that is to reclaim our actual government as a nation.

The Guardian: Can you please tell more about your experiences?

When we are going to community meetings and I tell them about the possible contamination of depleted uranium and other toxins, people are appalled. Nobody knew.

In the beginning they don’t really want to hear anything because they have had a long history of association with the military.

Now people are just starting to open their eyes.

In November 2006, some of the military contaminants found in O’ahu, Hawai’i’s largest island included: depleted uranium, phosgene, TNT, lead and trichloroethylene.

Ongoing military expansion in Hawai’i also currently threatens a number of traditional cultural and sacred sites including the birthplace of elders and ancient temples. Fires, toxic chemicals, unexploded ordnances and destruction of endangered species on the islands are a major crisis.

More than 25,000 acres of land is also earmarked to be seized at Phakuloa and Honouliuli. Plans to base hundreds of new troops, cargo planes, marines’ bases, missile launchers and sale of public land to private developers concerns the group.

The DMZ group notes that The US assumes it has control and domination, but the First Peoples do not agree. The unique identities and sovereignties of the world’s peoples are just open spaces for the projection of US military force, to make way for WalMart, McDonalds and MTV.

The experiences of Indigenous peoples vis-à-vis the militarized empire are multiple and unique. We are not singular, but plural; we obtain our life and very existence from specificities of our particular ancestors, our particular gods, our named and worshiped sacred sites.

When Talisman Sabre 07 takes place here in Shoalwater Bay … all of it is really being directed from Hawai’i — from the US Pacific Command (PacCom). PacCom is the oldest and largest of the US unified commands. It was established in Hawai’i in 1947 and its HQ are on an island called Camp Smith. The PacCom area of responsibility stretches over more than 50 per cent of the earth’s surface … from the west coast of North America to the east coast of Africa, from Alaska to Antarctica including Hawai’i.

The two Indigenous leaders concluded their remarks by stating: WE have a right as native people to clean water, clean land, clean ocean and clean air in order to survive.

From The Guardian