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Voices from Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, the grassroots movement for Native Hawaiian rights

kahoolawe.jpg Arts & Letters Gallery on Nu‘uanu Avenue in Honolulu’s Chinatown
Franco Salmoiraghi
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Courtesy Arts and Letters Nuʻuanu
"Preparing for a hike, 1976." Photographer Franco Salmoiraghi visited Kahoʻolawe 20 times over 30 years, capturing images of both the land and the reclamation process.

Thirty-two years ago this month, the U.S. military stopped using the island of Kahoʻolawe for bombing exercises. It was the result of protests led by Native Hawaiian activists.

A landing by nine protesters on Kahoʻolawe on Jan. 4, 1976, led to the rise of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana as a grassroots islands-wide movement for Native Hawaiian rights.

As part of an ongoing project with the Center for Oral History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, HPR is bringing you voices of history. We hear from Bo Kahui and Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, two members of the movement known as the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana — with narration from ethnic studies professor Ty Kāwika Tengan.

Laʻi ʻŌpua Kona Hawaiian homesteader Bo Kahui, a Farrington High School grad and Vietnam veteran, got involved with the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana as a student at Honolulu Community College and UH Mānoa.

Kahui: I became the Central Oʻahu Coordinator. We were all coordinators, but leaders in our own right. We did fundraising. I also started my own curriculum, flyers for people to attend meetings and so on. I would hand them out in school, at the university, wherever I can, I always had a batch of information. My role, in the end, was to recruit more of our people. By the time 1978 rolled around, we had enrolled about 18,000. That was statewide. Aloha ʻĀina I think was depicted early on and it just became our focal point. It was hard to argue against Aloha ʻĀina. We as a culture, as native people, ʻāina, I was always trying to tell people, what does that mean to you?  Land, it's the land. It's that from which you eat, not just the land. So I think those things that came to the forefront, and Aloha ʻĀina, and the popular view to protect our islands against this kind of desecration made it almost nearly impossible for the military.

Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, a primary care physician on Moloka‘i, talks about the consent decree to settle a civil suit that George Helm had filed before his disappearance — a decision that marked a key turning point for the movement.

Aluli: Half the ʻohana left when we decided that we were going to sign off on the consent decree, but I think it was the wisdom of the kūpuna that made the difference. I know it was the wisdom of the kūpuna. The consent decree would give us all of this access, work with the Navy, become more involved, more legitimate because we had the agreement with the Navy that we were the stewards, that the state wasnʻt even involved. I mean the state should have been the ones to have brought that suit and not the grassroots organization with no money and no real expertise. George would always say, “You just got to come touch the island." More people to visit, more people going there legally, where people are doing the work, checking the sites, doing the planting, and going back and spreading the word, so we actually built a good movement around our accesses. But, you know, for me personally, Kahoʻolawe has really brought to surface that the health of the land is really the health of our people moving forward.

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This collaboration is supported by the SHARP Initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

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