Army trying to coopt Native Hawaiians

Yesterday, the last day of AFSC’s summer youth environmental justice training program Ka Makani Kaiaulu o Wai’anae,  we took the ten youth out to Makua to learn about the struggle to rescue the valley and to give ho’okupu back to the ‘aina – ti leaf plants that they had nurtured at home during the course of the program.  As we drove down the coast, past the growing blue and gray tarp cities of landless Kanaka Maoli, we saw two Chinook helicopters flying north towards Makua.

As we got to Makua, we saw that the helicopters had unloaded their passengers. It looked like a press junket.   I yelled “Stop the bombing!” and “Army out!” to try to get the attention of the press pool, but the Army quickly whisked the group away in waiting SUVs.

Unbeknownst to us, the group flown in by the Army included Native Hawaiian leaders.  The whole show was really a big public relations stunt by the Army to make it look like Native Hawaiians were supporting the return to training.  Some Native Hawaiian leaders are actively helping the Army to win support from the Hawaiian commmunity for military training in Makua.  As William Aila told our group of youth that day, the fact that so much money and energy is being spent by the military and the political establishment to try to win support for military training in Makua indicates that they are concerned.    Sadly, some good people who are opponents of military destruction of Hawaiian lands, attended the PR stunt and were used by the Army to make it look like they too supported the Army’s efforts.


July 18, 2009

Army reaches out to Native Hawaiians on Makua Valley

Training, cultural needs can be balanced, it says

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

MAKUA VALLEY – The Army presented a different side of itself yesterday, one that’s attempting to reach out to Native Hawaiians as it seeks a return to live-fire training in the cultural resources-rich Wai’anae Coast valley, where legal action has prevented bullets from flying and bombs from exploding for the past five years.

The Army flew five Native Hawaiians, with varying constituencies, out to the valley in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to describe its efforts at balancing training needs with stewardship of a valley.

Makua has 121 archaeological sites and more than 50 endangered animal and plant species. Local media also were invited along.

“The Army is made up of folks who have the same type of values, the same type of beliefs, that you have,” Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawai’i, told the group.

Margotta admitted that the Army might have been heavy-handed in the past in dealing with cultural issues, but he said that is changing. Makua is a special place in the heart of Native Hawaiians and “the Army, all of us, recognize that,” Margotta said.

cultural adviser

Margotta brought on Annelle Amaral in February as a Native Hawaiian cultural adviser.

A Native Hawaiian Advisory Council was created within the garrison with the president of Kamehameha Schools among its members.

The Army has earmarked between $15 million and $16 million from $75 million in federal stimulus funding to go to Native Hawaiian businesses. “Were we doing this a few years ago? No,” Margotta said.

The Army’s new public-relations effort coincides with the completion of an eight-year environmental study required under a 2001 court settlement agreement.

Malama Makua, the community group that brought the suit, said it will fight on in court because the study is flawed.

No live fire has been allowed since 2004 in the 4,190-acre valley because the Army had not finished the study. This week, the approximately 6,000-page document was completed. Now, the Army is seeking a return to combined-arms live-fire exercises involving helicopters, artillery, mortars and 150 soldiers, as well as convoy live-fire training.

The Army would like to conduct up to 32 Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercises, or CALFEXes, a year, or up to 150 convoy exercises.

Margotta said those exercises won’t start any earlier than Aug. 31, which is the target for short-term fixes to internal roads that sustained storm damage in December. The Army received $6.9 million for road repairs.

Margotta also made a case for training in Makua by saying that without it, soldiers have to make it up at 133,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island or on the Mainland – keeping them away from families for weeks or months more.

The required training takes about a week at Makua. When soldiers go to Pohakuloa, larger units usually are sent, and that requires the use of ships for equipment deliveries, air transport for troops, and more time overall.

‘Something is missing’

Margotta said the Army’s four main training areas in Hawai’i – Schofield, Makua, Pohakuloa and Kahuku Training Area – are like an interlocking puzzle.

Schofield is considered too small and would have training conflicts as a combined-arms training facility, the Army said. No live fire is allowed in Kahuku.

“You’ve got four pieces in the puzzle and you take Makua out, you’ve only got three pieces,” Margotta said. “Something is missing. What will end up being in that gap are soldiers and their families away from each other.”

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai’i, in 2007 strongly advocated that the Army give up Makua, saying the service had spent millions to unsuccessfully defend in court the use of a training range that could be replaced at Pohakuloa and was ill-suited in particular to training using eight-wheeled Stryker armored vehicles.

Margotta said the Army can balance training needs with cultural resource protection in Makua.

paying a visit

Last year, Schofield received $1 million to clear Makua sites of old unexploded ordnance for cultural access, and for next year it’s expected to receive the same amount.

The Army also said nearly $6 million is spent annually in Makua on natural and cultural resources management.

Kahu Kaleo Patterson, one of those who made the trip, said Makua is very special to his family, who had kuleana, or responsibility, in the valley in the old days.

“It’s very encouraging to see how much you folks have done as caretakers of the valley,” Patterson told Margotta.

Christopher Dawson, a Native Hawaiian business leader, and Leimomi Khan, with the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, also visited Makua.

But Wai’anae resident William Aila Jr., a member of a Hawaiian group that has butted heads with the Army before over training and access, said the group doesn’t have a thorough understanding of the issues faced in the valley.

His group, Hui Malama O Makua, was not invited yesterday.

“If we were able to give some historical context, the thought processes of those (invited) Hawaiians would be a lot more balanced,” Aila said.

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