The kanaka protocols
OHA and the Defense department are finding ways to work together. Not everyone approves.
Nov 26, 2008 | Bookmark and Share
It was just two years ago that a senior official at the Department of Defense started asking questions about what protocol his department-or any military installation-should follow when consulting the Hawaiian people about land use, development or other military activity in the Islands.
Paul Lumley, who then served as senior tribal liaison to the DoD, found that there were well-documented conventions established for how to consult the more than 560 separate nations of Alaskan Natives and American Indians, but for Hawaiians-a singular people-there was nothing.
As a result, with help from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a federal grant and a variety of cultural consulting firms, leaders from every branch of the military toured the Islands, took cultural immersion classes, met with community members and visited sacred and historic sites as they drafted the first version of a document meant to guide the military in its activities on Hawaiian land and its interactions with Hawaiian people. The result of what amounted to a crash course in Hawaiian history and culture for top Pentagon officials over the past 24 months is what led to the creation of the so-called Draft Protocol for Consulting with Native Hawaiian Organizations, the thrust of which, the department wrote, is to, “respect the traditions and cultures of all the indigenous peoples of the United States consistent with Federal laws, regulations, and national policy.” Last week, communities across the Islands had a chance to weigh in on what the DoD produced.
At meetings across the state, community members expressed many of the concerns they’ve had in the past; worries about how military development, training and disposal of waste will affect their livelihoods, whether and how the military will assess or acknowledge sacred or historic sites and how the military will proceed when it uncovers Hawaiian artifacts or iwi, ancestral remains.
“The process is a huge undertaking and it’s hard for the community,” said Martha Ross, OHA’s Washington bureau chief. “We heard a lot of concerns from the community. Some of them simply wanted an exit date, wanted to know when the military presence would leave the Islands, but the prevalent sentiment was just people saying, ‘you need to understand who we are, you need to know who we are,’ just asking for that understanding and acknowledgement.”
Ross said that plea for understanding is at the cornerstone of the two major concerns that arise time and time again among Hawaiians; the proper handling of iwi and the appropriate use of land.
“Taking care of iwi is always number one,” said Ross. “The DoD needed to understand that our ancestors are part of the living community. The second piece, of course, is how important it is for them to understand that this place is not a separate piece but part of [us] Hawaiians, so when you do things like blow up land in Ka’a’awa, it’s like blowing up a part of you. And it was hard for some of the military community to understand, trying to understand what was most important to us and asking ‘what you’re saying is everything is important?’ and the answer is ‘yes, it is.'”
Ross said educating non-Hawaiians has been paramount in moving forward collaboratively and she emphasizes how hard community members have worked to teach and how much time and effort members of the DoD have put in to learn. But some observers say that the DoD’s actions-however well-intentioned-are fundamentally flawed.
“The bottom line is that it’s going to come down to a Department of Defense decision,” said Kyle Kajihiro, program director for the Hawai’i chapter of the American Friends Service Committee. “It’s not a cosmetic problem, it’s a very deep and fundamental contradiction because of the way that the military first came to Hawai’i. Those lands are still stolen and those lands are still occupied.”
Many also take issue with the fact that the DoD has drafted its protocol based on federal laws, acts and statutes developed by a government they say is wrongfully encroaching on their land to deal with issues unrelated or inapplicable to Hawaiian culture or history. These documents include the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, among others.
“It is important for the DoD to really, truly understand-and I think they do now-that Hawaiians are different from Alaskan Natives and American Indians,” Ross said. “There are similarities in that there are cultural sites and issues with protection of culture and the environment, but the approach must be separate for Hawaiians.”
But Kajihiro said potentially more distressing than the ongoing clash between Hawaiian culture and military development is the direction of organizations like OHA, which he says set out to provide a voice for the Hawaiian people, but operate within the agenda of an entity that has its own best interest at heart.
“I think the military tries to use these Hawaiian entities or organizations that are willing to collaborate with them as a way to legitimize their process,” Kajihiro said. “Communities [that] have been fighting to protect these places will continue to resist and the more that OHA compromises away these rights, the more they will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the community. It’s making people come forward and say, ‘you don’t speak for me, I speak for myself,’ and while it’s healthy to have a diversity in voices, it leads to a crisis of legitimacy.”
OHA insists its first priority is to the Hawaiian people.
“Our role with the DoD is outreach and education,” said Ross. “We believe the DoD intent is very, very positive and we want to continue to work with them as long as that continues but it does not mean we are not advocating for the Hawaiian people or litigating as needed if problems arise.”
But the worry remains that while the DoD may have set out to open a dialogue with Hawaiians and better understand the cultural implications of military presence on the Islands, the creation of a protocol involves winnowing down the list of cultural resources for consultation about Hawaiian affairs-a group of organizations that the DoD will select based on its needs.
“The best case scenario would be that the DoD will recognize that they must deal with the communities that are most affected and that means dozens or even hundreds of organizations that have a stake in protecting resources,” Kajihiro said. “But they’re going to make the final call on who to consult and decision-making methods and they basically want to minimize conflicts and resistance.”
He said that while Hawaiians participate in the dialogue, they do so not to find a middle ground but merely so their voices will be heard.
“In a way, the community just rolls its eyes,” said Kajihiro. “The theft continues. The invasion continues. You can’t just speak nicely and improve relations when everyone understands what’s going on. It’s an unjust situation. But communities are willing to struggle for it, and that’s the only way we can ever succeed.”