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Women activists visit Hawaiʻi Island, draw connections between militarized Pacific places

Pōhakuloa, like other important places across the Asia-Pacific region, is home to a military base with live fire training.

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Eight activists from the International Women’s Network Against Militarism (IWNAM) and its Oʻahu-based Hawaiʻi chapter, Women’s Voices Women Speak (WVWS) visited Hawaiʻi Island from February 16–18 to witness and protest the ongoing use of Hawaiian land for live-fire military training at Pōhakuloa Training Area (PTA). The trip convened activists working to protect Pōhakuloa and resist militarization and military development in Hawaiʻi, the Mariana Islands, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, South Korea and other locations throughout the Pacific.

“I occupied Kahoʻolawe in 1977 to stop the bombing of our precious ʻāina,” said WVWS member and longtime demilitarization activist Terri Kekoʻolani. “It’s 2018 and yet until today the military bombs and conducts live fire training in our homeland, Big Island at Pōhakuloa.”

PTA is located on Hawaiian Kingdom government and crown lands—known as “ceded lands”—that encompass 133,000 acres or an area more than four times larger than Kahoʻolawe. These lands are considered sacred due to their location between the sacred mountains Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualālai. The are area also features cultural and archaeological sites, including burial sites, and is home to endangered species.

Kekoʻolani had asked PTA officials for permission to enter the base to perform ceremony as a Native Hawaiian and was denied. Without permission to enter, the group held signs and expressed their sadness and disapproval outside the gate in protest of the U.S. military’s ongoing use of the sacred land for military training.

The visiting group included Chamoru activist and educator Kisha Borja-Quichocho-Calvo, a graduate student at UH Mānoa who shared with Hawaiʻi Island activists the impending plans for the hyper-militarization of the Mariana Islands (including Guåhan, Luta, Saʻipan, Tiniʻan, Noʻos [Farallon de Medinilla], and Pågan), via the Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC), the Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT), the relocation of approximately 5,000 U.S. Marines and their dependents to Guåhan, and the creation of a live-firing range complex in the northern part of Guåhan which will devastate the flora, fauna and cultural sites in Litekyan, a sacred village for Chamorus.

Another visiting group member was Rebekah Garrison, a graduate student at USC who shared information about Vieques Island, which the U.S. military and its allies used as a bombing range from the 1940s until being ousted by non-violent protest in 2003. Starting in 1941, the U.S. military had forcibly removed all Viequenese living on the east and west ends of the island prohibiting them from returning to their ancestral lands. Currently, Viequenese and their settler supporters continue to push for proper cleanup of the island and cancer treatment facilities to address the 26 percent higher cancer rate among the Vieques population than that of Puerto Rico. The cancer rate is believed to be caused by the heavy metal contamination that island residents were exposed to and continue to be exposed to from unexploded ordnance burns. The Vieques demilitarization movement has not ended, it has simply shifted its commitments, resources and discourse.

“We are making connections across oceans by visiting with each other and listening and learning about how militarization is hurting native people and their land and ecosystems all over the world. In Hawaiʻi we had a missile scare that maybe shocked people into noticing how Hawaiʻi is part of this global network of places that the U.S. uses to support its wars, and that makes us a target,” said Kelsey Amos, a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

During their trip, the IWNAM activists met with Kū Ching and Maxine Kahaulelio, two plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources, challenging it to follow its constitutional mandate to care for the land by regulating the Army’s use of Pōhakuloa. To date, the judge has not given a ruling on the case.

In 2007, the Army admitted that depleted uranium (DU) weapons had been used at PTA in the 1960s. Following this admission, in 2013, the National Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted the Army an after-the-fact license to use DU at two locations in Hawaiʻi: PTA and Schofield Barracks.

IWNAM activists met with Ruth Aloua and Jim Albertini, two of four 2017 petitioners who challenged the NRC on their approval of Army monitoring plans for DU spotting rounds at PTA and argued for a stop to live-fire training because of the dangers of DU oxide inhalation. The IWNAM group also joined Albertini at his 17-year long weekly peace vigil outside the downtown Hilo post office.

“The military will tell you they care for the environment and the cultural sites in Pōhakuloa, but this is all greenwashing,” said Dr. Kim Compoc, a Lecturer in the English department at UHM. “As long as Pōhakuloa remains under U.S. military occupation, they will do whatever they want if it serves the U.S. military interests. They will conduct live-fire training in this sacred place and perpetuate more war and misery the world over. It’s a disgrace and it needs to end.”

IWNAM members also learned about local peace-building efforts, including organic farming and aquaculture at Malu ʻĀina Center for Non-violent Education and Action, community education led by HAAS (Hawaiʻi Academy of Arts and Sciences) charter school students about the connections between Kahoʻolawe and Pōhakuloa, and international and intergenerational friendships that continue to sustain our work and spirits today.

A report back event about the trip to Hawaiʻi Island will be held on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at 6 p.m. at 2426 Oʻahu Avenue. The debriefing is open to the public.

The trip to Hawaiʻi Island follows on the WVWS delegation that traveled to the 9th International IWNAM meeting in Naha, Okinawa last June. While there, the women reported on the status of militarized sites in Hawaiʻi such as PTA and learned about Okinawa’s long struggle against U.S. military occupation and its attendant impacts including sexual violence against women, environmental destruction, and economic dependence. Activists from Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Guåhan, the U.S. and Puerto Rico also reported about the human and environmental costs of U.S. militarism in those places.

WVWS is a multiethnic collective of women in Hawai‘i who address local and international issues relating to demilitarization, peace and non-violence. They work to foster women’s political leadership to educate the public on the gendered and environmental harms of militarization, as well as uplift examples of alternatives to military dependence. WVWS advocates for a framework of “genuine security”—safe land, water, food, shelter, health care and education for local communities—and works to resist nationalist frameworks of security that depend on war and occupation.