A philosophy of healing and peace, and how Mālama Mākua relates to Pōhakuloa

By Mālama Mākua board president Lynette Cruz

This is a long post, so I'm dividing it into two, for those interested. Part I is about Mālama Mākua and a philosophy of healing and peace. It leads into Part II that describes how we think Mālama Mākua relates to Pōhakuloa. Some folks may not agree, but that's okay. We're all trying to figure out our kuleana and the best way to exercise it.

PART I

Mālama Mākua owes a debt of gratitude to several people who have, unknowingly, guided us on our journey toward peace and mālama ʻāina, especially as these concepts relate to putting the health and well-being of ʻāina first. 

Fred Dodge, from the very beginning in 1997 or thereabouts, advocated for peace and positive dialogue. So it wasn't so much about being anti-military as it was about ending the pain and harm inflicted on ʻāina, kai, and wai (not to mention air) that contributes to the inability of the land, and all the kūpuna in that land, to be at peace and to heal. We all share in this responsibility. The US military is the primary guilty party, of course, because they're BIG and have unlimited budget to pummel, bruise, harm the ʻāina. But there are others who dump hazardous waste and toxic materials on the ground, in the water, etc. All contributors, mostly unknown or unnamed. But you know who you are. Fred wanted it to stop. He gathered folks of like-mind around him and the peace and justice component of Mālama Mākua was born. 

Fast forward to 2019: Mālama Mākua has remained in 20+ years of service to ʻāina, especially Mākua ʻāina, despite naysayers who criticized the deals made by Mālama Mākua with the army to keep the valley safe. We're still here. We wanted to protect our endangered Hawaiian species and habitat, gain access and reconnection with the ʻāina long denied through military eviction. Legal action, first filed in 1999, was the way to go. As a result of our lawsuit, the community has access twice a month now and has had it for nearly 20 years. That means two times a month we can love up Mākua from inside the valley, beyond military fences and guarded gates. Also, as a result of certain aspects of the lawsuit, there has been no live fire training in Mākua for 15 years. The army was forced to stop. But they haven't left Mākua.

The army dislikes us, generally speaking, and we assume it's because they're forced to accommodate us when they'd rather not. Those who still criticize us do it outside the gates. Those of us who love it up walk the grounds, as much as we can, because our presence speaks of love and caring. We'll take slurs and unhelpful criticisms if we are able to be up close and personal with something/someone we love. The valley, our ʻāina, is always first. The struggle to get the military out so that their presence is removed from the valley is always in our minds, but it's secondary. Heal and love first. Fix after. Stop the abuse so we can figure out the next part. 

As Dr. Keanu Sai continues to articulate, the US military's job in Hawaiʻi is to bring about US compliance to International Law and to end the occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom since the takeover of the government in 1893. Until then they'll obviously have to be here. Since the US holds itself up as an honourable country, we urge its military arm in Hawaiʻi to follow the law. We know that will eventually happen. We hold the ground and claim our space until it does. Our kuleana to Mākua will not end, even after de-occupation. Our commitment was and is forever, with peace, health, and well-being for Mākua valley above all else. 

We know protests will come and go. We've done enough of them, ourselves. Protesters may fade in our memories, but ʻāina health and well-being will be re-established by constant caring. For that to happen, we have to be present. Our ʻāina, and that includes our kūpuna, is bedridden after being beat up for 126 years, and we are called to serve her. 

Thursday, April 18, Sparky Rodrigues and I, representing Mālama Mākua, flew to Hawaiʻi island to attend a US army open house event at the army installation at Pōhakuloa. We communicated beforehand with Lt. Col. Borce, the installation commander. He offered transportation for us makule folks. We accepted. Lynda Saffery picked us up at the airport and drove us to the site. We were able to drive in and park in the same place as the military families. We were provided a cart and driver. 

We visited several displays on cultural and environmental resources. We learned a bit about native plants growing in the area, about cultural sites with petroglyphs in caves and elsewhere on the range. Sparky had a long and interesting discussion with an army contractor whose job is to manage cultural resources according to army standards. She shared about uranium, depleted uranium and uranium dust. Sparky noted that ordinary people had heard many sides of the issue concerning danger or lack thereof, and that it might be a good idea to include in the discussion a peer review by unbiased experts who can explain complex issues in a way that ordinary people can understand. None of us, currently, trusts any of the reported stories. I think it's fair to say none of us trusts government, frankly, and its enforcement arm, the military. 

Anyhow, please look at some pics of what we saw and experienced. Those are at the bottom of this post.

PART II

While we were at Pōhakuloa on April 18, Sparky Rodrigues talked with a number of army staff and contractors about the different activities there, focusing mostly on environmental and cultural concerns, including endangered plant species. His final question to each of the resource people was always the same: Is this information available on your website? Sometimes he got a yes answer, sometimes not. My guess is those folks don't know much about what's going on at the top so they have no idea where the data they collect goes. Big disconnect between top and bottom. Everybody thinks it's normal.

Sparky wanted to offer hookupu to ask that aina for forgiveness and to remember kūpuna, so we asked to visit an ahu and found out there are two ahu on the range but they're not always accessible. Two "replica" ahu were built by army archaeologists based on data gathered about shapes, sizes, and orientation of the two existing ahu. The replicas are located in the native species garden near some of the offices. They're made of ʻaʻā lava, of course. At the end of the visiting period, we went to the garden and asked the young archaeologist, David, to give us a tour and explain the creation of the replica ahu, which he did. We requested to do a small ceremony at one of them, since those were available and the real ones were not. Lucky that on our way in from the airport we had stopped at the farmers market in Hilo to get flowers. David said it would be fine and that the other archaeologists and cultural consultants who had crafted these replica ahu would have liked for them to be used ceremonially. We got the impression that had not been done before. 

Lt. Col. Borce and his wife, Kekai, joined us in ceremony to honor and remember those loved and cherished who had passed, whoever they were to each of us, in a very small ceremony. We had brought with us little paper photos of Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, Puhipau, Leandra Wai Rodrigues, Rick Ribuca, and William Punohu White (mahalo, Ron Jr Williams). We provided opportunity for others to jot down names of those who had passed that should be remembered in ceremony. Everyone did. We passed out flowers for those who wanted them, which turned out to be everybody. It was an emotional time. It was an awesome time, actually. I think it's safe to share that tears flowed. David, our archaeologist friend, agreed to malama the ahu and to remove flowers and leaves after they had dried. It is his kuleana to malama na ahu, after all, since he is the one who is there. Sparky shared that he liked that there was a contemporary ahu at Pōhakuloa, much like the ones at Mākua, places to offer hoʻokupu in order to begin gathering mana for strengthening and healing the aina. Pohakuloa needs as much as Mākua, for sure. 

We had talked with some of the contractors and staff about cultural, historic, and archaeological sites and the possibility of accessing them as we have been able to do at Mākua. The army's concern, according to their senior archaeologist, is about site degradation. The army is committed to preservation of archaeological sites, which means, as in Mākua, Hawaiians should not be allowed to touch them. We can look. Certainly, this is not a position we, as Mālama Mākua share. Lt. Col. Borce did mention that he would entertain official requests to visit sites. We'll see. Ku Ching will be working with us to gain access, hopefully as a guide, as he, along with several others, has genealogical connection to that aina. Right now we have an opportunity to keep the dialogue going, even though no promises were made. 

A second debt of gratitude, besides to Fred Dodge, is due Dr. Ron Williams, whose work in uncovering Hawaiian history has caused many of us to rethink the work we do, and have done, in honoring those who have passed. Ron once invited us all to a talk that took place in the parking lot at Kaumakapili Church, next door to Tamashiro Market on North King Street in Honolulu. His talk was about Joseph Nāwahī. He pointed out where Nāwahī's house used to be behind Tamashiro Market on what is now a small side street. After the talk he invited us all to "claim" the space where Nāwahī lived by acknowledging, using non-toxic chalk, his house site and his name, his life, his history. We walked over from the parking lot and drew the house on the road. And wrote his name there. It may have seemed an inconsequential act to some, but for those who were present it was profound and its impact was, indeed, long-lasting. I was there and I remember. For that time, Joseph Nāwahī was "in the house," and we felt him. That's another way of saying that we, today, are not helpless bystanders watching our history being invented, our stories being retold to suit someone else's political agenda, our patriots erased from our memories. We have agency. We can act.

Our Aloha ʻĀina are ever-present in the actions we take in remembrance of them. Thus, our honoring of our kupuna, whether blood or not, by remembering them in places that are in conflict, by honoring them as historic and present-day patriots and heroes, is a way of claiming space for them, bringing them into the present, while reclaiming our own history, our own sense of place in the here-and-now, our own ʻāina hānau. There's nothing that keeps us from honoring and remembering our kūpuna wherever we go. We should make it a regular practice. Small ceremonies. Big consequences. Build that ahu. Plant your kūpuna there.