How Native Hawaiians fought the US Navy, and won

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The reclaiming of a sacred island. Subscribe and turn on notifications (? ) so you don't miss any videos: On January 4, 1976, a fleet of boats headed toward the Hawaiian island of Kaho‘olawe. The goal: take the island back from the US military for the Hawaiian people. Since World War II, the US military had used the island for bombing practice and decimated its land. But the story of the taking of this one island was part of a bigger history of the taking of all of Hawaii. The decades-long efforts to reclaim it would help spark a movement to renew the culture and traditions of the islands — and a push for Hawaiian sovereignty. Have an idea for a story that we should investigate for Missing Chapter? Send it to us via this form! Sign up for the Missing Chapter newsletter to stay up to date with the series: Explore the full Missing Chapter playlist, including episodes, a creator Q&A, and more! Learn more about the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana: Read A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty: Check out the documentary Kaho‘olawe Aloha ‘Āina: Check out the film Hawaiian Soul on the life of George Helm: Check out the archives at the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission’s Living Library: Check out the documentary series Standing on Sacred Ground, which features Kaho‘olawe: Read this article in Honolulu Civil Beat on the Kaho‘olawe landing: Subscribe to our channel! is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out Watch our full video catalog: Follow Vox on Facebook: Or Twitter:

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On january 4th 1976 a fleet of boats left the coast of maui the goal was to get to the hawaiian island of kahool lava for centuries native hawaiians had fished and farmed here and they'd worshipped at its many religious sites its original name had been kohei malamalamu kanaloa The island had been very sacred and dedicated to kanaloa the god of the ocean but by the time this group of native hawaiians made the journey to the island it was a very different story the u.s military had taken over the island of kahoa lava it was just littered with all kinds of artillery bombs unexploded bombs nothing growing it was the worst environmental Damage to land that anybody could ever experience or view or feel this is dr amita luli one of the many native hawaiians on the boats that day in 1976. they wanted to take kahoolawe back and they were willing to go up against the most powerful military in the world what happened next turned this journey into a movement not just to reclaim the island but to Reclaim everything that was taken from native hawaiians this is the story of the taking of one hawaiian island but before i tell you that story i have to start with the taking of all of hawaii [Music] more than a thousand years ago the first polynesian voyagers made it to the hawaiian archipelago Over time a distinctly hawaiian culture emerged fishing and agriculture were common and a blend of polynesian language arts and navigation traditions took shape along with an intricate social political and religious system for centuries native hawaiians exercised sovereignty over the islands by 1810 a monarch united the islands as One nation around this time american and european missionaries arrived along with businessmen looking to turn the land into a sugar industry many missionaries believed hawaiian religious practices were a moral wretchedness and so they began the work of communicating to them the knowledge of christ when the missionaries come with their promise of enlightenment And wisdom our people lost contact with who they were over the course of the next century this new western christian ideology slowly replaced the traditions and culture of many native hawaiians also known as kanaka maoli or kanaka the missionaries and businessmen became advisors to the monarchs who then suppressed hawaiian language healing practices navigation arts and even traditional Forms of hula soon they set their sights on privatizing land ownership and changed the political system too in 1887 a group led by white businessmen rewrote the constitution forcibly taking away much of the hawaiian monarchy's power and disenfranchising most native hawaiian voters when a new monarch queen liliuo kalani rose to power she attempted to restore Native hawaiian rights but in response much of the same group of wealthy white businessmen now known as the committee of safety staged a coup to overthrow the queen's government in 1893 they illegally took over the government of hawaii [Music] native hawaiians pushed back and started a movement to reclaim hawaiian Sovereignty a massive petition drive led to 38 000 signatures that eventually convinced the u.s congress to reject the annexation of hawaii but it was a short-lived win in 1898 the spanish-american war broke out part of it was fought in the philippines and all of a sudden the location of the hawaiian islands in the pacific became valuable to the us military Congress quickly passed a resolution and illegally annexed hawaii decades later in 1959 hawaii became the 50th state of the us to have this 50th member is truly a a unique uh experience but statehood made many native hawaiian problems worse the development of resorts and condos increasingly displaced families encroached on rural land and exploited native hawaiians by the 1970s a new wave of native Hawaiian activists demanded change and their protests reignited the movement to reclaim hawaiian sovereignty that gave rise to the aloha organization it stood for aboriginal lands of hawaiian ancestry they had a bill for reparations for native hawaiians and the congress was not taking it seriously aloha came up with an idea they would Occupy federal land to bring attention to their cause the only question was where caho lavey is the smallest of the major hawaiian islands and it sits here in the middle of the archipelago some traditional oli or chant spoke of the importance of the island and navigation if you are on kaholawe and you're Observing what the sky looks like you could see where the southern cross sits in the sky in relation to the northern star and this was important for training navigators not so much how to get where you want to go but how do you get home archaeological evidence also suggests that for centuries kahoolawe was key To this kind of celestial navigation and was the location of several sacred sites including shrines petroglyphs and burials but by 1832 the hawaiian monarchy started using the island as a penal colony then in 1858 the hawaiian government leased kahoolawe out for ranching introducing livestock that depleted the island's soil in 1941 just after the attack on pearl Harbor the u.s declared martial law in hawaii and turned kaholave into a military bombing range a few years later when the war ended hawaiian territorial officials thought that the island would be returned to civilian jurisdiction but instead president eisenhower issued an executive decree to extend the u.s use of the island and then they continued To train for other arenas in the asia and the pacific [Music] year after year kahoalave was used as a practice target for more wars like the korean war and then the vietnam war during that period there were targets on the island that resembled you know korean vehicles in korean uh villages and then jets would come to Practice bombing those targets the top of the island has been just the face of any vegetation it's what we call hard pan and about eight feet of the topsoil has washed away into the ocean every time there's a big rain event it's bleeding out into the ocean in one series of navy explosions they simulated an atomic bomb blast and Exploded 500 tons of tnt and almost every day in 1970 alone the navy used the island for bombings or weapons exercises those who lived particularly south side maui would see the bombing of kahoolabe regularly houses would shake it's just like poking a poking a knife into the spirit of the kanaka every time the bomb would go off Local residents and politicians began demanding an end to the bombings so in january 1976 when aloha was looking for a location to occupy as a protest they chose kaho'olave the mismanagement of land by the navy and the military was just so obvious and so it was just something we kind of like thought we had to do alluli and other activists Came together from all over hawaii and on january 4th they left for kahoot lava on a fleet of boats but there was a problem a leaked press release led to the coast guard intercepting them bringing the risk of arrest and federal charges one boat with a lully and eight other protesters on it snuck past the coast guard and made it to the island But the coast guard wasn't far behind we saw them coming with their megaphones and telling us that we needed to board the coast guard cutter and get taken back to maui myself and one of the organizers from maui walter riddy decided we didn't come to koh lavi just to kind of get back with the coast guard as the coast guard caught up with the group on the shore Illumi and walter riddy broke away and went deeper into the island there were no trails to follow and the paths were rough but slowly they made their way up to the peak of the island then once you're on the top just knowing that this island was almost central in our archipelago that it must have been something real special but then You see the devastation for two days alluli and riddy hid out on the island the island was muddy was red there was just old trucks that were lined up to be caravans and these are the targets the whole island was littered with targets on day three federal marshals found a lully and ready arrested them and flew them off the island we've just been able to kind of be Lifted up on a helicopter and seeing more damage and feeling more passionate about we got to do something it was like the land was calling to me pleading crying asking us to do something we decided to come over and pay a visit to to the governor and a peer visit to you also inspired by what they saw the activists formed a new group protect kahoolawe Ohana to focus specifically on caring for the island at the core of their work was the concept of aloha aina aloha aina in its simplest form is just to love the land but for us aloha aina also has a deep political meaning and that it means love of your nation the organizing for helped spark a greater movement for hawaiian rights in what became known as the hawaiian Renaissance congress and american people need to know we're not just happy natives dancing the hula for the tourists and playing our ukulele and that we have serious problems with so many of our people incarcerated so many of our families having to rely upon welfare for their subsistence and very serious health problems Activists across hawaii were pushing for the revival of hawaiian culture language and ethnic studies education along with land and water rights for residents if we can give mother nature back to call of duty fight we gotta go fight as for the island of kahoolawe a charismatic activist named george helm stepped up to lead the fight to put an end to the bombings and for months the group organized Further occupations of the island and if all of us can go over there and touch it we all come together so that began a movement there must have been like maybe 30 other arrests individuals there was jail time the navy didn't know how to handle this i didn't know how to control the arrests the movement was picking up but in 1977 tragedy struck Two activists hemo mitchell and leader george helm were lost at sea on the way back from cahoa lava george helm after he disappeared we didn't know why he left how he left and who was responsible for it we had to reorganize our movement we all felt that we had to make a commitment to make his life worthwhile that the loss would not be in vain Prior to his disappearance helm had spearheaded something important a class-action civil suit against the navy the suit claimed the navy was in violation of environmental protection laws and the national historic preservation act there are cultural sites that are on the island and the navy was not doing its duty to Protect them in 1980 the navy and protect kahoolaway ohana entered into a consent decree the navy would have to start cleaning up the island and give activists partial access too one of the first things activists did was revive the makahiki ceremony a religious celebration that had been suppressed for two hundred years the most important thing that the Protect lavi ohana has probably accomplished is reviving our connection as native hawaiians to our kua our natural elements and and calling our our deities back into our lives and and reviving our soul as a people after another decade of continued pressure in 1990 president george h.w bush ordered the complete halt To bombing practices on the island congress also ordered the return of the island to hawaii and hawaii's state legislature banned any future commercial activity on the island fourteen years after the first landing on pahoa lava a grassroots movement was able to take on the u.s navy and when [Music] Today the restoration of kahoot lava is ongoing the u.s government still hasn't gotten rid of all the bomb fragments and unexploded ordnance but with the help of protect kaho'olave ohana and a state reserve commission the island is slowly healing the closer you get you see the island is getting green it's important that we have places like kahoolawe to Sort of serve as these key puka as we call them or little circles little areas where where life regenerates to really re-engage with environment and earth and see the importance of aloha aina really kahoolawe is now a symbol of hope and for native hawaiians who continue to fight for sovereignty reclaiming kahool lava is a step Towards reclaiming all of hawaii kolavi is a motto of what can be done on other islands and other communities the only disappointing frustration is that i'm not going to be around for the next generation kahool lava is the hope that brings us deliverance from our colonized past to who we are and who we will be in the future [Music] you

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