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Natives Win Over Bombs in Makua Ruling

Native Hawaiians have always viewed Makua Valley on the Wai‘anae Coast of O‘ahu as a place of great mana (spiritual power). Makua, which means "parents" in Hawaiian, has more than 100 Native Hawaiian cultural sites, including heiau (Hawaiian temples), ahu (altars), burials and petroglyphs. It is also home to dozens of endangered and threatened plants and animals.

The U.S. Army appropriated Makua during WWII and established the land as a “military reservation” to be used for target practice, bombing runs, and troop training. For more than half a century, Makua has been blown up, burned, and littered with unexploded ordnance, despite the land’s many cultural and ecological treasures.

Under a 2001 settlement with Malama Makua (represented by Earthjustice), the Army agreed to prepare an environmental impact statement and consider ways to train with less environmental and cultural harm. The Army also agreed to provide Hawaiians with access to their cultural sites.

On March 11, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i held the Army was more than five years late in complying with its duty to finalize a high priority list of sites for unexploded ordnance clearance and ordered the Army to do so no later than April 2008. Unfortunately, in compiling its list, the Army ignored the wishes of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, as well as the latest information on opportunities to open up cultural access.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin returned to court, and, on January 23, 2009, the District Court affirmed the Army must "provide meaningful opportunities for the people of the Wai‘anae Coast to participate in identifying and prioritizing” cultural sites to be cleared of unexploded ordnance at Makua and to “focus on increasing access to cultural sites."

"In negotiating the 2001 settlement, we insisted that high priority sites be identified and cleared of unexploded ordnance because that’s the only way to bring cultural life back to Makua," said Malama Makua president Sparky Rodrigues. "By refusing to ask local practitioners to give their mana‘o (input) about their highest priorities, the Army turned the process into a sham. We're pleased the Court has insisted the Army give the people of the Wai‘anae Coast meaningful opportunities to participate."