Today, community group Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai'i to order the U.S. Army to move quickly to expand cultural access to Native Hawaiian sites at Makua Military Reservation on O'ahu, as required under the October 4, 2001 settlement that resolved Malama Makua's lawsuit challenging the Army's failure to prepare an environmental impact statement for training at Makua. Instead of clearing unexploded ordnance to open new sites to cultural access, as the settlement requires, the Army has, since February 2005, used the possible presence of unexploded ordnance as an excuse to eliminate nearly all access. After years of fruitless negotiations with the Army, Malama Makua is seeking the court's assistance to compel the Army to keep the promises it made when it voluntarily entered into the settlement.
"By denying access, the Army is denying our right to practice our religion," explained Malama Makua president Sparky Rodrigues. "To connect with our ancestors, 'aumakua (family gods) and akua (gods), we have to be able to walk up to cultural sites, oli (chant) and present ho'okupu (offerings). That's why, when we settled the case in 2001, we insisted that the Army agree to give us access to cultural sites and promptly remove unexploded ordnance to expand our opportunities for access. Instead of honoring its word, the Army has tried to keep us out, locking the door to our church."
Makua, which means "parents" in Hawaiian, is a sacred area, rich in cultural resources. Over 100 Native Hawaiian cultural sites have been identified at MMR, including heiau (Hawaiian temples), ahu (altars), burials and petroglyphs. For over three years, from the settlement's entry on October 4, 2001 until February 27, 2005, the Army allowed Malama Makua and others access to over a dozen cultural sites, without incident. Then, claiming unexploded ordnance posed a safety threat, the Army suddenly cut off access to all but a single site. The Army has been slow to clear ordnance to allow access to resume, reopening only three sites for the first time on February 9, 2008, after three years of closure. The other nine sites to which cultural practitioners formerly had access remain off-limits, and the Army has refused to commit to a schedule for their reopening.
"In the six years since the settlement was entered, the Army has failed to open access to a single new site at Makua," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction, barring cultural practitioners from sites they had visited for years. Even if the Army truly believed there's a safety issue (and there hasn't been a single accident since cultural access began in 2001), the settlement required the Army to act quickly to allow access to resume. Instead, it has dragged its feet, reopening only three sites after three years. At this rate, Malama Makua would have to wait another decade before it could return to sites it was free to access three years ago. The Army's delay violates both the letter and the spirit of its agreement."