Native Hawaiian organizations ‘Ilio’ulaokalani Coalition, Na ‘Imi Pono, and Kipuka, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal court today against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee over plans to transform the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division (Light) into a brigade built around the 24-ton Stryker fighting vehicle (learn more about this vehicle’s weight and air transport issues). The suit challenges the Army’s failure to consider any location other than Hawai’i for the Stryker transformation, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Army has acknowledged that transforming the 2nd Brigade in Hawai’i would destroy Native Hawaiian cultural sites, prevent the exercise of traditional practices, and irreparably harm Hawai’i’s fragile and unique native ecosystems, as well as the endangered plants and animals that depend on them.
“Native Hawaiians have a unique spiritual relationship to the ‘aina (land) and as a result a kuleana (responsibility) to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of Hawai’i for future generations,” explained ‘Ilio’ulaokalani’s president Vicky Holt Takamine. “Transformation will cut us off from these resources, these sacred sites, which are vital to the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture.”
In an environmental impact statement (EIS) issued in May 2004, the Army found that transformation-related construction activities and Stryker-based training could cause significant damage to, or destruction, of Native Hawaiian cultural sites, including heiau (temples), ahu (shrines), burials, cultural landscapes and other areas of traditional importance. Moreover, transformation would further restrict access for Hawaiians to carry out traditional practices.
“As young Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), we are striving to learn and perpetuate our culture, which, since Western contact, has been under constant threat,” said Beau Bassett of Kipuka. “Transformation would expand military training lands on O’ahu and the Big Island by over 24,000 acres, further cutting us off from cultural sites we need to access if the next generation is ever to fully understand or practice our culture.”
The Army refused to consider any location where the transformation of the 2nd Brigade could take place in a more culturally and environmentally responsible manner. This despite the fact that the Army’s EIS identified seven major Army installations in the western United States devoted to training U.S. Army forces, including three installations already undergoing transformation to receive Stryker brigades.
“For years, the community showed up at the Army’s public meetings to testify that they should look at transforming the 2nd Brigade at Fort Lewis in Washington State, where the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade – which has already transformed into a Stryker brigade – is stationed,” said William Aila of Na ‘Imi Pono. “The Army’s claim that ‘no can’ is shibai. After all, they moved the 1st Brigade from Hawai’i to Fort Lewis in 1995. Why not the 2nd Brigade now?”
The Army’s refusal to consider locations outside Hawai’i for transformation violated NEPA’s mandate to provide “full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts and … inform decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment.”
“The alternatives analysis is considered the heart of the environmental impact statement because it is the key to informed decision-making, the basic goal of the National Environmental Policy Act,” explained David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice who represents the groups. “Whether you think Stryker is a good idea or not, you have to agree that, before the Army carries out an project like transformation, which it admits will be environmentally destructive, it should at least look at its options to be sure that Hawai’i is the best place to do it. That is what both common sense and the law require and what the Army failed to do here.”
The suit seeks to prevent the Army from going forward with activities related to transformation of the 2nd Brigade in Hawai’i until the Army completes an environmental impact statement that adequately considers a range of alternate locations outside Hawai’i for transformation. It does not seek to limit current military training at existing military facilities in Hawai’i.
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- Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawai’i regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, Native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai’i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.
- ‘Ilio’ulaokalani Coalition is a Hawai’i non-profit corporation, whose members consist of küpuna (elders), their ‘ohana (families), loea (cultural experts), kumu hula (master teachers of Hawaiian dance), halau hula (Hawaiian dance schools), artists, craftspeople, fishers, farmers, students, environmentalists, and others who make Hawai’I their home. ‘Ilio’ulaokalani’s mission is to preserve and protect Native Hawaiians’ traditional way of life and ancestral rights and the integrity of Hawai’i’s cultural environment.
- Na ‘Imi Pono is a Hawai’i unincorporated association whose members are Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners committed to the protection, preservation, and perpetuation of Native Hawaiian culture, traditional and customary practices, cultural sites and resources.
- Plaintiff Kipuka is a Hawai’i unincorporated association whose members are young Native Hawaiians. Kipuka’s mission is to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian culture through malama ‘aina, fighting for Native Hawaiian access rights, and educating and involving the public, especially the youth, in these issues.