Court Finds Army Broke Promises on Makua Cultural Access
Army ordered to move quickly to open access to sacred sites in Oahu
David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, ext. 614
Sparky Rodrigues, Malama Makua, (808) 352-0059
The U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai’i has ordered the U.S. Army to move quickly to expand cultural access to Native Hawaiian sites at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on O’ahu, as required under an October 4, 2001 settlement with community group Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice. The court held the Army was over five years late in meeting the settlement’s October 4, 2002 deadline to identify high priority areas at MMR for unexploded ordnance clearance to increase access to cultural sites and also had violated its duty to "make good faith efforts promptly to develop a plan" and secure funding to clear those high priority areas. The court ordered the Army to identify the high priority areas by April 15, 2008, and to provide a "good faith" plan to clear unexploded ordnance from the high priority sites, including a proposed schedule for site clearance, by July 15, 2008. Thereafter, the Army must submit quarterly reports to the court and Malama Makua, describing its progress in clearing sites for cultural access.
"We’re glad the court will be holding the Army’s feet to the fire to make sure it finally keeps its promises and expands opportunities for cultural access to Makua’s sacred sites," said Malama Makua president Sparky Rodrigues. "Without access to sites, we cannot connect with our ancestors, ‘aumakua (family gods) and akua (gods). The Army’s failure to keep its word these past seven years has been like 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. 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. The court held that, by denying access to sites without first consulting Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, the Army further violated the 2001 settlement.
"Today’s order reaffirms the Army is not above the law," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "Nearly seven years ago, the Army pledged it would move quickly to expand cultural access at Makua. Instead of honoring that pledge, the Army used every excuse it could concoct to keep Native Hawaiian practitioners from the valley’s sacred sites. We are hopeful that, with the firm guidance the court provided today, we will finally be able to work with the Army to fulfill the 2001 settlement’s promise of restoring cultural life to Makua."
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.