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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 13, 2003

Rites mark Kaho'olawe transfer

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

In an event awaited for 27 years, parts of the "body" of Kaho'olawe — stones from 12 of its 'ili, or land divisions — served as focal points for yesterday's rites marking the transfer of the island from Navy to state control.

Former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Frenchy DeSoto and activist Walter Ritte Jr. attended the ceremony yesterday in which the Navy handed over Kaho'olawe to the state.

Associated Press

The rites also celebrated the spirits of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell. The names of the two men, activists lost at sea in 1977 while trying to reach Kaho'olawe, were invoked again and again during ceremonies at 'Iolani Palace.

"What they taught us was commitment," said Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli. Like Mitchell and Helm, Aluli stood in the front ranks of those who began in 1976 to call for the end of Navy bombing exercises on what once was called the "Target Island."

"We must take that commitment and steadfast resolve to continue to move forward," said Aluli, who now chairs the state Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission. The commission manages the island, which by law will pass eventually to whatever Native Hawaiian government that the sovereignty movement produces.

State dignitaries and other members of the commission met with Navy officials in a gathering of about 500 people that began with the offering of the 'ili stones.

Kaho'olawe returned
See an interactive graphic on the status of the island, and how the scarred land will be reclaimed. (Flash player required.)

The stones were laid on the ahu (altar) in the makai corner of the palace grounds nearest the Hawai'i State Library. That ahu was built 10 years ago during Hawaiian sovereignty observances, said Kalei Tsuha, cultural coordinator for the commission.

The Kaho'olawe offering symbolizes the beginning of what sovereignty activists hope is the return of lands to Hawaiians, Tsuha said.

"What a great way to begin, with the return of an island," she said.

Cameras were banned from the rites, in which each stone was presented by representatives of the Hawaiian community and various government officials. Among them were nephews of the late Helm and Mitchell, respectively: Kekama Helm and Tau'a Pahukoa. There were chants, and the sounding of the pu, or conch shell.

George Helm

Kimo Mitchell

Those attending that ceremony, as well as the more Western program of speeches and music at the palace coronation pavilion, included Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Neil Abercrombie.

Adm. Walter Doran, commander of the Navy's Pacific Fleet, called the clearing of unexploded ordnance the largest effort of its kind undertaken by the Department of Defense.

And Rear Adm. Barry McCullough III, commander of U.S. Navy Region Hawai'i, described the project's mammoth scope. About 92,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance has been collected from 70 percent of the accessible parts of the island, McCullough said. Much of the remainder lies in cliffs and gullies, where retrieval is too dangerous with present technology, he said.

A discordant note or two sounded amid the celebration; some of the speeches were interrupted by catcalls from people upset with the military's ongoing presence and proposed expansions of operations. But Lingle urged people to remain patient for progress in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Hawaiian chants and music marked a ceremony attended by state dignitaries and officials at 'Iolani Palace yesterday when the Navy returned Kaho'olawe to the state — an event awaited for 27 years.

Bruce Asato • The honolulu Advertiser

"Hawaiian people are a forgiving people; they are an understanding people," she said. "It's clearly understood that the decisions that led to the bombing of Kaho'olawe made after World War II were made by people long ago who never set foot here."

After the ceremony, Lingle said she's encouraged by an Oct. 28 letter from Hansford T. Johnson, assistant secretary of the Navy, which indicated that the Navy would continue to pay for cleanup of ordnance even after the trust fund runs out.

The Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana, longtime civilian steward of the island, meanwhile is looking beyond March 12, when the Navy finishes clearing the last of the shells its contractors have excavated so far. The Navy will mark the areas cleared for public use, said Davianna McGregor, the group's access coordinator, and then there can be more frequent visits by planting and restoration crews.

"In May we'll have a larger celebration ... so we can have full focus on restoring and healing the island," she said.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.