Pledging mutual respect
• Photo gallery: Army-Hawaiian covenant
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
A covenant was forged yesterday at historic Fort DeRussy as the Army pledged to be more respectful of Native Hawaiian concerns and traditions when it trains in the Islands.
Representatives of the Army and a variety of Hawaiian groups signed a covenant agreeing to work together more to resolve issues of concern.
The covenant was signed in a ceremony on the grounds of Fort DeRussy attended by about 250 military and Native Hawaiian officials, including about a dozen members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha.
The agreement grew out of an Army family covenant promising to support soldiers' families while the nation fights in two wars.
"The genesis of this initiative was born from a single question: Where is your covenant with the Native Hawaiian people?" Col. Matthew Margotta, the commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawai'i, said yesterday.
About a year ago, a Native Hawaiian Advisory Council was created, and the Army talked to those individuals as well as community and religious leaders.
Margotta said, "We quickly came to the realization that very little had been done in recent years to mitigate the feelings of frustration and mistrust that some Hawaiians ... held with regard to the military in general and the Army."
The new covenant recognizes:
• That Native Hawaiians are the aboriginal peoples of Hawai'i.
• That Native Hawaiians' cultural and historical experience is shaped by the land and ocean, and that as the Army uses the land, it will be mindful to preserve and protect the fragile environment.
The agreement also commits to:
• Enhancing education and understanding of Native Hawaiian issues and cultural values.
• Enhancing education of Army values and culture.
• Providing "proactive dialogue with Native Hawaiians to ensure the meaningful exchange of information."
• Providing sustainable installation support and services for warfighters to meet current and future mission requirements.
The overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani in 1893 with U.S. military assistance, the later bombing of Kaho'olawe, and the continued training at Mākua Valley, land in Kahuku and Pōhakuloa Training Area on the Big Island remain issues of discord.
But there also was plenty of common ground with the U.S. Army, including valorious service by Native Hawaiians, and the acknowledgement by some of the benefits of being part of the United States.
One of those parallels was an offering yesterday by Royal Order of Kamehameha members to fallen Maoli warrior ancestors at the Kukalepa Memorial at Fort DeRussy, whose purpose is to recognize U.S. Army warriors.
Rocky Naeole, 62, of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, wore an ahu ula, or cape, and a Purple Heart from shrapnel wounds he suffered in 1969 in Vietnam as a U.S. soldier.
"There are a lot of soldiers that come from here and a lot of soldiers risk their lives that come from Hawai'i," Naeole said.
There is the issue of the queen's overthrow and "we keep that in mind, but yet we need to serve our country also," Naeole said.
Neil Hannahs, Kamehameha Schools land manager and one of the Native Hawaiian Advisory Council members, noted in remarks to the audience the wide diversity of views among kanaka maoli, or Native Hawaiians, and the two worlds in which many live.
"Just as there are kanaka maoli embittered that America's military presence played a role in the overthrow of our queen, there are others who owe their livelihood and support of their ohana to military-related employment opportunities," Hannahs said.
Leimomi Khan, president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, said it's a positive step for the Army and Hawaiian community to start talking more, and progress can be made bit by bit.
Khan said she asked herself, "How do I answer to the Hawaiian community — why are you doing this? Part of it is because I feel if you ... are more open to listening and committed to dialogue, that maybe it will make a little more difference than we did yesterday."