Maxwell: Navy violating freedom of worship

The Maui News
February 15, 2003

City Editor

MAALAEA - After being blocked from a planned trip to Kahoolawe on Friday, Maui kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell protested that the Navy has violated the Native American Freedom Act providing protection to traditional religious observances.

Maxwell had planned to take the Pukalani Hula Hale to Kahoolawe this weekend to perform a chant, "Ka Opihi O Kanapou," which is based on a legend of opihi found at the east Kahoolawe bay.

"It's one of the most sacred places on Kahoolawe," he said.

But his plans ran afoul of a Navy policy that bars children under 15 from going to a hazardous area and that was implemented last month in a dispute with the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana.

Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said Maxwell also reportedly made arrangements for access to the island through the office of Sen. Daniel Inouye, but the Navy was not aware of any such special arrangements.

She said Inouye's office was advised that a request from Maxwell for access to the island could be routed through the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission, but Maxwell "never directly communicated with the Navy on his plans."

The problem stems from a dispute in January between the Navy, which currently has authority to control all access to Kahoolawe, and the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana, which sent a group to Kahoolawe from Jan. 17 to 20.

For that visit, the Navy refused to approve access for a 5-year-old and a 17-month-old child, although 'Ohana members say young children had been approved through a 1984 consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

During the January trip, the children did not join the group. But some adult members of the group ventured on a trail to visit Puu Moiwi in the center of the island without a Navy escort of unexploded-ordnance specialists. That was a violation of safety rules established by the Navy for anyone who visits the island, Campbell said.

Because of the violation, the Navy subsequently denied all access to 'Ohana members, Campbell said. The Navy also asked the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission to review the violation.

Campbell said the Navy on Thursday agreed to allow five members of the 'Ohana to go to Kahoolawe today, but the approval was based on an understanding that the group would remain at Hakioawa, the 'Ohana base camp, which is considered to be cleared of hazardous ordnance.

"They were approved with the understanding they would stay at Hakioawa and wouldn't need escorts," she said.

Maxwell had planned to participate in an 'Ohana trip to Kahoolawe this weekend, but when the Navy denied the 'Ohana's trip, he said, he appealed to Inouye, the senior senator from Hawaii and longtime chairman of a Senate subcommittee that reviews the Navy budget.

Maxwell said an official in Inouye's office assured him that the halau would be allowed to access the island. But on Wednesday, he said Inouye called him personally to advise him that the trip would not be allowed.

Campbell said the problem stems from the Navy's feeling that it was not appropriate to allow an infant or a child as young as 5 years old to be on the island, where workers still are clearing unexploded ordnance.

She acknowledged that the Navy in the past had allowed children to participate in trips by 'Ohana members. But Navy officials were unwilling to allow a 17-month-old child to join the access in January, she said.

The subsequent safety violation raised an additional issue, she said.

"We had a number of good-faith accesses in which children were allowed," she said. But with an effort under way to complete as much clearing of unexploded ordnance before the Navy turns the island over to the state on Nov. 11, she said there is a greater concern over potential hazards to unwary visitors to the island.

The violation by 'Ohana members in January increased concern that visitors to the islands were not respecting Navy safety procedures, she said.

"It was something that could really impact safety, someone's personal safety," she said.

But Maxwell said he was willing to work with the Navy's concerns. When the Navy objected to children under 15, based on an established Navy rule, he said he deleted three younger dancers from the trip.

He also asked to be allowed to take his dancers on a helicopter overflight just to allow them to see the Kanapou area, even if they could not land to touch the ground.

But he said the helicopter company involved called him to say it was canceling the trip. He said he believed the company feared offending Navy officials.

"When you're a hula dancer, you have to make a commitment to get to know the place about which you are doing a dance, and to touch the land," he said.

He said the chant "Ka Opihi O Kanapou" was written by kumu hula and recording artist Keali'i Reichel after a visit to Kahoolawe, and recalls a legend of a giant opihi from the bay that was an aumakua. The halau intends to perform the chant and dance at the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition April 24-26.

For the dancers of Pukalani Hula Hale, a visit to Kanapou is an essential part of the tradition of hula, he said. By blocking the visit, he said, the Navy is violating traditional practices.

"When we did a chant about Iao Valley, we went to Iao Valley and had a tour so they could see the aina," he said. "If we were doing a chant about Maalaea, we would go to Maalaea to see and touch the land."

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