This chapter describes the history of the island of Kaho‘olawe and the ongoing struggle to reclaim it from the ravages of deforestation, erosion, and military occupation. Although Kaho‘olawe was once inhabited and possessed considerable religious significance, it became steadily denuded of both population and vegetation following Western contact. It was taken over by the U.S. military for live-fire training during World War II, and it was thereafter turned into a naval bombing range, eventually becoming the most relentlessly bombed island in the world.
This desecration of Kaho‘olawe generated increasing anger among Native Hawaiians. Protests came to a head in the 1970s, with the filing of two lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Defense and several defiant occupations of Kaho‘olawe, one of which resulted in the deaths of two Native Hawaiian activists. Finally, in the early 1990s, the bombing was officially halted. Legal title to Kaho‘olawe was then transferred to the State of Hawai‘i, and the U.S. Navy was made responsible for the removal of unexploded ordnance and for environmental restoration of the island.
To date, attempts to remove the unexploded ordnance have been only partly successful. Native Hawaiian groups, however, have shown dedication in undertaking cleanup, replanting, creating water sources, and providing safe access for cultural purposes. This chapter outlines the legal context of the continuing efforts to restore Kaho‘olawe to a state of wellness.
“Island of Kaho‘olawe” is Chapter 3 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.