Kōkua Hawaiʻi: the Hawaiian Black Panthers




Kalama Valley protesters, May 1971 (photo from Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1999)

I am trying to get over those last motivational stumps in finishing a final paper for my History of Ethnic Studies course. Sometimes itʻs a bit easier to get at the interesting parts of what Iʻm trying to say when I write it out here first.

In the paper, I am primarily doing a survey of the Hawaiian Journal of History. The best article Iʻve come across is from 1987: Haunani-Kay Traskʻs “The Birth of the Modern Hawaiian Movement: Kalama Valley, O‘ahu,” which details the protests led by Kōkua Kalama Committee (KKC) to the development of new, expensive subdivisions which bulldozed the farm houses of many Native Hawaiian (and non-Native) residents with leases.

She talks about the KKCʻs radicalization through the adoption of Black Panther-style organization into a broader movement called Kōkua Hawaiʻi. In 1971, the Honolulu Advertiser published the “Kōkua Hawaiʻi Peoples’ Land Program”:

1. We must save our farm lands to grow food. We must stop the developers who want to pour concrete over everything.

2. We must stop people from moving here until we can first take care of our own local people’s needs.

3. We must take care of our air, land, and water. If we kill water, nature will kill us.

4. We must get back our land from the few big landholders that have almost all of it. It was stolen from us in the first place.

5. We must use our land to house and feed our people and learn to rely on ourselves to do it- not on the mainland.

6. As a start, we demand that Kalama Valley be saved for the local people and that the tourist and high-income development planned by Bishop Estate and Kaiser-Aetna be stopped.

In Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed (2004), she does an amazing job of cataloging the many overlooked forms of Native Hawaiian resistance to the American overthrow in 1893. In an era where anti-Native Hawaiian sentiment is founded on the point that Native Hawaiians acquiesced to America and continue to do so, I am happy to discover in Traskʻs article that Native Hawaiian resistance can be meaningfully traced through the 1970s as well. It is too easy to feel that Native Hawaiian sovereignty has always been and continues to be impossible. Not to overstate the hope of Ethnic Studies (which is more often heartbreaking, as my classmates have reminded me), but at least I am finding here the points of reference that I could not see elsewhere.

And this statement in 1971 seems surprisingly, if sadly, still very appropriate to the current situation of Native Hawaiians today. I am only left wishing that more people (Native Hawaiian and otherwise) knew about Kōkua Hawaiʻi and that Bishop Estate and Kaiser-Aetna have yet to be stopped from pouring concrete over Oʻahu especially, but now many parts of the outer islands as well.