Arrests of Kalama Valley Eviction Protestors in 1971 Documented in New Book
Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Nearly half a century ago, 32 people were arrested while protesting the mass eviction of Kalama Valley residents, including farmers and native Hawaiians, by landowner Bishop Estate to pave the way for suburban development in East O‘ahu. Among those arrested was community and anti-Vietnam War activist — and future journalist and playwright — Gary T. Kubota.
Kubota’s newly released book, “Hawaii Stories of Change,” is a collection of 34 oral history interviews with people who were on the front lines of the Kalama Valley eviction struggle, as well as with some who played supporting roles in the conflict and others who were involved in the native Hawaiian movement. The actions of the protestors in the arid 250-acre valley is considered by many as a pivotal moment in the “Hawaiian Renaissance” — a movement that began as a land struggle and eventually led to the effort for native Hawaiian autonomy.
Larry “Harbottle” Kamakawiwo‘ole, one of the leaders of the original Kokua Kalama Committee, believes the May 1971 arrests of local people at Kalama Valley “marked a shift in assumptions of land ownership and began raising questions about public land policies that evicted the poor to make way for the wealthy and increase homelessness. Up until then, tenants and farmers facing eviction generally moved on to the next valley. But farmers like George Santos who had moved multiple times were tired of being evicted and had run out of options in east Oahu,” wrote Kamakawiwo‘ole in the book’s foreword.
It wasn’t the first time protestors had been arrested while supporting the Kalama Valley residents. Protestors had been arrested three times. The first took place in July 1970 when John Witeck, Lori Hayashi, and brothers Dana and Linton Park were arrested. By May 1971, only six of the 60 tenant-families on month-to-month leases with Bishop Estate were still holding out.
The misdemeanor trespass charges against Kubota and the others were later dismissed on appeal, Kubota said. During the trial, defense attorney Herbert Takahashi argued that the 32 arrested had been “discriminated against for their race and form of protest.”
Former Gov. John Waihe‘e, the state’s fourth — and first native Hawaiian — chief executive, said the actions of Kamakawiwo‘ole of Kokua Hawaii and others were “the first protest movement in Hawaii which was local based.”
The movement influenced the 1978 Constitutional Convention and was the root of the Hawaiian Renaissance, Waihe‘e says in the 298-page book featuring interviews with 34 individuals.
Three years ago, Kamakawiwo‘ole, who organized the Kalama Valley eviction protest, asked Kubota to compile an oral history book about the organization so that people would know about and understand Kokua Hawaii’s contributions to the Hawaiian
Renaissance. Kokua Hawaii offered him a $7,000 grant to conduct the interviews and edit the book.
Kubota, 69, said he initially turned down the offer, as he was in the midst of producing his national touring play, “The Legend of Ko‘olau,” while also working full-time for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He changed his mind, however, after giving the offer more thought, realizing that the accomplishments of the organization might be lost with the passing of its members.
Kokua Kalama was born in the summer of 1970 as a small group of activists determined to support the Kalama Valley residents in their eviction struggle. The group evolved into Kokua Hawaii, an organization of community organizers who helped to successfully fight evictions at Waipahu’s Ota Camp in 1972, in Kalihi-Pälama a year later, and in He‘eia Kea and Waiähole-Waikane in 1975.
In the foreword to “Hawaii Stories of Change,” Kamakawiwo‘ole, chairman of the Kokua Hawaii oral history project, said those protesting the evictions in 1971 came from all walks of life, ranging from a public housing youth (Kalani Ohelo) to a Honolulu socialite (Mary Choy), from a motorcycle gang member (James Ng) to a former Annapolis appointee (Linton Park), from a waitress (Edwina Moanikeala Akaka) to a congressional aide to former U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (Joy Ahn). The book also includes interviews with photographer Ed Greevy, who documented the struggles on film, and Japanese American religious activists such as the Rev. Wally Fukunaga and the Rev. Bob Nakata.
“Yet out of the threat of massive evictions and the anti-Vietnam protest in Hawaii in the 1970s came a Hawaiian movement that changed the political landscape,” noted Kamakawiwo‘ole.
In the book, George Cooper, who was a UH student when he got involved with Kokua Hawaii, said the Kalama Valley struggle and Kokua Hawaii “were the genesis of a land movement that’s still going on.” Cooper went on to co-author the book “Land and Power in Hawaii” with historian Gavan Daws.
Four of the people that Kubota interviewed — Kamakawiwo‘ole, Edwina Moanikeala Akaka, Raymond Catania and John Witeck — recalled that before police began arresting people that May day in 1971, Kokua Hawaii organizers asked non-local white demonstrators to leave because the coalition wanted to demonstrate that the protests were about local people fighting against evictions of poor and working people.
Besides Waihe‘e, Kubota taped interviews with Kalani Ohelo, who was arrested in Kalama Valley in 1971 and a leader of Kokua Hawaii. Ohelo, who died this past April, said he aspired “to raise social and political consciousness.”
The organizers played a major role in the 1978 Constitutional Convention that established the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs and designated Hawaiian as the state’s official language, along with English.
Kubota was also among the Kokua Hawaii community organizers who led a sit-in at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa in March 1972, calling for the continuation of an “experimental” Ethnic Studies Program.
Kubota said his protests against the Vietnam War did not sit well with his father Takao Kubota, a World War II veteran who was an original in the 100th Infantry Battalion. He had been ordered to defend O‘ahu’s shores following Japan’s attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Takao Kubota earned a Silver Star while fighting with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Vosges forests in northeastern France near the German border and participated in the rescue of a Texas battalion of soldiers who were surrounded by the Germans.
Kubota’s uncle, Kazuyoshi Inouye, a member of the Military Intelligence Service, was killed in a plane crash in Okinawa. A street in Lïhu‘e is named for him.
“We didn’t talk for years,” said Gary Kubota. “It (his anti-Vietnam War activities) was not something that I could talk to him (his father) about.”
Kubota said his father “felt ashamed and betrayed by his own son. All my life, I had been told by my father and uncles that when your government calls, you go. That’s your duty.”
Kubota said his father suffered from “what was called a nervous breakdown” in which he would suddenly get angry at his wife (Gary’s mother) and “sometimes talk to dead members in his old WWII combat unit.” The elder Kubota was a sergeant and one of only three soldiers from his unit who was not wounded or killed in combat.
“He had schizophrenia and also what I understood decades later was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from World War II,” Kubota wrote.
His father’s mental illness and the government’s callous treatment after he returned home had a profound impact on the younger Kubota. He said the contributions of his father and other Japanese Americans seemed to have been ignored and he wasn’t going to support that type of “institutional racism” by going to Vietnam.
“It made me angry at the quiet acquiescence of some educated Japanese Americans who were aware of the illness, but did nothing to help their own group of warriors,” Kubota wrote in the book. “They preferred to perpetuate the warrior image. There were parades and medals, but no concerted effort to treat PTSD.”
In an interview with The Hawai‘i Herald, Kubota said he did not agree with many of the anti-Vietnam War protestors at the University of Hawai‘i, saying that many of them seemed to be vying for attention. Kubota said he “was opposed to the war, not the U.S. military . . . . I couldn’t see myself supporting activists who burned the American flag.”
“I was willing to be arrested, but I wasn’t going to leave the country or burn the American flag . . . I believed in nonviolent civil disobedience as advocated by Martin Luther King and Gandhi.”
The 1967 Waipahu High School graduate attended the University of Hawai‘i, but dropped out after completing his sophomore year. In 1970, he was classified 1-0 (conscientious objector) and worked as a draft counselor.
After being arrested in the Kalama Valley protest, Kubota said he edited Kokua Hawaii’s newspaper, Huli. The people in the organization became his extended family. He said he became more aware of Hawai‘i’s history and culture. “I think what kept me attending (their retreats) was their collective style of leadership where everyone had the opportunity to express their views in a friendly setting.”
As for the legacy of Kokua Hawaii, Kubota said, “it’s about empowering and restoring pride in minority communities and working-class groups and respecting lifestyles in Hawai‘i.”
Kubota singled out Ota Camp’s Filipino residents, whom he helped to successfully resist eviction in 1972. The residents were granted the option by the city and the state to rent or buy land and housing near Pearl City.
“At the University of Hawai‘i, the threatened Ethnic Studies Program is now a department. Davianna McGregor, who was a student in the 1970s, became an ethnic studies professor and helps to organize educational ocean accesses to restore the former bombed island of Kaho‘olawe,” Kubota said. She also recently assumed the directorship of UH’s Center for Oral History.
“Kokua Hawaii member Claire Shimabukuro, who once was a van driver for a Kalihi co-op that sold discounted milk, bread and eggs to public housing residents, became executive director many years for Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels on Oahu.”
Another member, Edwina Moanikeala Akana, organized a sit-in on a runway that shut down Hilo Airport on Labor Day 1978 to make the point that the state wasn’t paying native Hawaiians for the use of ceded and Hawaiian Homestead lands upon which the airport was situated. Akana was later elected a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and served 12 years.
“Before Kalama Valley, it was not ‘in’ to be native Hawaiian,” said Akana in her interview. Kubota described Akana as one of Hawai‘i’s most radical Hawaiian nationalists. She died in April 2017.
“Kokua members Soli Niheu, Joy Ahn and Gwen Kim were involved in helping to stop urbanization of farm areas in Waiähole-Waikane and He‘eia Kea.”
Kubota eventually re-enrolled at UH and graduated in the mid-1970s with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He went on to work as a reporter for West Hawaii Today, Pacific Daily News in Guam, The Maui News, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Star-Advertiser until retiring in 2017. He also crewed as a journalist on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Höküle‘a on its trips through Micronesia for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Kubota said the Kalama Valley struggles and his work with Kokua Hawaii put him in a situation where he had to “take steps outside my comfort zone for the sake of helping others, and in doing so I’ve learned to take chances and follow my passion.”
“Hawaii Stories of Change: Kokua Hawaii Oral History Project” can be purchased for $17 from Kokua Hawaii Oral History Project, c/o Gary Kubota, P.O. Box 2945, Wailuku, HI 96793.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C. and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.