"Not many people realise that Hawaiians feel that our country is under an occupation", Terrilee Kekoolani, an organiser with the DMZ Hawaii activist coalition, told a public meeting of 20 people on June 19. She was in Australia to take part in protests against the US-Australian Talisman Sabre war games in Queensland.
Kekoolani explained that in 1893 the US organised a coup against the Hawaiian government of Queen Liliuokalani. This paved the way for a full-scale US military occupation in 1898.
Today, there 44,000 active duty US personnel in Hawaii, who along with their 65,000 dependents and 100,000 retired military personnel, make up 17% of the islands' population. Kekoolani said that native Hawaiians, 20% of the population, have become a "marginalised minority within our own land".
The US military controls 100,000 hectares of Hawaiian land and 22.4% of the land on Oahu, Hawaii's largest island. The US military plans to seize a further 10,000 hectares acres of land for live-fire training.
The Pentagon also plans to station a nuclear aircraft carrier battle group in the islands, adding 20,000 more military personnel and their families to Hawaii's population.
Kekoolani said that, as a result of US weapons testing, Hawaii now has more than 1000 contaminated sites. In August 2005, depleted uranium spotting rounds were discovered on Oahu, despite the military's claims that it never used depleted uranium in Hawaii.
She explained how a network of environmental activist groups groups, along with local community groups with native Hawaiians in the forefront, have been fighting for decades against the US military presence.
In 1976, one of these groups began a series of occupations on one of the areas affected by US Navy bombing exercises. Kekoolani took part in the final occupation, which lasted three days. In 2004, a march against the US military presence drew more than 10,000 people.
Kekoolani noted that in 1993 "the US apologised to our people" for its takeover of Hawaii and "yet today they are expanding their presence".