George Helm was a Native Hawaiian musician, activist, and leader of the aloha ‘āina movement of the 1970s. Aloha ʻāina, or "love of land," is fundamental to Hawaiian cultural identity and has inspired some of the most significant political, social, and artistic contributions in Hawaiʻi over the last 150 years.    

Born on Moloka‘i, Helm attended high school on O‘ahu before turning his attention toward the island of Kahoʻolawe, which had been under the control of the U.S. military since World War II for use as target practice, subjecting its shores to forever-altering blasts.

Operation Sailor Hat, 1965

The smallest of the eight major islands, Kahoʻolawe has a deep and sacred connection to the Native Hawaiian people. In the old days, it was known as Kanaloa, the name for the god of the ocean, and its historical significance in fishing and voyaging is well documented. Its westernmost tip was a common point of departure and gateway from Hawai‘i to Tahiti. 

Amidst the 1970s resurgence of pride and interest in Hawaiian culture and identity, Helm and others made numerous "illegal occupations" of the island to protest the bombings and intermittently stop the destruction. They would travel to the island by boat. Tragically, on one such trip, Helm and fellow activist Kimo Mitchell were both lost to sea. Without the sacrifice and actions of these brave Hawaiians, the bombing of Kaho‘olawe might never have ended.
Kahoʻolawe remained a lightning rod of activism and litigation through the 1980s, until finally, in 1990, President George Bush Sr. ordered a stop to the bombing. In 1993, the U.S. returned jurisdiction of the island to the State of Hawaiʻi, ending its use by the military and authorizing $400 million for ordnance removal. The island has finally been given time to heal.

Bumper Sticker

Helm's legacy is still perpetuated today through the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, and the larger Aloha ‘Āina movement, all of which call for a rejuvenation of cultural practices, cleanup of ordnance, and restoration of native species on the island.

Kaho‘olawe is important not only for Hawaiians but for indigenous peoples globally. It represents a prideful past, a shameful destruction, and a monumental victory.

Brett Graham, Target Piece, 2017 Honolulu Biennial

Listen to George Helm. Not just his music but his message.

Helm sticker overlooking Diamond Head, artist unknown

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