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Public Statements

Introduction Of The Kalaupapa Memorial Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. HIRONO. Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce a bill to authorize establishment of a memorial at Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, to honor the memory and sacrifices of the some 8,000 Hansen's disease patients who were forcibly relocated to the Kalaupapa peninsula between 1866 and 1969. I want to thank my friend and colleague Congressman Neil Abercrombie for cosponsoring this legislation.

I had hoped to see this bill become law last year. The 110th Congress version of the bill (H.R. 3332) passed the House in February 2008. It was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June 2008. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts by Senators AKAKA, INOUYE, and BINGAMAN, the bill did not come before the full Senate for a vote.

The policy of exiling persons with the disease that was then known as leprosy began under the Kingdom of Hawaii and continued under the governments of the Republic of Hawaii, the Territory of Hawaii, and the State of Hawaii. Children, mothers, and fathers were forcibly separated and sent to the isolated peninsula of Kalaupapa, which for most of its history could only be accessed by water or via a steep mule trail. Children born to parents at Kalaupapa were taken away from their mothers and sent to orphanages or to other family members outside of Kalaupapa. Hawaii's isolation laws for people with Hansen's disease were not repealed until 1969, even though medications to control the disease had been available since the late 1940s.

While most of us know about the sacrifices of Father Damien, who dedicated his life to care for those exiled to Kalaupapa, fewer know of the courage and sacrifices of the patients who were torn from their families and left to make a life in this isolated area. It is important that their lives be remembered.

Of the some 8,000 former patients buried in Kalaupapa, only some 1,300 have marked graves. A memorial listing the names of those who were exiled to Kalaupapa and died there is a fitting tribute and is consistent with the primary purpose of the park, which is ``to preserve and interpret the Kalaupapa settlement for the education and inspiration of present and future generations.''

Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa, a non-profit organization consisting of patient residents at Kalaupapa National Historical Park and their family members and friends, was established in August 2003 to promote the value and dignity of the more than 8,000 persons--some 90 percent of whom were native Hawaiian--who were forcibly relocated to the Kalaupapa peninsula. A central goal of Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa is to make certain that the lives of these individuals are honored and remembered through the establishment of a memorial or memorials within the boundaries of the park at Kalawao or Kalaupapa.

Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa has made a commitment to raise the funds needed to design and build the memorial and will work with the National Park Service on design and location of the memorial.

I have met with the elderly residents of Kalaupapa; many have expressed a strong desire to know that the memorial will be built before they die. I also read the heartfelt and compelling testimony submitted by current patients and family members of former patients who want to make sure not only that the story of Kalaupapa is told but that the patients are recognized as individuals by having the names of each of those exiled to Kalaupapa and buried there recorded for posterity. Families that have visited Kalaupapa and Kalawao searching in vain for the graves of their family members will find comfort in seeing those names recorded on a memorial.

The National Park Service is supportive of this legislation. I am hopeful that the Senate will soon pass an omnibus bill including the text of this legislation and other public lands bills.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation.

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