Among the nine people who participated in that first landing, eight were Native Hawaiians, five of whom were actively involved and the founders of Native organizations dedicated to reclaiming traditional and customary rights and lands and the restoration of Native Hawaiian governance and self-determination. They were Walter Ritte, Emmett Aluli, George Helm, Gail Kawaipuna Prejean, and Stephen K. Morse, the writer of the story. The three other Native Hawaiians were Kimo Aluli, Emmett’s cousin and a professional surfer; Aunty Ellen Miles, a Hawaiian Kupuna (elder); and Ian Lind, the Hawaii Director of the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker-founded organization dedicated to world peace. The other participant was Karla Villalba from Tacoma, Washington, who had been raised within the Puyallup/Muckleshoot tribe of American Indians.
Approximately 100 people from all walks of Hawaiian life set sail early that morning of January 4th from Ma`alaea Harbor on Maui to stage the occupation protest. But, our flotilla of old fishing and charter boats was intercepted by a Coast Guard Helicopter just a few miles off the coast of Kaho`olawe. The fishermen and boat owners, not wanting to have their boats confiscated as threatened by the Coast Guard, told the protest organizers they could not continue the mission and turned back. Nine of us, however, accepted a ride to the island on the boat of an intrepid local fisherman whose services had been contracted by a reporter from the Maui Sun newspaper to take her to cover the story.
For seven of the first landers, the protest occupation was brief. They were taken into detention and escorted off the island by the Coast Guard late in the afternoon, and taken back to Ma`alaea where they were released. Two, Walter and Emmett, managed to elude authorities for two more days before finally turning themselves in at an encampment of Marines on the island.