MAUNA KEA, Hawaii – The Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) struggle to preserve sacred Mauna Kea is intensifying. Opposition to the land desecration resulting from the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has gained supporters from around the world who are sending financial, material, and spiritual resources. Many examples of support are visible on the “We Are Mauna Kea” hashtag on social media.
Pu’uhonua o Pu’u Huluhulu, the “place of refuge” established by the Mauna Kea protectors (Kia’i) has received many distinguished visitors in this last two weeks among them are Jason Momoa and his family; actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; musicians Makana Cameron, Damien Marley, and Jack Johnson; former Hawai’i state representative Andria Tupola and her daughters; and Hawai’i state senators Kai Kahele and Kurt Fevella, who made formal offerings of respect to the kupuna (elders) at Mauna Kea.
Hawai’i’s Longshoreman Union brought supplies to the Kia’i. This show of union support for the Kia’i is significant, as construction union members are often tapped to show support for the TMT at public meetings.
By contrast, University of Hawai’i (UH) president David Lassner, visited and only stayed an hour.
On social media, “We Are Mauna Kea” photos are posted by people from around the world including Aotearoa (New Zealand), the Philippines, Hungary, Japan, Alaska, Washington State, Louisville Kentucky, Mexico, and more. The groups have included Wall Street stockbrokers and “Women of the Amazon.”
A Timeline of Some Recent Developments
July 23: Hawaiian princess and Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kawananakoa released a statement “as a royal obligation” in support of all efforts to protect Mauna Kea from further desecration. Her statement affirmed the sanctity of Mauna Kea as a “final resting place” of chiefly ancestors, including some of her own.
Three Circuit Court judges in Hilo approved Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Paul Neves’ right of access to the summit of Mauna Kea in spite of Governor Ige’s emergency proclamation. However, a motion for preliminary injunction against the TMT was denied by Judge Nakamura, 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo.
July 24: At the urging of Hawai’i State Senator Kai Kahele, the Hawai’i County Council approved a sixty-day moratorium on TMT construction.
July 23-25: The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Canada declared support for the protection of Mauna Kea, calling “upon the government of Canada to withdraw their financial and political support for the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.” Canada is a TMT partner, along with with nineteen Canadian universities, but is also committed to reconciliation with Indigenous People of Canada. The AFN Resolution LR-18/2019 says such reconciliation is not possible while the Canadian government is desecrating indigenous sacred sites elsewhere.
July 25: A small “Imua TMT” (pro-TMT) demonstration took place in Honolulu in front of the Hawai’i State Capitol. Mauna Kea Kia’i had a demonstration across the street. TMT supporters also expressed their view that astronomers were reverent of the sacred land. The demonstration was peaceful.
July 26: Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International, submitted a letter to Hawai’i Governor David Ige urging him to “halt construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and ensure the human rights of Indigenous Peoples opposed to the telescope project are respected, protected and fulfilled, including their rights as Indigenous Peoples and their right to peaceful protest and assembly.”
July 28: Between 3,000 and 5,000 protectors and allies gathered peacefully at Pu’uhonua Pu’uhuluhulu.
July 29: Kupuna, activist, poet, and composer, Liko Martin, read the Amnesty International letter aloud during a press conference at Ige’s office, accompanied by members of Amnesty International’s Hawai’i office. Martin is the composer of “All Hawai’i Stand Together,” often sung at Pu’u Huluhulu.
As mentioned earlier, UH president Lassner made a brief visit to Pu’uhonua Pu’u Huluhulu.
July 30: Governor David Ige withdrew his controversial declaration of emergency.
July 31: La Ho’iho’i Ea (Restoration Day) a small group of Kia’i, including Clarence Ku Ching, Kalani Flores, Deborah Ward (all participants in court challenges to the TMT) and others, flew the flags of Hawai’i from the very summit of Mauna Kea. La Ho’iho’i Ea celebrates the return of the Hawaiian Kingdom after an Englishman, Lord Paulet, “took” the Kingdom without authorization from his superiors, causing much embarrassment to England. Admiral Thomas “gave” it back. Ku Ching has led a group to the mountain to fly the Kingdom flags almost every year since 2002. (Note: TWH contributor of this article was a participant in 2004.)
August 1: Mahealani Richardson, a reporter for Hawai’i News Now, interviewed David Lassner, president of UH since 2013. Lassner who insisted he has no plans to resign. The report identified a 1998 report noting cultural mismanagement of the land. When he was asked if he believed Mauna Kea was sacred. Lassner replied, “I don’t find that word useful…I think it means too many different things to too many different people.”
Candace Fujikane, board member of KAHEA The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, commented on Facebook, “UH President David Lassner says that he would not use the word ‘sacred’ to describe Mauna Kea, even though the mauna is referred to as sacred in thousands of years of oli, mele and moʻolelo. A man who does not know what is sacred cannot lead anyone. Resign now.”
August 2: The University of Hawai’i Board of Regents convened a meeting to consider “creation of a group to examine Mauna Kea.”
According to a report published by KITV 4, Island News, Kaleikoa Ka’eo, a professor at UH Maui for thirty years, said: “”We are bringing the Mauna to the UH. We will challenge at every front. There will be no peace for TMT.” Ka’eo called for Lassner’s resignation.
Tamara Paltin, Maui County Council, said the university’s lease is not valid. KITV 4 quotes Paltin: “This is not an issue of science and jobs versus native Hawaiian culture or even an issue about the sacredness of Mauna Kea. The issue is violations of the law and rights of native Hawaiians in the name of science and jobs.”
August 3: Ohlone elder and activist Corrina Gould was joined by Kumu Hula Samantha Kaui Wright-Peralto and others for a demonstration of support for Mauna Kea at the West Berkeley Shellmound.
August 4: Representatives from Standing Rock came to Mauna Kea.
August 8: Pro-TMT television and radio commercials say the mountain is sacred but “big enough to be shared.” TMT supporters circulate false claims that the Kia’i are preventing the telescope technicians having access to the mountain. The Kia’i respond with social media posts showing written logs which document Gemini and Subaru personnel who went up the mountain, and when.
August 9: Kahookahi Kanuha held a press conference to discuss the tax burden caused by police presence on the Mauna, much of it due to Governor Ige’s declaration of emergency.
Kanuha said: No matter where you stand on this issue…the money of the people of this place is going towards protecting the so called rights of foreign corporations and private investors.
Itʻs also important to note that while we the people are left with the burden of covering these costs, that are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, TMT at this moment, is going ahead and putting out their hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in media campaigns, tv commercials, and radio commercials. So theyʻre not able to pay for their private security, but theyʻre able to pay for all their propaganda that goes out through the media and the different media sources… this should be a concern of all of ours.
Hilding Neilson, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Toronto, published “Maunakea and the Need to Indigenize Astronomy” on the Union of Concerned Scientists website. He wrote: “TMT does not have consent and that should be the end of the story. As a scientist, Indigenous rights are infinitely more important than whatever research benefit I might obtain from TMT on Maunakea. For me to do otherwise is to do unethical science and to harm Indigenous peoples. I only wish my colleagues could see this.”
August 9: Lanakila Mangauil announces a new hashtag: #MaunaReady, and asks people to post on social media and add a photo of car packed and ready to go when the kahea (call) comes to go to the Mauna to protect it.
August 10: Nearly one hundred members of the Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana (PKO) visited Pu’uhuluhulu to make offerings. Raitea Helm sang Kalama’ula and Loretta Ritte danced hula to honor the late George Helm, a musician, falsetto singer, and revered activist from Moloka’i who was active in the PKO in the 70’s. The PKO continues to take care of the sacred island of Kaho’olawe, which had been bombed for decades by U.S. military, leaving behind enormous amounts of contaminated debris.
Over 7,000 people participated in the Kapua Aloha Unity March on Mau’i. Meanwhile, about 100 people rallied in San Francisco’s Union Square to support Mauna Kea and oppose TMT.
August 11: A large and spirited Jam4MaunaKea (rally and group singalong) took place in front of Iolani Palace. The event was organized by Vicki Holt Takamine. According to a video update posted by Ikaika Marzo, 5,000 to 7,000 people were also gathered at Pu’uhonua Huluhulu to celebrate the “Worldwide Jam.” Notable musicians such as Raiatea Helm, Brother Noland, and Led Ka’apana continue to show up and share their music with the Kia’i at Pu’u Huluhulu.
Between 20 and 30 law enforcement officers with paddy wagons arrived at the Mauna reportedly because of confusion regarding access to the summit. The confusion was resolved but the police issued parking violations.
U.S. Representative and U.S. Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard delivered food to Kia’i at Pu’uhuluhulu. In a video posted on Facebook by Healani Sonoda-Pale, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard was asked for her position on Mauna Kea. She replied, “I’m grateful to be here to stand with the protectors in calling for respect for this sacred place.”
August 12: In his video posted to Facebook, Ikaika Marzo noted increased police presence on Monday, with “seven or eight cars.” He said, “TMT wants to make a move soon.” In formation about the concern was updated on August 13 with a review of the recent stand-off.
While TMT proponents such as David Lassner and officials such as Hawai’i Attorney General Clare Connors insist that the TMT is a legally valid project and should be permitted to build, irregularities are coming to light.
Regarding the TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO), Clarence Ku Ching says:
TIO, after prevailing in a very controversial Hawaii Supreme Court decision, tooted its own horn for having fought the Oppositional Kia’i. Hogwash!
Most of the fighting has been done using tax dollars spent by the University of Hawai’i (UH), which holds the General Lease for the Mountain until 2033. UH also used citizen tax dollars to hire Carlsmith and Ball (Carlsmith), the law firm, that made all the plans to deliver the Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) to [what was] then TMT Observatory Corporation (TMT).
Carlsmith then hired its in-house subsidiary to create a sloppy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the TMT that supposedly passed all legal challenges. But all this application work was done without any kind of operating agreement between the university and TMT—the university taking on this multi-million dollar task as a volunteer—with no agreement to be reimbursed. This means the transaction was totally financed by Hawai’i taxpayers and students of the university. However, the rights that TMT obtained by being the designated beneficiary of the CDUA (Application) was miraculously transferred to TIO without benefit of any kind of legal documentation despite the fact that these are two totally different corporations – a misuse of corporate law that was approved by the Hawai’i Supreme Court.
Another irregularity concerns the Cultural Impact Assessment (CIA) for the EIS. In testimony for the TMT 2017 contested case hearings, Brian Kawika Cruz, author of the CIA for the TMT, said his findings were removed without his consent from the published document, prior to public hearings and comment.
An official at the Parsons Brinckerhoff Engineering Services, the firm in charge of the EIS, asked him to do this and he refused. Cruz had recommended that “no further development, including the TMT Observatory Project and the Mid-Level Facilities at Hale Pohaku, take place on Maunakea.” After the public hearings stage was over, his findings mysteriously appeared again in a later version of the document. This story was published in Big Island Now, March 3, 2017.
Resilience and Dedication
In spite of two recent tropical cyclones, the Pu’uhonua o Pu’u Huluhulu encampment remains in place.
Just as the Kia’i protect their sacred mountain, so the mountain protects them: Mauna Kea is credited with diminishing the storms which threaten Hawai’i Island. Chants and songs, some centuries old, attest to the profound relationship that Kanaka Maoli have always shared with the Mauna. This is a relationship that many outsiders fail to understand and typically discredit.
But the Kia’i have a far deeper “bench,” one that is increasing every day, and they prepared for a longer haul then even the proponents of the TMT.
As Kaho’okahi Kanuha said “We will protect Mauna Kea for as long as it takes…We are not giving in. We are not backing down…You have a plan B. We don’t. We don’t have any other place to be Hawaiian.”