Managing Hawaiian opposition to the TMT

Posted by Lauren Muneoka at Apr 04, 2021 11:00 PM |
In the decades since the state began permitting construction on Mauna Kea, many aloha ‘āina have struggled with complex questions. What does it mean to protect land as an ancestor?

In the decades since the state began permitting construction on Mauna Kea, many aloha ‘āina have struggled with complex questions like: what does it mean to protect land as an ancestor? How can state jurisdiction be reconciled with the (un)ceded lands that comprise the mauna? What responsibilities does settler science have towards the sacred; toward the lands and peoples that it occupies?

In conversations addressing these questions, Kia‘i Mauna leaders have emphasized that the concept of “managing” Mauna Kea misses the important historical, cultural, and political contexts that should inform how the mauna is understood. Rather than a resource that exists to be managed, it is an entity unto itself, a teacher. “Mauna Kea, kuahiwi ku haʻo i ka mālie.” (“Mauna Kea, stands alone in the calm” (2147:'Olelo No'eau)). The usual language of governance - compromise, management, and stakeholder interests - does not allow for discussion of what Mauna Kea actually is. It is the wrong place to start.

People who have not been listening to those conversations, including House Speaker Scott Saiki and the House of Representatives, passed a resolution that created a 15-member “working group to develop recommendations for a governance and management structure for Mauna Kea” (HR33). The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawai‘i, and the Maunakea Observatories each selected a member:

  • Sterling Wong, chief advocate of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs
  • Robert K. Masuda, first deputy at the Board of Land and Natural Resources
  • Bonnie Irwin, chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo
  • Rich Matsuda, chief external relations officer and interim chief operating officer at the W. M. Keck Observatory

The remaining eleven are subject to appointment by House Speaker Saiki (including the group chairperson). Native Hawaiian groups, organizations, or communities can nominate seven “Native Hawaiian” members who would not serve as the chairperson, subject to Saiki’s approval.

The resolution references, several times, findings from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) which state that UH failed to adequately consult with the Native Hawaiian community, leading to “mismanagement, mistrust, and polarization [that] must be reconciled.” To address this, the working group is tasked with building on DLNR’s findings to develop recommendations for a new governance and management structure that “collaboratively engages with all stakeholders, particularly the Native Hawaiian community[.]”

The history of mismanagement, however, is not limited to UH’s actions, but includes those of many others in the state, including Saiki himself. “Saiki hasn't demonstrated any intent to protect Mauna Kea or the rights of Indigenous caretakers of the area,” says Kealoha Pisciotta of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, which has been fighting for Mauna Kea’s protection for at least 30 years, “Him trying to posture now as though he cares about Mauna Kea and the Kia’i is disingenuous at best.” Pisciotta’s group has been leading the fight against several house bills Saiki endorsed, including the elimination of contested case hearings and century-long leases of Kingdom lands. Saiki, who supports TMT construction, has advocated for swift enforcement against Kia`i across the state stating, “I’m sure that Oahu law enforcement learned from the Mauna Kea experience that you need to address the situation early on.”

While many agree that Mauna Kea suffered under UH’s administration, it is difficult to believe the remedy for that mismanagement will be planned by a group dominated by Saiki’s appointees. If Speaker Saiki wanted to hear what Hawaiian communities want for Mauna Kea, he did not have to go to Pu‘uhuluhulu University or even step foot out of his work building. Leaders from the Mauna Kea Hui, Ka Lāhui Hawai‘i, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, and the Ho‘opae Pono Peace Project worked to get support for HB703/ SB1299, which would have prohibited development on the summit. Hawaiian community leaders and their advocates put forward HB693, which would have recognized the legal personhood of Mauna Kea. Saiki could have gotten hearings for these bills and listened. He didn’t.

Working group members will have to carry this history of contradiction as they go forward with their recommendations. Whether the group can reconcile anything rides on their ability to challenge and change the track to TMT construction that its history predicts for them. The group’s report is due by December 31, 2021.

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