To: The Board of Land and Natural Resources
Re: Reject request to adopt new administrative rule §13-123-21.2, restricting use of and access to Mauna Kea
Welina me ke aloha, Members of the BLNR:
Please reject the request from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife to adopt a new rule that would prohibit backpacks, blankets, tents, tarps and camping gear on Mauna Kea and would restrict entry to the area surrounding Mauna Kea Observatory Road between 8pm – 5am. Interim administrator, Scott Fretz’s request says that this proposed change is intended to “address impacts to natural resources” and to “eliminate risks…to public safety,” but it is this rule change that is the real threat to public safety, to genuine democracy, and to a society that values the Native Hawaiian culture.
There is no imminent peril to natural resources or public safety that has been caused by the kiaʻi who have gathered on the mauna. The state is obviously targeted these kiaʻi with these restrictions. The proposed restrictions would significantly infringe upon the kuleana and rights of all Kanaka Maoli to access and conduct ceremonies at our sacred piko of Mauna a Wākea.
I write this letter as a hula student/practitioner and a university professor. I have only been to the top of Mauna Kea twice in my lifetime, and on both of those occasions it would have been very dangerous and potentially life-threatening not to have been allowed a backpack, blanket or other gear that would allow us to survive the elements. Also, on both of those occasions, it was the kiaʻi who are being targeting by these proposed rules who were looking out for public safety and the environment.
The first time I ascended to the summit of Mauna a Wākea was with my hālau in 2012. We had been learning mele associated with Queen Emma’s journey to the summit and to Waiau. On our short hike from the van to Waiau, a few in our group got altitude sickness. Had we not had our backpacks, carrying food, water and medicine, my hula sisters would have been at serious risk. However, we were prepared, and we were also being cared for by people who are familiar with the area. In fact, I find it quite ironic that it was not any of your rangers who accompanied us to the summit and looked out for our safety. The people who took the time to show us a safe and pono way to enter the Mauna were the very protectors of the Mauna whom you are seeking to deny access. We had never met Aunty Pua Case and Uncle Kalani Flores prior to this trip, but they took an entire day to guide our hālau from Puʻu Huluhulu to Hale Pōhaku to Puʻu Kūkahauʻula and finally to Waiau. They made sure that our access was safe.
More recently, I took my family and a small group of my UH Mānoa undergraduate students to Mauna Kea. We had been studying the controversies over the TMT project and were there to conduct ceremony and interviews. While there during the middle of the day, I met a few kūpuna who had wrapped themselves in blankets in order to keep warm. Similarly, when I went for a short walk just as the sun was setting, I absolutely needed a blanket to keep my 9-month-old son safe and warm. It was the members of the Kū Kiaʻi Mauna encampment who invited us into the warmth of their hale and who made every effort to assure that each member of our group was safe.
In the past two weeks since the state shut down the visitors center, it has been the Kiaʻi Mauna who provided sanitary bathroom facilities for locals and tourists visiting Mauna Kea. They have transported waste down from the mountain, and they have gone out of their way to assure safety and cleanliness.
This proposed rule change is not about a concern for public safety; it is a thinly-veiled attempt to cripple resistance to the TMT, to stifle public speech. Banning backpacks, blankets and other gear is a threat to safe, public access to the Mauna. Perhaps DOFAW administrators and others believe the exorbitant fines, jail time and other penalties that can be invoked to enforce these new restrictions will discourage those who have gathered to protect the Mauna from desecration. They are wrong.
To adopt these new restrictions would be to perpetuate cultural violence on Hawaiians. Since its formation, the State of Hawaiʻi has made many attempts to contain, limit and sever Kanaka Maoli connections with our ‘āina. Do not add one more instance to the list. Your mission is to protect and enhance Hawaiʻi’s lands and natural resources. Researchers around the world have found that strengthening the relationships between Indigenous peoples and their lands makes both healthier.
If you are truly concerned about the imminent peril to natural resources on Mauna Kea, there is a simple answer: stop the TMT project and any other industrial development on the mountain, begin decommissioning existing telescopes, and let the mountain heal.