Lā 118: "Anti-Science Resistance?" Letʻs Examine the Facts

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A trail of broken laws, violated policies and disregarded cultural practices leads from the state capitol to the summit of Mauna Kea.

Screen Shot 2015 07 23 At 02.49.18 PmJuly 21, 2015 By Mililani Trask

Mililani Trask is the principal of Indigenous Consultants LLC and an internationally recognized expert on human rights and Hawaii land trust issues. As a founding member of the Indigenous Women’s Network, she worked on issues of community-based economic development, including housing and health. She is a founding member of Maunakea Anaina Hou and a cultural practitioner of Maunakea.

Opposition to further encroachments on Mauna Kea cannot be dismissed as “anti-scientific” resistance to the “forward movement of our economy” by a few disgruntled individuals, as the Big Island Community Coalition has suggested more than once. Let’s look at the facts.

FACT: State law (HRS. Chapter 171) requires that state lands be leased at fair market value as determined by appraisal. Lease rental cannot be waived for any commercial venture for longer than one year. There are fines for violations of the law or rules or illegal public use, but the law also states, “No person shall be sanctioned … for the exercise of native Hawaiian gathering rights and traditional cultural practices as authorized by law or as permitted by the department.”

FACT: These laws have been violated for 47 years, ever since the University of Hawaii received a 65-year lease for Mauna Kea in 1968 for free. The university ignored these laws when it subleased lands on the summit for 22 buildings for $1 per year. Data obtained by KAHEA, the Hawaiian Environmental Coalition, indicates that annual rent should be $45 million to $55 million. KAHEA figures that over 10 years, approximately $500 million in rental income that could have fuelled the economy and improved people’s lives has been lost.

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Cory Lum/Civil BeatThatched roofed structure and a small canoe across the street from the Maunakea visitors center. Maunakea.  

As KAHEA points out, “The sweetheart deals on Mauna Kea and Haleakala translate to millions of dollars denied to important public programs, like schools, roads, hospitals and parks, which benefit people throughout Hawaii nei.”

Imagine what could have been accomplished with the income from an appropriate level of rentals over the full 47 years of building telescopes on Mauna Kea.

FACT: State auditors’ reports on the Mauna for the years 1998, 2005, 2009 and 2014 document numerous violations of state law. Although the university and private telescope operators created several studies and plans including the Native Cultural Report, Public Access Report, Decommissioning Report and Comprehensive Management Plan, none of these plans have been implemented, and no plan actually provided for Hawaiian rights to worship or for other cultural practices. The Public Access plan actually puts Hawaiian rights in a section entitled “Unresolved Issues.”

FACT: Citing Act 132 (2009), the 2014 auditors report noted, “Administrative rules governing public and commercial activities on Mauna Kea lands are necessary to provide effective protection of cultural and natural resources from certain public activities, and to help ensure public health and safety. Examples of public and commercial activities to be governed by administrative rules include general access to sensitive resource areas, such as specific and off-road vehicle management and control; alcohol consumption; recreational activities; and commercial tour activities.”

FACT: The last Comprehensive Management Plan called for development to cease after 13 permits for telescopes had been awarded. Yet, today there are 22 structures on the mauna. The auditor found that the university and Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) failed to establish rules in accordance with their own plans. Consequently, the mauna has not been properly protected these many years, nor have there been rules to facilitate Hawaiian Cultural practices guaranteed by the state constitution and laws. Meanwhile, development proceeded to a point that it exceeded the carrying capacity of the mauna and its unique environment.

FACT: The 2014 audit found that the OMKM had benefitted significantly by avoiding its rule-making obligations. It has been giving out unauthorized and illegal permits for public commercial uses.

FACT: The funds brought in through illegal permits did not go to the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for care of the Mauna. DLNR record shows that the board has repeatedly acknowledged that it did not have funds to meet the environmental and cultural needs of the mauna.

Screen Shot 2015 07 23 At 02.49.18 PmFACT: Although numerous articles have been written about the many consultations held with Hawaiian practitioners, the record reflects that there has never been any consultation held on any island that was publicly noticed for Hawaiian cultural practitioners of the mauna.

FACT: The university, DLNR and the science community have ignored and violated the laws that protect and provide for Hawaiian constitutional and human rights. (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, provisions 11, 12 & 25).

Hawaiian cultural rights are specifically addressed in Article XII Section 7 of the state constitution. Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 171-6-15, which imposes penalties and fines for illegal uses of the mauna, specifically exempts Hawaiians engaging in cultural practices. In addition, Act 132 passed by the Legislature in 2009, which gave the university “autonomy” in its management of the mauna, specifically states, “Access for traditional and customary native Hawaiian cultural and religious purposes shall be accommodated.”

FACT: For 47 years Hawaiians have tolerated increasing development on our sacred mauna, in violation of numerous state laws. We have repeatedly requested consultations statewide for Hawaiian cultural practitioners, to no avail. During this time we have watched as our wahi pana (sacred sites) and ku ahu (altars) have been desecrated and destroyed. The testimony of the Mauna Kea Rangers to the Legislature and photos of destroyed ahu bear witness to this.

FACT: It is time to stop ignoring those inconvenient but real “unresolved issues.”

As Pope Francis recently said in his celebrated encyclical, “On Care of Our Common Home,” some may use “the excuse of realism and pragmatism to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.” Those who oppose the continuing reckless assault on Mauna Kea want to see real action on the “unresolved issues.”

The excuses of the Big Island Community Coalition notwithstanding, we remain steadfast in insisting on protections for the mauna’s unique environment and for our cultural practices. It is time to stop demonizing or belittling members of the community who are raising the alarm about what could open the gates to runaway development in the name of the profits science could deliver, not just on Hawaii Island, but on the other islands as well.

We are simply asking the state government to abide by its own laws. Ku kiai mauna.