Lā 169: OHA condemns arrests, vows to assist protesters

Hawaii Tribune Herald Published September 10, 2015 - 1:30am

Screen Shot 2015 09 10 At 11.23.46 Am

HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Thirty Meter Telescope protesters, left, and Office of Hawaii Affairs trustees exchange ha Wednesday on Mauna Kea.

By TOM CALLIS Hawaii Tribune-Herald
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ administrator offered his commitment, though few specifics, to protecting indigenous rights and proper stewardship of Mauna Kea after meeting with Thirty Meter Telescope opponents Wednesday morning at their camp site near the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

The meeting, which also included four OHA trustees, was held only hours after Hawaii County police and state Department of Land and Natural Resources officers arrested eight camp occupants during their second nighttime sweep to enforce emergency rules that prohibit people from staying there between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The arrested protesters, who say they are holding vigil and protecting a sacred mountain, were out on bail by the time the meeting was held later Wednesday morning in “Hale Ku Kiai Mauna,” a traditional structure the protesters built.

Before sunrise, officers were pulling a protester from the top of the same hale during the arrests. The camp structures, which include the hale and a makeshift tent, weren’t removed.

OHA, which had planned the site visit in advance, issued a statement condemning the arrests, and about 15 protesters warmly greeted the visiting party with mele, conch shells, and other traditional protocol.

Kamanaopono Crabbe, OHA CEO, said before the meeting that he was concerned about native rights being violated and plans to speak with DLNR about the continued arrests.

In addition to showing opposition to TMT and further construction on the mountain, protesters at the camp say they use the site to practice cultural traditions and also spend time removing invasive plants. With the help of hundreds of supporters, they’ve successfully stopped construction at the TMT site for the past six months by preventing construction crews from passing.

“I think the general context is violation of native rights, for exercising traditional customary rights,” Crabbe said, regarding the arrests. “That’s a very, very sensitive issue for us.”

Joshua Wisch, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said the arrests weren’t planned to coincide with OHA’s meeting, which was announced in advance.

The emergency rules were last enforced before Wednesday’s arrests on July 31 . Asked in an email why the arrests occurred Wednesday, Wisch simply said that enforcement can occur any time during the 120 days the rules are in effect.

The state land board adopted the rules in July in response to the camp, now in place for 169 days, and disruptions attributed to it, but protesters have maintained they are being unfairly targeted and point to tour groups the protesters say also violate the rules but go unpunished.

Lanakila Mangauil, a protest leader who invited the OHA officials, said he wanted to ask them to address legal issues surrounding the arrests, decide whether they are for or against the telescope, and see what’s going on for themselves.

“We just want to see clearly where you stand,” he said.

After the meeting, Crabbe said Native Hawaiians, who make up the majority of the protesters, need to protect their sacred lands.

“What we need to do as OHA is work with the government to, one, respect our rights as indigenous peoples, and if we cannot come to that understanding, then we as OHA, we have to do what’s in the best interest of our people and communities,” he said.

How that would involve TMT was difficult for officials to say. The large telescope would be the 14th on the mountain, which protesters believe shouldn’t be built upon, and larger than any existing observatory.

Astronomers say it will allow them to see farther and help solve more of the universe’s great mysteries.

Trustee Robert Lindsey, who chairs the OHA board of trustees and represents Hawaii Island, said he expects “vigorous discourse” about how to proceed.

“In our position, or in my position as chair of the board, I have to be sure that I stay balanced and I stay in the center of all the perspectives that people bring to the table,” he said.

They were joined by trustees Carmen Hulu Lindsey, Dan Ahuna and Colette Machado.

During the meeting at the camp, Machado said she is against building the TMT on Mauna Kea and apologized for not voting for a resolution that would have opposed the $1.4 billion project.

“I come today to ask for your forgiveness,” she told the protesters. “And, there will be a time soon, I think, to revisit withdrawing our support for this. That way, it’sgoing to be more clear that we’re showing our colors, that we’re not going to be walking the fence.”

Several protesters addressed the OHA officials and spoke passionately for protecting a mountain they consider sacred.

“I feel in our heart and our soul this is our time,” said Earl DeLeon.

“Enough of the tears, enough of the arrests, enough of the suffering,” he said. “We have suffered enough as a people.”

Bronson Kobayashi, a protester who was arrested during both police sweeps, said he will wait to see what OHA does before deciding whether the meeting was a success.

“I’m always skeptical because you never know how it comes out,” he said. “I like to see what happens after the meeting.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.