HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are split in their opinions over the state Supreme Court’s ruling in favor or the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope.
The 73-page ruling says the state land board followed the law in approving construction on Mauna Kea — and there is no evidence it would impact Hawaiian rights, cultural practices, or sacred sites. The court says the TMT would actually benefit the native community.
OHA candidates were invited to a moderated forum at the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies Monday evening.
A question from the audience asked candidates their stance on telescope and why.
OHA Trustee At-Large Candidate Lei Ahu Isa said she opposes the project.
Her opponent, William Aila, tried to explain why he approved the permits for it as Chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. However, Aila kept getting interrupted by the audience yelling “auwe” and “hewa” and “ku kiai mauna!”
“Thank you for the commentary, I'm trying to get through my answer,” said Aila. “I've treated you with respect, I expect to be treated with respect."
Aila said he believes science and Hawaiian culture can co-exist on the mountain and that Mauna Kea is the most studied place ever in the state.
Brendon Kaleiaina Lee said he is in favor of the project.
Rowena Akana, John Waihee IV, and Faye Hanohano were not present.
Oahu trustee Kalei Akaka did not pick a stance. Her opponent, Esther Kiaaina said she respects the decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Maui trustee Keeaumoku Kapu said he does not support what is happening right now. His opponent, Carmen Hulu Lindsey, said she opposes TMT.
Opponents of the project argue the 18-story, $1.4 billion structure will further desecrate land they consider sacred.
“When I read this morning the Supreme Court of injustices decision, I feel like it’s one of the saddest days in the history of the Hawaiian people,” said University of Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, who was in the audience. “And shame on anybody who will support that.”
In 2015, approximately 700 people gathered on Mauna Kea in what they said was protection of a sacred Native Hawaiian space.
Many of them were arrested for blocking construction crews heading to the summit.
Andre Perez was one of them.
“It was difficult, it was emotional, it was disheartening to see our people getting arrested and dragged off the mountain, but we know that is the sacrifice that is necessary, and we’re prepared to do that again if necessary," said Perez.
The CEO for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Joe Kuhio Lewis, said while they won’t have an affirmative stance until their next board meeting, they will be looking into what specific role, resources and finances they have in supporting the advancement of Native Hawaiians.
Lewis also said laws can be changed or amended based on grassroots activism.