Amid a temporary truce over TMT, Hawaiian activists turn their attention to politics

Hawaiian activists say they want to see more Native Hawaiians voting and running for office.
Hawaiian activists say they want to see more Native Hawaiians voting and running for office.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jan. 16, 2020 at 5:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Now that the conflict at Mauna Kea is in a temporary truce, Native Hawaiians are turning their attention to politics.

Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope say they want more Hawaiians voting and in office.

“Before the momentum dies down, we’re asking everybody to get involved in politics and to make sure that all of this anger and energy and unity that has been created by Mauna Kea is put to a public and beneficial use,” said Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte.

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the TMT opposition leaders, added:

“Whether or not you belong to the Kingdom of Hawaii of not, we are forced to live under the current environment, current set of laws. So the best way to take care of ourselves is to participate."

Many say anger over TMT is also about Hawaiian disparities.

“Let’s face it we’ve given Hawaiians preeminence in social, cultural affairs but when it comes to economic and political issues, Hawaiians are largely left out of the equation,” said State Rep. Gene Ward, House Minority Leader.

But lawmakers say a package of economic bills to increase the minimum wage, provide tax relief, affordable housing and improve early childhood education directly benefits Hawaiians.

“It’s going to affect Native Hawaiians in very substantial ways and it will we know this. It will help Native Hawaiian families lift themselves up,” said Della Au Belatti, House Majority Leader.

Meanwhile, numbers in the Hawaiian caucus of lawmakers are growing.

“When I first came to the senate in 2000, I was the only Native Hawaiian in the senate. Now we have seven,” said state Sen. Kalani English, Senate Majority Leader.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim urged lawmakers to be sympathetic to Hawaiian causes.

“When you see people with the Hawaiian flag, I ask people to take a look at that and not be offended by it in any way," he said.

“It’s symbolic of many wrongs of past. It’s symbolic of finally being able to say I’m proud to be Hawaiian.”

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