HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa brushed off concerns Friday about the destruction of rocks considered sacred in Iao Valley as part of flood repairs, telling Hawaii News Now that "there's no such thing as sacred rocks."
"The monarchy, starting with Kamehameha ... declared Christianity the religion of Hawaii," Arakawa said. "In Christianity, if I remember the 10 Commandments correctly, thou shall have no false god before me. There are no sacred rocks in that religion."
The comments sparked a firestorm on social media, and drew instant condemnation from those criticizing Maui County's handling of the flood repair project.
Activist Tiare Lawrence said Arakawa's comments are a disgrace, and show a lack of respect for the Hawaiian culture.
"My first reaction was disgust," she said. "I was completely disgusted by his distasteful comments toward our culture."
Lawrence added that she's organizing a rally for next week to protest the comments and the county's actions.
Maui County Council member Elle Cochran, meanwhile, demanded an apology Friday.
"He needs to say that he didn't understand the thoughts or beliefs of the Hawaiian people," Cochran said.
"I am truly embarrassed by the ignorance and bigotry publicly professed by Maui Mayor Arakawa on Hawaii News Now," said Kumu Hula Napua Greig-Nakasone.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also issued a statement in response to the comments.
"Pohaku (rocks) are a cornerstone of Native Hawaiian material and living culture, providing not only a vast array of utilitarian uses ... but also immense spiritual and political importance for the Native Hawaiian people."
Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, director of the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, said that Native Hawaiian say rocks are sacred "that's the truth."
"It's not a matter of only one God and one religion. It's a matter of honoring our ancestors," she said.
State Rep. Kaniela Ing (South Maui), meanwhile, called Arakawa's statements "disgraceful."
"Let Hawaiians speak for themselves. Don't school us on our history," he said.
Added state Sen. Kalani English (Hana-Upcountry Maui-Molokai-Lanai), "We have to respect everyone's belief systems and that's what's important."
The issue arose out of concerns about how Maui was handling repairs in Iao Valley in the wake of major flooding in September. Tons of rocks were removed from the area following the flooding, and some of the rocks were crushed in a landfill.
But the county has said that was stopped once residents complained.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for Arakawa apologized for the administration's handling of the clean-up, but Friday said an apology from the mayor himself hasn't come up.
"The mayor's words were his own," said Rod Antone.
He said Arakawa believes "a small mistake over the rocks is being blown out of proportion ... and he thinks native religion is being used for political purposes."
Arakawa took a much harder line, speaking on Hawaii News Now's Sunrise on Friday. During the interview, he intimated that the complaints were a non-issue.
"We have a group of people that are political wannabes that ran for office the last time, and they try to make an issue out of nothing," he said. "During an emergency situation, where people's lives are endangered, we have to do what we have to do. We're trying to protect people."
He added, "Nature created the situation where the river knocked out of a lot of trees. If you want to call a culprit, blame the trees."