State Senator: The plan to designate the occupants of Maunakea as “homeless” is unacceptable
Two Oahu lawmakers have called on the State Department of Hawaiian Lands to end any plans to forcibly remove protesters who remain in Maunakea.
However, DHHL chairman William Aila Jr. said immediate removal plans had been “put on hold.”
In a statement provided to the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday, Aila said the DHHL regularly reaches out to unauthorized campers and unauthorized structures on Hawaiian family lands.
“The department recently started to assess several campsites around Pu’uhuluhulu to determine if social services were needed before any trespassing notices were issued,” he said. “Subsequently, I was invited to a meeting with community leaders and a request for a limited entry fee to the area was made.
“Given recent increases in COVID-19 infections, immediate kidnappings near the Daniel K. Inouye highway have been suspended. “
Protesters against the thirty-meter telescope – who call themselves kia’i or protectors – initially camped in the area surrounding the Maunakea access road in 2019 when construction of the controversial observatory was due to begin.
“It appears that following a recent decision by a Canary Islands court to revoke a land deal with the international consortium behind the thirty-meter telescope project, DHHL was able to step up efforts to evict peaceful protesters who stayed on Maunakea, ”Minority Leader Senator Kurt Fevella and State Representative Stacelynn Eli wrote in a September 9 letter to Aila.
Maunakea has always been the preferred site of the TMT, as its altitude and latitude make it ideal for stargazing. The consortium behind TMT named the Canary Islands in Spain as a potential alternative site in 2016, and in 2019 entered into a land deal with the city council of Puntagorda, a municipality on the northern end of the island of La Palma.
However, the land deal last month was revoked after a lawsuit was filed by ecological conservation group Ben Magec: Ecologistas en Accion in the Canary Islands high court.
“The longstanding issues of mismanagement and broken promises to address land use, environmental and cultural conditions that sparked national opposition in 2019 remain largely unresolved,” lawmakers wrote to Aila. “Many community stakeholders have received little or no guidance from your department or other state officials at the executive level regarding a proposal to address the stewardship responsibilities due to native people of Hawaii. “
“We held a meeting with DHHL to request more information regarding Maunakea and the department told us that there were plans in place to designate our kupuna and kia’i who peacefully occupy Maunakea as homeless.” , Fevella said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, and I hope DHHL will reconsider its position and follow through on our recommendation to cease and desist from all plans to remove our ohana from the mauna.”
The September 9 letter follows the one sent to Aila on August 24 and signed by Fevella, Hilo Sen. Laura Acasio and Kailua-Kona Rep. Jeanne Kapela.
In that letter, lawmakers asked Aila to explore options that would allow protesters to stay on the mountain.
“The kupuna and kia’i who remain in Maunakea continue to respect, honor and protect the Mauna every day they are there,” they write in the August letter.
“They are not squatters; nor are they homeless. While on the mauna, they picked up and removed litter left behind by squatters, revelers and visitors. They also educated visitors, shared culture and explained the history of this sacred place, Maunakea.
At that time, lawmakers feared that plans to withdraw protesters would force others to return, which would be problematic given the continued increase in COVID-19 cases.
Acasio said in an email Tuesday that to his knowledge, Aila had not responded to the first letter from lawmakers and had received no communication from him or his office.
She was not aware of the September 9 letter, “however, it is understandable and I support its contents.”
It is still unclear whether other Big Island lawmakers have been asked to sign the next letter.
Email Stephanie Salmons at [email protected]