After statehood, the lands were turned over to Hawaii, and it was required to hold these lands in trust for specific purposes, including “betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians,” under the 1959 Statehood Act.
In 1964, the state issued a lease to the University of Hawaii for 13,321 acres of ceded lands at the summit of Maunakea for $1 per year. The university was authorized to build “an observatory” but proceeded to build multiple observatories without prior approval, a violation of the lease.
…Environmental groups like the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, along with Native Hawaiians, continually fought to stop the development of observatories and require the state and university to better manage the area’s resources. In 1995, the Sierra Club forced the university to airlift large amounts of accumulated waste from the mountain. In 1998, the first of numerous state audits was released documenting the poor management of the area’s natural resources by the state and university.
…Hawaii had long been a tinderbox of colonial tensions; Maunakea simply lit the flame. Hawaiians began organizing in the 1970s to combat the institutionalized racism and prejudice they had been subjected to for generations. The movement to regain control of their lands and resources only grew from there, as Hawaiians retaught themselves their language and restored their cultural practices on a mass level, which had been largely outlawed and condemned by the provisional and territorial governments after the overthrow.
The result of the modern Hawaiian rights movement is a population of Hawaiians and allies who are educated, conscious of, and combating settler colonialism and its influence in Hawaii, and ready to regain control of their lands, their resources, and their government.
…Maunakea is considered an origin of Hawaiian cosmology, a Hawaiian equivalent to Christianity’s Garden of Eden. It is the meeting place of Earth Mother, Papahānaumoku, and Sky Father, Wākea.
…When asked, the protectors will quickly explain they are not against science and have little opposition to the TMT project itself — they just firmly believe it does not belong on the sacred lands of Maunakea.
…TMT proponents claim that because there are no historic structures within the project area, cultural resources will not be as severely affected. Yet they fail to understand that built historic structures are not a prerequisite for cultural significance.
…Inseparable from Hawaiian culture is a love of the land, ’āina. For Hawaiians — who thrived in the islands before foreigners arrived at the end of the 18th century — care and attachment to the land is central to their identities. The term “aloha ’āina,” literally meaning love of the land, has long been a rallying cry for Hawaiians.
..A line of elders, known as kūpuna, positioned themselves in the roadway leading up to the summit of Maunakea. Each elder was assigned a caretaker to tend to their health and nutritional needs while they awaited and blocked access to the construction trucks. Farther up the road, a group of seven Native Hawaiian protectors chained themselves to a cattle guard as a second line of defense in case law enforcement arrested the kūpuna.
…Despite pleas from younger activists to protect the kūpuna, the elders insisted on remaining on the front line and being the first arrested, asking the younger protectors to stand down and remain silent while they were taken.
Some elders forced officers to physically remove them, and they were picked up and carried down the road. Some were wheeled off in their wheelchairs. Others walked, sometimes with the help of walkers, if they could. Many of the 35 arrested were in their 70s or 80s.
The younger protectors openly wept and prayed as the kūpuna were taken in custody. Law enforcement, most of them Hawaiians themselves, moved slowly and respectfully, looking pained and conflicted as they arrested the kūpuna. The interaction remained peaceful, but the heartbreak was palpable.
…Based on footage released by the state, law enforcement officers, many Hawaiians and some related to kia’i, continue to struggle emotionally with being forced to stand opposite to the Hawaiian community gathered at the mountain. The use of Native Hawaiian law enforcement has been met with harsh criticism. Many consider it an intentional decision by government leaders, who are primarily non-Hawaiian, to create division and trauma within the Hawaiian community.
…It is estimated that the camp area now includes 2 miles of highway along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, locally known as Saddle Road. The pu’uhonua is highly organized, with each new occupant undergoing an orientation upon arrival. Among the rules are no drugs, no smoking of any kind, no alcohol, and no weapons. Occupants are also required to hold themselves in “kapu aloha,” a spiritual edict of restraint and self-control where one acts only with compassion, love, and care for others.
Security, organized and run by the kia’i and the Royal Order of Kamehameha, is present 24 hours a day. There are 32 portable toilets that are pumped twice daily. All materials are sorted and recycled when possible. Trash is removed daily. There is a highly organized food service that feeds all present.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the safety and order present in the refuge, including photos and video footage widely circulated on social media and local news, the state and project proponents continue a well-funded campaign of misinformation that aims to undermine the credibility of the protectors.
…Ige and his administration are also quickly losing support among local elected officials. His own lieutenant governor, Josh Green, a Big Island physician seen as a champion of humanitarian causes, has publicly cautioned the governor against the use of the National Guard and even visited the pu’uhonua on July 22, meeting with leaders and taking medical supplies to the camp. Similar statements, appearing to back away from the governor’s position, were issued by federal, state, and county leaders.
…University of Hawaii faculty are also calling for the removal of university president David Lassner, unhappy with his leadership throughout this ordeal.
With more and more supporters arriving at the camp daily, it is becoming clear that construction on Maunakea will not take place short of a significant and aggressive police action against the peaceful demonstrators. Yet with each step toward increased militarized force, the resistance to the state and the project grows.
For a project that claims to be for the benefit of mankind, TMT is quickly becoming synonymous with human rights violations, excessive police force, and a misinformation campaign that embodies all the worst acts of trauma against indigenous peoples. The protectors, bearing only aloha and compassion, are becoming a symbol of peaceful resistance and steadfast commitment to restoring indigenous self-determination.
Mahalo Kia’i, Aloha to all of you