Governor Calls Situation at Maunakea “Unsafe”; Pu‘uhonua Leaders Seek “Apology”
By Wendy Osher
Opposing views were shared on Friday afternoon by Governor David Ige and leaders of an ongoing demonstration against the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Maunakea.
In a unified front, leaders at Puʻuhonua o Puʻu Huluhulu said they are seeking an apology from the Governor after he held a press conference on Day 5 of the demonstration, updating the public and media of his plans on a way forward with the TMT project.
Movement of equipment for construction of the telescope was scheduled to start this week, but was met by protests at the base of Maunakea Access Road, and coordinated demonstrations at various locations across the state as well as some locations on the mainland.
In a three minute address, Governor David Ige said his number one priority is “the safety of all people.” He also spoke about enforcement efforts, concerns over activities and order within the puʻuhonua, and said his emergency proclamation remains in effect because of a situation he considers to be “unsafe.”
Leaders with the opposition said they were “disappointed” with the governor’s latest update and challenged his statements relating to health, safety, drugs, communication and leadership.
Among those speaking on behalf of the protesters/protectors on Friday were Kahoʻohaki Kanuha, Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson and the kālaimoku of the Royal Order of Kamehameha.
“I believe the governor is showing his desperation,” said Kanuha. “He’s showing that he’s up against the ropes, and” Kanuha said, “he has resorted to lying as his only pathway forward.”
PROTEST LEADERS AT MAUNAKEA RESPOND TO GOVERNOR’S UPDATE (4:15 p.m. 7.19.19 – Link to Live Stream at Hawaii News Now)
GOV. IGE AFFIRMS HIS COMMITMENT TO SAFETY AT PRESS CONFERENCE (3:11 p.m. 7.19.19 – Link to Gov. David Ige’s Live Stream)
Governor Ige responded to a question about crowd control and if he believes those that have gathered are under control. “I do believe that the crowd is under control. Law enforcement, state and county, have done a tremendous job in keeping the crowd calm, in keeping order and being respectful of everyone on the mountain.”
This response was met with an emotional retort from Kanuha who said, “First of all, the governor stated that law enforcement is the reason why the crowd is under control. That is an absolute lie.”
According to Kanuha, the control that has been kept here at Puʻuhonua o Puʻu Huluhulu has been “solely on the part of kiaʻi and the Royal Order of Kamehameha.”
“We have kept ourselves safe. We have kept ourselves under control. We are the ones who conduct briefings multiple times a day–reminding everyone of the rules and regulations of this place; reminding everyone of the behavior that we must hold ourselves in and the conduct we must hold ourselves in; and reminding everyone of the commitment that we have made to peaceful and non-violent action as well as to the rules and regulations of the puʻuhonua,” said Kanuha.
Gov. Ige said, “There are many groups and they don’t all agree about why they are there or what they intend to do. Leaders of a puʻuhonua have not been able to maintain order and the neutral terms of the puʻuhonua. The emergency proclamation remains in effect because of this unsafe situation. This is a complicated set of issues and the emotions are fueled by a desire for many things. Some of these issues we can work towards. Some we cannot. But I remain committed to finding those places of common ground.”
Since signing the proclamation, the governor has maintained that it provides law enforcement with increased flexibility and authority to close more areas and restrict access on Maunakea to ensure public safety.
Kanuha’s response was pointed: “The governor has also said that there are multiple groups in this movement and that there is no clear leadership. We are here to debunk that thought and to show, as you can see–that we are all here unified,” as he stood in the company of fellow leaders.
“And yes, we do represent different backgrounds; yes, we do come from different islands; yes, we do come from different groups and different institutions–but we are here as one. We are here as one lāhui–as one hui standing in protection of Maunakea. And every single person here is committed to that,” said Kanuha.
Gov. Ige further explained his thoughts during a question and answer period saying, “There are many different groups that are represented in that crowd and clearly in our conversations and reaching out to meet with them, we have a hard time getting agreement when we have discussions and I think most importantly, sometimes agreements are made that are not agreed by other groups, and so it falls by the wayside.”
When asked what form of communication has been used to communicate with leaders at the puʻuhonua, Gov. Ige said, “We do have intermediaries that have stepped forward, that we are in dialogue with. We are in direct dialogue with some of the others. So it really depends on how they chose to engage, and whether they want to engage.”
Gov. Ige was asked to elaborate on his assertion that different leaders at the puʻuhonua have different objectives, he said, “You’ll hear different issues and different requirements. I think we’ve heard a wide range of issues (from) sovereignty to the Thirty Meter Telescope to about some of the inadequacies of (the) criminal justice system and others. So certainly there is a wide range of issues raised as we have conversations.”
“I’m committed to serve the public, and I am a public servant,” said Gov. Ige in response to a question about his personal image being portrayed during this event. “I am taking action that I believe is necessary to keep our community safe and be respectful of the laws of everyone in our community.”
Meantime, leaders at the puʻuhonua explained the make-up of those gathered at the demonstration.
“Contrary to popular belief, we are not jobless protesters,” said Kanuha noting many are well respected community members, among them, those who were arrested. “We are people who are engaged in our community. We have kumu hula here–respected kumu hula–the kumu hula that the state likes to portray on the TV once a year.”
“We have professors. We have lawyers. We have teachers. We have all kinds of people. All of the good things you can think about. We have coaches. We’ve got people who are engaged in community programs–outreach programs, educational programs. We don’t have any reason to lie,” said Kanuha.
Puuhonua Rules/Drugs and Alcohol:
Also during his prepared address, Gov. Ige expressed concerns about what he called “reports of drugs and alcohol use.”
Kanuha denounced the governor’s remarks saying, “One of the rules and regulations of the puʻuhonua is that there is absolutely no drugs and no alcohol allowed–including no cigarettes as well. And we make that very, very clear–again, multiple times a day.”
When asked afterward where the information came from, the governor responded saying, “We did have the establishment of a puʻuhonua, which is a traditional refuge where we agreed to be respectful of those inside the puʻuhonua in exchange for them behaving and obeying orders and laws, and they are not. So the puʻuhonua has fell apart.”
Gov. Ige continued saying, “We do have reports from our law enforcement agencies about drugs and alcohol.”
“We are looking at what actions we can take to move the project forward as well as keep people safe at the Maunakea site–so certainly, some of the concerns of the activities at the puʻuhonua concern us. We have reminded those that set up the puʻuhonua about what the reports (are) that we’re getting and asked them to enforce their own agreement and rules,” said Gov. Ige.
When pressed on when that conversation occurred, Gov. Ige said, “We do have constant conversations with them and others connected with Maunakea.” He continued saying, “We have informed them that we observed behavior that was not consistent with the rules of a puʻuhonua and asked that they consider better enforcement.”
When asked if he’s on the verge of having the puʻuhonua cleared, Gov. Ige responded saying, “No, we’re not at this time.”
During his prepared address, Gov. Ige said said the bathroom and rubbish facilities are “inadequate” for the amount of people gathered at the site, which has numbered in excess of 1,000 according to state calculations.
Gov. Ige said the state is seeing impacts on the environment.
Leaders at the puʻuhonua also called this assertion a “lie.” “We now have 12 lua here at Puʻuhonua o Puʻu Huluhulu, and we have an agreement with the owners of those lua–of those port-a-potties to clean them out and pump them out twice a day. We have rubbish going out each and every day. People come to Puʻuhonua o Puʻu Huluhulu, they donate supplies, and on their way out they take loads of trash and ʻōpala,” said Kanuha.
“We are also recycling. We have compost. We have plastics, paper goods. We have everything sorted. And we have many visuals in the puʻuhonua that can be found on social media to show the truth of these claims. We also have a dumpster,” said Kanuha.
Arrests/Treatment of Kupuna:
Gov. Ige responded to questions about the 34 arrests (the state revised their initial report from 33) made on Tuesday and his views on the treatment of kupuna.
“We have been very patient with all of those on Maunakea, but we will continue to enforce the law. They were given the opportunity to be respectful and respect the law and they did not and therefore they were arrested,” said Gov. Ige. He continued saying, “I saw video of treatment by law enforcement. I think the law enforcement were courteous and respectful and kind in every single way.”
“Certainly I feel for the kupuna and have heard their concerns,” Gov. Ige said in response to a question about his response to the elders who were arrested earlier this week. “I do believe that this is an important project for all of Hawaiʻi and for all of mankind. I do believe it’s an important project that can lead to new expansion of knowledge that can enhance our community here in Hawaiʻi as well as around the world.”
When asked what the point was of arresting kupuna at all when many returned to the site after their release, Gov Ige said, “They were breaking the law, and so we are looking at enforcing and making arrests as appropriate.”
“We are making the judgement every single day,” said Gov. Ige of enforcement efforts. “Law enforcement has been exercising their professional judgement in keeping people calm, looking for those who are breaking the law and making arrests as appropriate. We will continue to evaluate the situation and find the best path forward. I am willing to be patient rather than risk the health and safety of our community.”
In addressing a question about coordination between the state and the county, Gov. Ige said, “Certainly, we are working together. This is an important issue for Hawaiʻi County and we are fully aligned in how we proceed forward. We’ve had many conversations about things that we can do to de-escalate the situation; about our commitment to keep the community safe and the things that we can do to improve safety on the highway for example. So I will continue to be working with the mayor and the police chief as we move forward.”
“We are engaged in conversation. We are planning with all of those involved on the state and county side–thinking about how we can move forward in a safe way,” Gov. Ige said.
In response to a question about keeping a timeline for construction, Gov. Ige said, “We are committed as the top priority to the health and safety of everyone involved–including law enforcement, including protesters, including those who work on the mountain. And we will continue to do so. I will not put anyone’s safety in jeopardy under any condition.”
When asked if the TMT will still proceed on schedule, Gov. Ige said, “We have (had) continuing conversations with TMT. We are not talking specifically about schedules. We’ve asked them to be patient. As I said, and the mayor agrees, we are committed to the safety of everyone. We will not be utilizing tear gas, as some of the rumors have been–we never ever thought about that or considered that at all. We are looking for the best way forward without hurting anyone.”
“I do know that some of the protesters are very passionate and certainly we’ve heard from them and we continue to reach out to have a dialogue. We are committed to seeing if there is a way forward that we can reduce the risk and keep everyone safe. And we will continue to work to find the best way forward,” said Gov. Ige in response to a question about the possibility of a prolonged demonstration.
“I do believe that our community is respectful and so I don’t have concern for safety for residents of our community. Clearly I do know that the call has gone out around the world and you never know what the response is from people not from Hawaiʻi,” said Gov. Ige when questioned about his thoughts on the demonstrations take place in other areas away of Maunakea.
“We are focused on enforcing the law and we will be committed to enforcing the law as we proceed forward,” said Gov. Ige in response to a question about concessions he’d be willing to make in order to avoid the use of force. “We continue to have conversations with those who are willing to have conversations. I don’t know, I don’t want to pre-judge what they are interested in, except that there are many issues that they raised that we cannot address in this specific incidence.”
“We want to engage and we are evaluating every conversation to determine whether it makes sense. And if it’s something that we can agree to or not. For example, the puʻuhonua was one of those conversations that we had, and we agreed that if they would police and operate the puʻuhonua as they’ve described it to us, that we would not interfere, or not enforce with the people in the puʻuhonua.
Maunakea Access Road Remains Closed
“We are evaluating that as we go forward, but right now Maunakea is closed to all traffic,” said Gov. Ige in response to potential use of Maunkea Access road for cultural access.
In a press release issued by the state, access to Maunakea “remains closed for safety reasons.”
Dr. Noenoe Wong Wilson, who was among the puuhonua leaders who spoke on Friday, said she was disappointed to hear the message from the governor. ” I was expecting a lot more. We are in a state of emergency. Not his emergency. We are in a state of emergency. We are still under threat from law enforcement. We still do not have access to the mauna,” she said.
The governor also expressed concern over pedestrian traffic near and on the highway saying, “Pedestrians are running back and forth across a major highway at night and in bad weather when visibility is poor.”
“We are not planning to have resources assigned. We are asking all of those who choose to go up to the mountain to police themselves and keep themselves safe. We are suggesting that they don’t run across the road because that’s not a safe thing to do,” said Gov. Ige.
Governor on Meeting Obstacles:
Gov. Ige said, “Both the mayor and I have had many discussions with many people, but many of the leaders of this protest do not want to meet. They would rather post to social media, spread rumors and fear and rather than engage in real world conversations about how we move forward together. Right now, I am asking the leaders of this protest to meet. I am asking them to commit to keeping everyone safe–to working together towards the many issues that are fueling the protest.”
When asked about why he chose to stage his press conference at the Hilo International Airport instead of at Maunakea, and if he had concerns over his personal safety, Gov. Ige said, “I meet a lot of people in many different events in many different venues. I do not have plans to go to Maunakea at this time.”
“We will continue to reach out and engage as they are interested. Some have expressed interest; others have declined. We are looking for ways to find common ground and find a way forward,” said Gov. Ige.
In response to a question suggesting a moratorium, Gov. Ige said, “We will continue to discuss it with all of the people involved and find a way forward.”
When asked about a possible diplomatic resolution, Gov. Ige responded saying, “We continue to have the dialogue. We believe that it’s important. We are also including other groups who are advocates–who believe in astronomy and science and those who support the project. Certainly we are engaging all stakeholders to have the broader conversation of a better future for Maunakea.”
“I believe that there is always a reason to be engaged in dialogue,” said Gov. Ige. “I believe that dialogue doesn’t hurt. We continue to work to find a way forward. We continue to assess resources and find a pathway that allows us to continue construction. But I’ve always believed that having dialogue can be helpful.
Puʻuhonua Leaders say Cultural Exchange was Unanswered:
Kanuha responded to the governor’s comments about failed attempts to meet saying, “The governor also said that he has reached out to leadership, but that we do not wish to meet. Again, a downright, absolute lie. I have never received any communication from the governor and none of us here have.”
According to Kahnuha, there was an attempt at a cultural exchange by TMT opponents about two weeks ago. “A group of individuals approached us and asked us if we would be willing to meet with the governor; if we would be willing to find a resolution that could be done culturally–and so I’m here to share the story that a couple of weeks ago.”
Kanuha said as part of his efforts to engage in discussion, he sent the governor a folded lāʻi (ti leaf) that contained two pebbles–one ʻiliʻili (small stone) and one koʻa (coral). “This goes back to the moʻolelo of Kamehameha and Keawemaʻuhili–when Keʻeaumoku is pushing Kamehameha to test Keawemaʻuhili’s alliance and his commitment in the pact with Kamehameha, and if in fact he would honor Kamehameha’s position,” Kanuha explained.
“And so, Kamehameha sends a kūkini (swift messenger) to Keawemaʻuhili in Hilo, and wrapped inside… a small piece of kapa (bark cloth)–are two rocks–a black one and a white one that would be recognized from the kōnane board. And he sends him there to ask him if they will have peace, or if they will have war. If he chooses the white rock, he chooses peace. If he chooses the black rock, he chooses war,” Kanuha explained.
Kanuha said that in making his presentation to the governor, he purposefully used lāʻi instead of kapa. “And the reason it was wrapped in a lāʻi, and not in kapa is because lāʻi–we can take out the diacritical(s) and we can see laʻi–peace, right; calm. And so we were reaffirming our commitment to peaceful action. Again as we’ve said over and over again, we are steadfastly committed to peaceful, non-violent action,” said Kanuha.
“All that presentation asked for was the governor’s same commitment,” said Kanuha. “That lāʻi was presented to the governor either a day or two before I gave it to those individuals. Those individuals had told me that the governor never opened the lāʻi. So, communication was sent back, in a cultural way–the way the governor requested, and he decided not only not to respond, but not even to look into the message that was sent to him,” Kanuha said.
“And so, I am here to say–he did say today that he would like to meet with leadership. I am not willing to meet with a liar,” said Kanuha. “I see no point in meeting with someone who has shown a lack of integrity, a lack of honesty, and has resorted to lies over and over and over again. I can not believe how many lies he was able to fit in such a short amount of time.”
Public Apology Sought:
Kanuha, who stood in unity with other leaders at the puʻuhonua called the governor’s words “desperate.” “He has no truth to stand on. His foundation has fallen apart, rock by rock–and at this point, it seems that he has no other choice, but to try and manipulate the minds of the community, and try to manipulate the minds of the public through lie after lie after lie,” said Kanuha.
“We are here showing our unity. We are here showing our commitment to each other and to Maunakea. And if the governor wishes to meet with any of us, and to have any conversations, and for us to believe that there’s any good faith in this endeavor to communicate, he must issue a public apology. We will not move forward with negotiations until we know that this governor has some sense of decency and some sense of honesty, and some sense of integrity. Otherwise, it’s wasted time,” said Kanuha.
Leaders at the puʻuhonua said the don’t have time to waste as they are organizing. “We’re getting ready to mālama our mauna. And if all he wants to do is waste our time and get us off the mountain so he can tell us more lies, it is not going to happen.”
Both sides accused each other of spreading irresponsible information. For Kanuha, he said, “If you want to beat us, beat us on truth because that’s the only thing that we stand on. We’ve spoken the truth from day one. We will continue to speak the truth. Our stance is based on the truth of the knowledge and the information that we have regarding this issue.”
“And so to the governor, look deep inside yourself and try to find–if you have any humanity left in you, any decency, any sense of honesty. Dig down deep and try to bring that back out… and then we’ll move forward,” said Kanuha.
As the weekend approaches, there’s a potential for the turnout to be larger than what was seen in the first five days.
State officials estimate that there were about 1,000+ people in the area and around the intersection of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (formerly known as Saddle Road) and Maunakea Access Road on Friday. · There were no arrests or injuries reported on Friday.
Those at the puʻuhonua were welcoming of interest. “Come to the puʻuhonua. We invite all of you. Come to the puʻuhonua. Tomorrow is a Saturday. The next day is a Sunday. It’s a weekend. Bring your family. Bring your ʻohana. Come eat with us. Come talk story with us. Come sing with us. Come chant with us. Come dance with us.
During his prepared statement, Gov. Ige said he is committed to avoiding violence by anyone and keeping everyone safe. “Because of this, I have decided not to escalate the situation by calling in additional National Guard troops at this time. I have never ever considered using tear gas at Maunakea; however, there are thousands of people on the mountain and I encourage all to remain respectful and calm.”
One reporter asked about the current number of deployed National Guard troops and if the current deployment would remain in place. The governor said the reporter’s estimation of 80 troops was “way more that what’s been called up” at this point. He said he would be able to supply media with a more solid number and clarified that he is not increasing the number that is currently activated.
According to the Governor, the National Guard is providing, transportation of personnel and equipment as well as support for managing roadblocks and traffic.
Police From Outer Islands:
In response to a question about a surge and then retreat of police at the Maunakea site since Monday, Gov. Ige said, “We are looking at and planning for what is the best way to have a safe operation that can move equipment up the mountain. So we had made plans to increase police participation as the effort proceeded. We will continue to assess the situation,” reiterating his stance to “not escalate and add more National Guard troops.” The governor also confirmed that the lead law enforcement agency for the operation is the State Sheriffs.
When asked about use of law enforcement and if there is an expiration date on when their role will be done, Gov. Ige responded saying, “We are working with the Hawaiʻi Island police as well as the other counties and obviously we are fully aware that they have responsibilities in their home counties. So we continue to look at what the needs of our current situation is, and how we can coordinate the resources from Honolulu County as well as Maui County.”
“We are asking them to be better enforcers and police of that site because we are concerned that it may become unsafe if too many people are there,” said Gov. Ige about safety at the puʻuhonua.
State officials say that many questions have been asked about why more can’t be shared about law enforcement activities. “The reason is for safety and security purposes,” according to a state issued press release. “In law enforcement, there is a focus on decreasing vulnerabilities while conveying essential information. Law enforcement has continually assured it has the resources necessary to bring about a peaceful resolution – which is the top priority.”