by Andrew Walden
Telescope? What telescope?
As protesters pour into the cameras view atop the Saddle Road, Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Trustees are reminding Governor Ige of OHA’s real goal—not stopping the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) but gaining control of thousands of acres atop Mauna Kea.
A July 12, 2019 letter to Ige signed by OHA Trustees Chair Colette Machado and Trustee Dan Ahuna yields this nugget:
As you know, OHA has no position on the siting of the TMT on Maunakea….
In a July 14, 2019 news release, Machado and Ahuna urge:
We as a society must set aside our differences on TMT….
Machado and Ahuna attempt to co-opt the protesters--not as anti-Telescope ‘protectors’ but:
“OHA beneficiaries and others who have long voiced concerns about the state’s decades-long mismanagement of Maunakea.”
And beneficiaries they are. Many of the protesters are affiliated with ‘immersion schools’ and non-profits funded by OHA.
In a July 17 statement issued just as police began making the first arrests, OHA again attempts to co-opt the Mauna Kea protesters:
…Regardless of your position on TMT, we must all agree with Gov. Ige’s 2015 statement that the state has “failed” Maunakea.
OHA will continue to proceed with our lawsuit against the state and UH for their mismanagement of Maunakea. We continue to call for the state and UH to be held accountable as fiduciaries for our trust resources, and we demand that a new management structure is immediately installed for Maunakea.
Media consumers will be “pana po’o” over those statements. After years of media-borne agit-prop, a Google search for “sacred Mauna Kea” pulls up 7,460 results. Reacting to the protests, a UH Manoa grad student “studying indigenous history and settler colonialism” tells West Hawaii Today, “Money will never justify the desecration of sacred places.”
$50M should just about cover it.
OHA’s point person on Mauna Kea issues, Kealoha Pisciotta, in 2008, demanded $50M a year, saying “the rent is past due.” In 2002, former OHA Trustees Chair Clayton Hee, demanded astronomers give OHA “$20 million in endowments.”
Governor Ige’s 2015 10-Point Plan for Mauna Kea included transfer to DLNR—not OHA-- jurisdiction of “all lands (over 10,000 acres) not specifically needed for astronomy.” The acreage is part of the ‘Ceded Land’ trust held by the State for five purposes delineated in the Admission Act including, “support of the public schools and other public educational institutions.”
At the center of its current strategy, a 2017 lawsuit filed by OHA “requests the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and to terminate UH’s general lease for the mountain for breach of the lease’s terms.”
In the news release announcing the lawsuit, OHA also de-emphasized the telescope. OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna is quoted:
“This is not about any one telescope. This lawsuit is about addressing the state’s failure to manage the entire mountain for nearly half a century.”
“It’s time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to provide the level of aloha and attention to Mauna Kea that it deserves. We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the university’s master lease.”
With the current master lease set to expire in 2033, UH lease renewal efforts are again underway after stops and starts going beck to 2013. The UH Regents will be considering new administrative rules for Mauna Kea at their August 22, 2019 meeting.
How can OHA be trusted as a land manager given its mis-management of Waimea Valley and other assets?
In January, 2017 lawyers for OHA’s limited liability corporations argued that “Sole title to the land comprising Waimea Valley was transferred to Hi’ipaka LLC (by OHA) in 2007. The State does not own the valley nor any of Hi’ipaka’s other assets….” Rejecting a UIPA open records request from Hawai’i Free Press, OHA’s LLCs pursued that line of reasoning, claiming they were not state assets--and therefore immune to UIPA--until Honolulu First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree rejected their claims in his June 25, 2019, “Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law.”
For nearly a year, OHA insiders have lied to the legislature and stonewalled an audit of their secretive LLCs—thus placing OHA’s legislative funding at risk. When Trustee Keli’i Akina challenged this, the other trustees voted to “investigate’ him for ‘disloyalty’.
OHA once had a deal to support TMT in exchange for money—they welched on it when the 2015 protests began.
At a July 15, 2014 Board of Trustees discussion, OHA Public Policy Manager Sterling Wong described the deal explaining “the rent has been OHA's primary concern.” As Trustees decided not to join calls for a contested case hearing on TMT, the word “rent” or “rental” came up 22 times, including these juicy tidbits from the minutes:
“should OHA fund efforts to stop the hopeful first step of the highest ever lease rent?” – Leonard Hashijo, Hawaii Council of Carpenters
“10% of the rent amount will be going to OHA and possibly a proposal for 20%” – Peter Lee, Hawaii Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET)
“$250,000 will go to the Ke Ali'i Pauahi Foundation for Hawaiian students. The other $750,000 goes to the Hawaii Community Foundation. This is over and above the percentage of rent coming to OHA.” – Trustee Robert Lindsey
“The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) also has land on Mauna Kea. She asks that some of the rent go to them as well.” -- Lilian Kaeha
“DHHL will have to make their own request.” – then-OHA-Chair Colette Machado
“It is correct that Trustees support the project; this property is an important part of a much larger picture. The State is not serious about the ceded land revenue discussion.” – Trustee Peter Apo
“As fiduciaries the Trustees are responsible for making sure that OHA collects enough to fund beneficiary programs. The University has taken license to do things out of their jurisdiction. The University is the real culprit, not the TMT.” – Trustee Rowena Akana
“…(I applaud) OHA for looking at this from a fiduciary standpoint. If this telescope will be built then please make sure Native Hawaiians get its share of the rents.” – Marilyn Leimomi Khan
But after three days of the 2015 protests, then-Trustee Peter Apo argued the payoffs were no longer enough:
UH pays the state $1 a year for the land lease. UH then sub-leases to the observatories for $1 a year. Then the observatories sell telescope viewing time. The average viewing time rate I’m aware of was $1 per second….
So how does one bridge the apex when science slams head on into culture? … An expensive, congressionally supported attempt to bridge the gap between the two sides gave rise to the Hilo-based ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a cultural science museum and planetarium which is intended to bring the Hawaiian community and astronomers together to discuss and mitigate their differences. While ‘Imiloa has been an educational boon for Hilo, from a political perspective, it seems to have fallen short of its diplomatic objective of building a bridge between the two camps.
When Apo in 2015 called for a construction “stand-down” KITV reported, “getting rid of the telescopes is not his goal.”
Now Apo, writing in the July 9, 2019 Star-Advertiser, questions whether the destructiveness of OHA-sponsored activism is itself placing the State in violation of its trust obligations:
The permitted independence of OHA from the reins of legislative and gubernatorial authority has been misread by OHA as permission to govern in a vacuum of public responsibility to the rest of Hawaii. The fact is that the ultimate trust responsibility for “ … the betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians,” which includes the existence of OHA, squarely remains with the state of Hawaii as embodied in the Hawaii Admissions Act as a pivotal condition of statehood. If OHA continues to waver in carrying out the privilege of its responsibility much longer, the failure of the governor and state Legislature to intervene would compound the breach of trust….
The Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope controversy is an example of such a crossroad. OHA’s poorly disguised support of the protesters’ questionable claims of cultural injury, as measured against the once-in-a-lifetime global leadership opportunity for Hawaii in the field of astronomy, is an example….
OHA can’t make money off Mauna Kea if telescopes aren’t being built there—but how can astronomers rely on an organization which has no problem placing all of the telescopes at risk to gain control of the land?
Some native Hawaiians have advocated utilizing the Hawaii astronomy ecosystem to improve science education in Hawaii so the Hawaiian children of today can become the astronomers and scientists of tomorrow.
But OHA’s rent-seeking mentality does not see profit in that scenario. Thus OHA is effectively against Prince Kuhio’s goal of promoting middle class values among native Hawaiians.
During the earlier round of anti-telescope protests, Kamuela astronomy student Mailani Neal spoke up in favor of the telescope project. The April, 2015, response from anti-telescope leader Kamahana Kealoha: “Their throats should be slashed and their blood should be spilled on our Sacred Mauna A Wakea!"
Other examples of violence by anti-telescope activists include:
Some people will be on the road to the future and other people will be on the side of the road attempting to collect tolls. Which would you rather be?