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Lawmakers to DHHL: Don’t clear protesters

Although the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands had planned a sweep of individuals who continue to occupy the area around the Maunakea Access Road, three Hawaii lawmakers have formally asked the department chair to explore possibilities that would permit the protesters to remain on the mountain.

Protesters against the Thirty Meter Telescope — who refer to themselves as kia‘i or protectors — encamped in the area surrounding the access road in 2019 when construction of the controversial observatory was set to begin.

“The kupuna and kia‘i who remain on Maunakea continue to respect, honor and protect the mauna each day they are there,” state Senate Minority Leader Kurt Fevella of Oahu, Hilo Sen. Laura Acasio and Kailua-Kona Rep. Jeanne Kapela said in an Aug. 24 letter to DHHL chairman William Aila Jr.

“They are not squatters; nor are they homeless. During their time on the mauna, they have picked up and removed trash left behind by squatters, partiers and visitors. They have also educated visitors, shared the culture and explained the history of this sacred place, Maunakea,” the letter stated.

Other departments have given permission for citizens to lawfully occupy state lands through memorandum of agreements and rights of entry, and DHHL has the same power, according to the letter.

“Moving forward with plans to remove them will only compel thousands of protectors to return to the mauna in their defense,” the lawmakers wrote. “Given the rampant increase in COVID-19 cases and the contagiousness of the Delta variant, these results would undoubtedly be a worsening of the state’s current health crisis, and a further strain on limited state and county resources.”

Acasio shared similar sentiments.

“After learning of DHHL’s plans to sweep kupuna and kia‘i from the Pu‘u Huluhulu area, I was immediately concerned that this action could potentially compel people to gather at a time in the Delta/COVID crisis that would create unsafe conditions for kia‘i and law enforcement alike,” she said Friday in an emailed statement to the Tribune-Herald. “My biggest concern is an action of this kind, during an emergency health crisis, when we should not be gathering or compelling folks to gather.”

The letter followed an Aug. 18 meeting the legislators, other kupuna and kia‘i attended with Aila, who explained that the department planned to do a sweep.

“Following this discussion, you agreed to explore the options of entering into a memorandum of agreement or issuing a right of entry instead,” the three lawmakers wrote. “This letter formalizes the request that led to that agreement and calls on you to earnestly explore all options for protecting all beneficiaries in accordance with your duty as DHHL chair.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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