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Lawmakers Warn State Removal of Maunkea Kia‘i Could Result in Larger Gatherings

Catherine Cruz

Several legislators are warning Hawaiian Home Lands officials that any removal of those calling themselves kiaʻi or protectors of Maunakea could prompt an even larger gathering amidst a surge in COVID cases.

They are formally requesting the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands explore options of entering into an agreement with the group that continues to occupy the base of the mountain.

Planned sweeps of those gathered at the foot of Maunakea by DHHL could have devastating public health consequences for the entire island, Kona Rep. Jeanne Kapela said.

"If they were to do something like this, COVID or not, and even if our hospitals are full and even if we're in the very worst part of the pandemic that we’ve seen so far — people wouldn't hesitate to protect Maunakea. We would just continue to see case numbers skyrocket," Kapela said. "It's never a good time, but now is absolutely the wrong time."

Kapela and Senators Laura Acasio and Kurt Fevella sent a letter to DHHL Chairman William Ailā, Jr. urging he allow the group to lawfully occupy DHHL lands at Puʻu Huluhulu, either through a right-of-entry permit or a memorandum of agreement.

A DHHL spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter, but did not comment on whether the agency is considering an agreement or if planned sweeps are still in the works.

In an earlier meeting, Aila had said the department has plans to remove individuals who continue to occupy the base of Maunakea.

While the gathering of supporters and allies of those calling themselves kiaʻi or protectors of Maunakea are no longer in the thousands, Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the group’s leaders, says a small, rotating group of five to ten kiaʻi are still holding ceremonies and prayer at Puʻu Huluhulu.

"We wouldn’t necessarily need a permit," Pisciotta said. "You know, we’re not asking for a permit to worship, is what I’m trying to say. We are asking for some kind of agreement so that our mountain is not in danger and that the people are not in danger, either."

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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