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Hawaiʻi will not refile charges against kūpuna who protested TMT

Giant Telescope
Caleb Jones
Demonstrators block a road at the base of Hawaii's tallest mountain, in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, on July 15, 2019, to protest the construction of a giant telescope on land that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

Hawaiʻi's new attorney general said Tuesday more than two dozen elders won't be subject to another round of prosecutions for blocking a road three years ago to prevent the construction of a new telescope on a mountain summit many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

Law enforcement arrested 38 kūpuna, mostly Native Hawaiians, during a 2019 demonstration against the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Maunakea. Of these, 30 had their cases dismissed after a 2021 Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruling clarified the process for filing criminal complaints and said authorities had been following the incorrect procedure.

Attorney General Anne Lopez had the option to refile charges but said it wasn't in the best interest of Hawaiʻi's people to continue to prosecute the kūpuna. Gov. Josh Green appointed Lopez to be attorney general after he took office last month.

Ryan Finnerty

Green, in a news release from Lopez's office, said he appreciated her decision.

“The time has come to build a new pathway forward that considers all people and is respectful of our host culture,” Green said. “This is the kind of justice we want to see for our kūpuna, who stood up for what they believe in — their culture and their ancestors. I will work to find a way forward together.”

The protests helped convince Hawaiʻi's leaders they needed a new approach to managing Maunakea. Last year, the state formed a new governing body for the mountain called the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority.

Native Hawaiian cultural experts — including one of the arrested elders — have voting seats on the authority. The governing body is tasked with protecting Maunakea for future generations and balancing science with culture and the environment.

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