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Native Hawaiians need bigger voice in mountain oversight, Mauna Kea Hui says in opposition of new bill

Thirty Meter Telescope Maunakea Mauna Kea Hawaii Island
Caleb Jones/AP
This July 14, 2019, file photo shows a telescope at the summit of Maunakea, Hawaiʻi's tallest mountain. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

“The bill needs to die.” That’s Mauna Kea Hui’s stance on House Bill 2024, which seeks to set up a new governing body for Maunakea and give Native Hawaiians more of a say.

HB2024 crossed over to the Senate and advanced out of the Higher Education Committee on Wednesday with substantive amendments, ensuring that astronomy would have a future on the mauna and a seat on the proposed new overseeing authority.

HB 2024 calls for the transfer of Maunakea management authority from the University of Hawaiʻi to a new entity housed within UH Hilo — with daily operations overseen by the head of the UH Center for Maunakea Stewardship for at least three years during the transition period.

"While the bill references 'Mauna a Wakea,' it conjures up a lot of emotion for Mauna Kea and the Lahui (Hawaiian Nation) - if the Bill becomes law, its actual outcome may NOT be as it seems!" the Hui wrote in opposing testimony. "While the latest HB2024 HD1 draft appears on its face to be a very pro-Hawaiian and pro-Mauna Kea activity, there are major issues that are hidden between its lines!"

Prior to the committee meeting, Hui spokesperson Kealoha Pisciotta says the measure incorporates recommendations from a working group that did not receive public vetting.

Pisciotta believes the Native Hawaiian community needs to have a bigger voice in the oversight of the mountain.

"The community, the lāhui, needs to have a voice to talk about all the different ways in which Maunakea is used by traditional and cultural practitioners," she told The Conversation. "There's all kinds of things. There's star people, there's plant people — they have a lot of concern about all the alien species that are taking over the mountain as well."

"All of those things, the community needs to be involved in — and they're not involved. I mean, all we have is a few minutes to speak at the Legislature. That's not okay. We need to really come together and seek it out and take care of what our kuleana is as Native Hawaiians to our sacred mauna," she said.

Pisciotta says the community also needs to have input on decommissioning observatories that are no longer in use.

"We've never advocated to take them all down now. But if there are older ones, we do want them to be decommissioned as they're not going to be used," she said. "Decommissioning can be just as destructive as putting them up."

Pisciotta adds that her group is not against science, but it feels that the scientific community is aggressively seeking to desecrate a mountain the group sees as sacred.

The measure now awaits a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 22, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
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