Mauna Kea Kia’i: Speaking Truth to Liars

Saturday Breaking News: Hawaiian Homelands agency and the governor reportedly want remove (forcibly) the Kia’i–also access to Mauna Kea is completely denied to all Hawaiians, in violation of the state’s constitution. (Unlawful restrictions have been in place for a long time, actually.)

Update: 642 astronomers have signed the letter protesting the arrest and potential use of force against the kupuna on Mauna Kea. Link here.


The Kia’i (Protectors) of Mauna Kea have established a Pu’uhonua (sacred place of refuge) at Pu’u Huluhulu, across from the Mauna Kea access road. Yesterday the governor of Hawai’i flew to Hilo and met with Hawai’i County mayor, Harry Kim. He did not go to Pu’u Huluhulu and the access road to Mauna Kea to see anything for himself. Instead, he held a press conference of lies and false rumors, designed to discredit the Kia’i and to portray them as lawless, careless, and even criminal. It’s a common racist trope, is it not? This trope is often lobbed at Kanaka Maoli (“native Hawaiians”), whether or not there is even a shred of truth in any given situation.

An additional insult is expressed in the governor’s dissing of the Pu’uhonua itself, and how it–and all the people with it–are held and cared for. This callous insult reveals the depth of Ige’s ignorance and disregard of all matters connected to the Kanaka Maoli and their ‘aina and cultural practices. Sadly, he is not alone in this.

Here is a video of the Kia’i rebuttal to Ige’s lies, in a press conference of their own. It is riveting and thorough. The first speaker is Kaho’okahi Kanuha, who refutes the governor’s lies point by point.

Background: Kapu Aloha and Pu’uhonua

Before I get more into the content of the press conference, I want say more about the concept of a pu’uhonua. The Hawaiian Dictionary (Hawaiian-English/English-Hawaiian) defines pu’uhonua as “(1) Place of refuge, sanctuary, asylum, place of peace and safety” (M.K. Pukui, S.H. Elbert, 1971). Hawai’i island has at least two historical places of refuge, one at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau (now a park) and the other was in Waipio Valley on the north-east side of the island, the site of the Paka`alana Heiau. These are highly sacred places.

In 2018, during the months-long lava flow in Puna, the local community established a pu’uhonua to help those affected by the disaster. While this flow was happening, I spent hours watching live feeds and videos from the island, including footage of people volunteering at this site, and was immensely impressed by the expert community organizing and heart-felt generosity of the entire operation. These same deft community organizing skills are obvious today at Pu’u Huluhulu, where the sacred practice of Kapu Aloha is also foundational. Kapu Aloha encompasses a commitment to peaceful, non-violent action but is so much more. (FYI- Kapu Aloha and organizing skills were also foundational and evident during the long Kia’i encampment on Mauna Kea in 2015-2016, where some of the Kia’i did endure arrests and other acts of aggression and disrespect.)

Here is an article dated July 11, 2019 which contains a press release from HULI (Hawaiʻi Unity and Liberation Institute) and provides a glimpse into how and why keeping Kapu Aloha is intrinsic to the protection of sacred Mauna Kea.

In other words, before stepping into sacred places or ceremonies, you have to get your own self right, internalize the feelings of sacredness and awe, dedicate yourself to appropriate behavior. That’s how it’s done–in almost every spiritual tradition in the world. And the Kia’i are unwavering in their commitments to such traditions.

In this video, Kaho’okahi Kanuha and Andre Perez explain the establishment of the Pu’uhonua Pu’u Huluhulu, created in collaboration with The Royal Order of Kamehameha. The article that accompanies this video also contains an excerpt from the HULI press release which explains the jurisdiction of the land at Pu’u Huluhulu:

Puʻu Huluhulu is on Hawaiian Homes Trust Lands and is home to an ahu or alter that was erected in 1999 by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, a royal society established over 150 years ago by Kamehameha V. This ahu, that sits right at the base of the mauna, was built as a safe place so that kupuna or elders who could not make the trek up to the summit but wanted to acknowledge the mauna in their own way in a sacred space could do so. Puʻu Huluhulu therefore makes for a very relevant and appropriate space for this puʻuhonua and this was at the core of the collaborative efforts that took place today between the kiaʻi and members of the Royal Order.

So, here is clear, precise communication from the Kia’i and everything has been done “right and proper.” At least by the Kia’i. And that’s the whole point–those who are pushing for the desecration of Mauna Kea through the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), are mired in lies and deception. They are profoundly not right, and profoundly not proper.

Does Ige not understand how very serious these sacred places and practices are to the Kia’i? He underestimates the Kia’i, and Kanaka in general, every step of the way. A local guy, born and raised in Hawai’i, the son of “ethnic Japanese Americans of Okinawan descent” (Wikipedia), you’d think he’d know better. Even I, over here in California, can listen to videos and live streams from the Kia’i, and thus can understand at least something of the serious need for respect of these traditions. Why can’t a local governor, with staff and a budget, be better informed and far more truthful and respectful?

Back to the Kia’i Press Conference, July 19, 2019

The Chancellor of the Royal Order of Kamehameha is the second speaker to refute the governor’s press statements. He express his dismay that the governor would lie about drugs and alcohol at Pu’u Huluhula as the Royal Order is playing a 24/7 role in monitoring the safety, security, and appropriateness of behavior at the Pu’uhonua. (I am sorry, I have been trying to find the Chancellor’s name.)

The third speaker is Kumu Hula Paul Neves, also of the Royal Order of Kamehameha. He recounts the story of Ige’s 2015 visit to Mauna Kea, the visit I alluded to in a previous blog. (I had heard it soon after it happened, from Ku Ching, who along with Kumu Neves and one other person, graciously extended the courtesy of taking the governor to pray on the mountain, as requested). After detailing this history, Kumu Neves called strongly for the governor to apologize for slandering the Kia’i, including the ‘opio (youth) and kupuna (elders), and to apologize “to all Hawai’i.” This account, in my opinion, underscores the governor’s inability to “get it right” even when his own previous experiences on the Mauna could have prevented subsequent falsehoods.

Dr. Noenoe Wong-Wilson, one of the kupuna of Mauna Kea, was the fourth speaker. She said that due to the governor’s actions that the kia’i are “still under threat by law enforcement” and that access to Mauna Kea is still denied to the cultural practitioners. Imagine someone blocking the entrance to your church or temple, indefinitely. That’s what it’s like for the Kia’i and other cultural practitioners. And while Ige said he will not ask for additional National Guard (300 are already there), but Dr. Wong-Wilson said that the Kia’i “live in constant fear that they will be assaulted by law enforcement” (many have been flown from other islands). Dr. Wong-Wilson also points out that the governor and other public officials are harrassing companies which supply porta-potties and have not allowed one to be placed near to where the kupuna sit, many of whom use canes and wheelchairs. (Twelve are located across the road, and are paid for by the Kia’i, and are cleaned twice a day.)

FYI: In case you missed it, Gov. Ige declared a “state of emergency” on Thursday and requested the help of the National Guard to deal with a popular, peaceful, non-violent community action which so far has consisted of camping out, volunteering with chores, singing, playing music, doing hula, eating, talking, and enjoying fellowship. Usually states of emergency are reserved for hurricanes and earthquakes… In this case, the “emergency” concerns private corporate interests barging in on Kanaka land via a sub-lease! A friggin’ sublease that shouldn’t even exist, legally. Grrr… Okay, ’nuff said!

A fifth woman, whose name I sadly don’t know also, also pointed out that the state agencies are “quick to build bathroom facilities for the visitor industry” while “their own people, the residents…that descend from this land, the rightful owners of these lands, we have to ask our own government to provide us with bathroom facilities so that we can take care of our kupuna… shame, shame on you!” Dr. Wong-Wilson added that the Kia’i are not asking for the public to pay for the porta-potties–they are bearing the cost and just want to be able to place one closer to where the kupuna are spending their time. Dr. Wong-Wilson also pointed out that the Kia’i have complied with every single health and safety request made by the authorities but when they made this request for an additional “lua” (toilet) for the kupuna, it was denied.

This point is significant as one of the governor’s attempts to discredit the Kia’i is that they are causing “sanitation problems.” In truth, government agencies are causing any problems that could conceivably exist, by refusing reasonable requests and harrassing contractors. (And hey, we could get into the human waste problem caused by astronomy personnel, and mercury contamination of the island’s aquifer, caused by industrial waste from the telescopes… but why let a little thing like inconvenient truths get in the way of Ige’s alternate reality?)

Finally, Kealoha Pisciotta, a long-time activist on behalf of the Mauna, also reminded ,

“Mr. Ige, I was on the mountain with you when you came to pray. We made ho’okupu to offer to the akua, for you. Mr. Ige, it is shame, it is shame what you have done. Na akua, they see you now just as they saw you then. The akua is watching over us. That is why we would never disgrace the pu’uhonua or anywhere here. That is the rule, And you know, you need to remember that Kapu Aloha…requires truth. And now, today, you have no truth. And therefore you have no aloha…You’re hurting our heart and you know what, governor, you grew up here, you’re our family and you know the rules and you broke it today. Pau.”

At the conclusion, Lanakila Manguil affirmed that “the Kapu Aloha still stands. The Kapu Aloha is to maintain that we all hold ourselves in highest accord, highest conduct. No one here has ever broken that.” Lanakila also described the 24/7 traffic safety system that the Kia’i have created for people crossing the Saddle Road and for vehicles transversing it. This was to counter another “health and safety” lie told by the governor.

Thus concluded the Kia’i press statements as published via YouTube video.

A Live Stream, Video Tour of the Pu’uhonua

But wait, there’s more! Last night, I was watching a live feed of this same press conference (posted by Kāko’o Haleakalā), and so caught the subsequent commentary by Kaleikoa Ka’eo. He spoke of the nature of the leadership, volunteerism, and community spirit at the Pu’uhonua Pu’u Huluhulu. Kaleikoa is an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies, Department of Humanities, at theUH Maui College.

He was clear that the governor was not being truthful about the situation and provided numerous examples to refute Ige’s deceptions. Kaleikoa mentioned the “unsung heroes” at the Pu’uhonua–people working tirelessly to clean, cook, serve food, care for the elders, pass out water, bring hot food up to the mountain and take the trash back down. He said that community support has been “overwhelming” and a lot larger than even he had expected. He comments: “by David Ige saying those things [press conference lies] he’s really dismissing the real aloha work that’s going on in our community–and this is a community–and if you were to come here and see the support…it is amazing.” He invites anyone and everyone to come and see the leadership and unity that exists at the Pu’uhonua.

According to Kaleikoa, Ige’s claims are a “false narrative” and that Ige “doesn’t see the true humanity of who we are.” Kaleikoa pointed out that the whole TMT construction process “has really been one of making our people invisible.” Instead of acknowledging the Kanaka, whose own lands have fed and sheltered Ige’s family for at least a couple of generations, Kaleikoa says that Ige’s “eyes and his heart turn to protect the interests of foreign nationals.” Ige courts foreign power elites rather than acknowledge Kanaka Maoli as “true real human beings that still exist to this day” in their own lands. I interpret this as a mindset that allows Ige to conveniently (for him) dismiss the rights and claims of Kanaka Maoli, even those left to them in the “state” constitution.

Kaleikoa then gave a tour, showing the impressive cleanliness and streamlined nature of the entire operation. Talk about unity and leadership! Not to mention collaborative community spirit! And walking the walk… and all kinds of good things like that.

Not only are drugs and alcohol prohibited, but cigarettes are prohibited too. THAT’S how serious the Kia’i are about maintaining health and safety. The Pu’uhonua is extremely safe and sanitary, and of course family-friendly (lots of kids). There was no garbage or debris in sight. The Pu’uhonua has a system to sort and remove garbage, recyclables, and compost. I saw the traffic and pedestrian safety control methods in action, including lights, traffic monitors, etc. I think it is safe to say that this intersection is the only place in all Hawai’i that is monitored for safety 24/7. There was an array of twelve, well-maintained porta-potties, the medical tent, information tent, volunteer coordination table, coconut donation table, the Royal Order members who circulate among the Pu’uhonua, a huge amount of food, and so forth.

Honestly, I have never, ever seen a large gathering (from several hundreds to over two thousand) managed with so much efficiency, love, dedication, consideration, and over-all community spirit. As a disaster prep geek, who took Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) twice–the second time in Kea’au (2016)–this footage made me want to weep with joy. I know–I know–that this kind of skill set and attitude is in short supply in most communities here on the continent.

On a personal note, I have followed the Mauna Kea/Stop TMT issues for well over a decade, thanks to a long-term partnership (now ended) with one of original Kia’i, a kupuna involved in the court cases that halted work on the TMT, time and time again. Thanks to this relationship, I had an intimate “ring-side seat” even though I was thousands of miles away most of the time. I have been well schooled and well informed, and because I also use my own eyes and ears, I have seen how Kanaka Maoli rights and interests–and humanity–have been on the chopping block since day one of the TMT debacle. And though I’ve since broken up with the man involved, I never broke up with the Mauna. Back in California, I’ve still kept my antenna up for developments. My heart has been with this struggle for a long, long time. And so it is in that spirit that I am blogging and signal boosting at this time.

Others are doing far more. At least two hundred astronomers signed a letter deploring the use of police force against kupuna on the Mauna. And one hundred religious leaders also signed a letter of solidarity with the Kia’i (you can read the entire statement at that link). It was delivered to Ige’s office yesterday, while he was lying and hand-wringing over a non-existent emergency.

And hey, apparently TMT project manager, Gary Sanders, is perfectly willing to build the durn thing in the Canary Islands instead. Won’t you politely give him a call at (626)395-2997 or email him at sanders@tmt.org and let him know–again, politely–that Kanaka Maoli and many in the rest of the world would be so happy if the telescope didn’t desecrate Mauna Kea.

Please help. Read, signal boost, write letters, send money for bail for the kupuna who were arrested. Whatever you can! Thank you!

Ku Kia’i Mauna! We Are Mauna Kea.

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Design by Laulani Teale.

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