EnVision Maunakea’s process coming to a close; about 100 people participate

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A snow-capped Maunakea in 2017, as seen from Alae Cemetery in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, David Rodman and Don Mitchell of EnVision Maunakea.

Organizers of EnVision Maunakea say they had one main goal — to start a respectful conversation regarding Hawaii’s tallest mountain and its future.

In that, they say they’ve succeeded through 15 listening sessions around Hawaii Island that recorded residents’ viewpoints on a place prized by many, including Native Hawaiians and astronomers, during the past year. But, as that process comes to a close, they’re hoping the respectful dialogue they witnessed continues.

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“I hope that we’re planting that seed,” said David Rodman, a Kapaau resident and former mediator who is helping facilitate the sessions.

EnVision Maunakea has been led by a volunteer steering committee, meeting facilitators and others whose job was simply to listen. It is supported by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, UH’s Office of Maunakea Management, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

The idea came to fruition following protests that shut down construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, opposed by some Hawaiians. The issue has since divided many in the community.

But Rodman and Don Mitchell, a retired anthropologist from Hilo who is part of the listening hui, told the Tribune-Herald earlier this month that the listening sessions were focused on getting residents’ thoughts and feelings about the mountain itself, not specifically astronomy. Neither was it about TMT.

They said their report, which could be done in the spring, will be a reflection of what they heard during the private sessions, which were intended to allow participants to speak freely. There will be no recommendations. Media access was prohibited during the sessions.

“People who pay attention or read what we say we heard will probably make recommendations, but not us,” Mitchell said. “We’re saying the people we talked to say the following things.”

About 100 people have participated so far, though there might be one or two more sessions, they said during a Jan. 12 interview.

Both men acknowledged the report can’t be presented as an official survey or a reflection of the island as a whole. Participants either were asked to join or volunteered themselves. They included Hawaiian cultural practitioners, homesteaders, hunters, businesspeople, students, astronomers and others, they said.

Rodman said each listening session started with participants being asked about their relationship to the mountain, what they value about it, how that can be supported without interfering with someone else’s point of view, and how do they see what they value evolving over the coming decades.

In general, two common themes they heard from participants is that they feel deeply, even spiritually, connected to the mountain and that they think there are too many visitors going to the top, particularly during sunset.

Regarding the spiritual connections, they said they heard that expressed from Hawaiian cultural practitioners, including those who consider the mountain sacred, from those who simply enjoy the calm the mountain brings, and astronomers who use the telescopes atop the mountain to study the universe.

Rodman said one astronomer commented regarding their work: “This is a spiritual experience for me. I just get chills when I’m doing my work. I’m looking at the heavens; I’m looking at history.”

They said there was a strong consensus that astronomy has a place on Maunakea, but people also want the mountain’s uniqueness to be preserved.

“By and large people do not object to the telescopes across the board,” Rodman said.

Still, people expressed concerns about management of the mountain, with the lack of clear access rules being an issue, they said. But, at the same time, people also don’t want their access restricted, they noted.

“What we’re hoping policymakers take away from this is a recognition that, in the view of a majority of the people that we spoke with, the management of Maunakea needs improvement,” Rodman said. “It needs better coordination. It needs more clarity. That’s one of the observations I think has been very universally or very commonly is more information needs to be made more readily available to everybody who is on their way up there.”

Regarding those concerns or comments, UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said he would encourage people to visit OMKM’s website, which includes the management plans.

He said finalizing administrative rules, which would address access, is still in the works. That process has been held up at least in part because of the TMT controversy.

Hawaiians traditionally saw the top of the mountain as a wao akua, or realm of the gods, where only alii or priests were allowed.

But how that should be looked at in a modern context, particularly when it’s fairly easy for anyone with a truck to drive up to the top, was a question several had.

On that issue, Mitchell said a Hawaiian man in Kona framed it this way: “What is the meaning of the realm of the gods in the time of the Toyota 4Runner?”

“He meant that seriously,” he said. “That’s an example of what many people talked about. … What do we do to make sure everybody is accommodated, everybody’s feelings are accommodated in some way?”

Rodman said opponents of TMT were invited to attend, though only a few participated.

The report will be made public and sent to policymakers, such as UH, which holds a master lease for the Maunakea Science Reserve until 2033. It intends to seek a new lease from the state.

Meisenzahl said UH will take a close look at the feedback in the report.

“Anything to engage the community and create better understanding and better address the concerns, we’re in full support of it,” he said.

Founding members of the EnVision Maunakea working group are: Susan Maddox, Friends of the Future; Greg Chun, OMKM board member; Ka‘iu Kimura, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center; Stephanie Nagata, OMKM director; and Doug Simons, CFHT director.

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For more information about EnVision Maunakea, visit www.envisionmaunakea.org.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.