Taking a stand at Standing Rock; TMT protesters join Native Americans in North Dakota conflict

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Native Hawaiians who oppose construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea are seeing reflections of their cause in the waters of the Missouri River.


Native Hawaiians who oppose construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea are seeing reflections of their cause in the waters of the Missouri River.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota have been protesting a new oil pipeline planned to cross the river upstream from their reservation, stirring fears of contamination of their drinking water source and damage to sacred sites.

But the tribe isn’t standing alone.

Supporters from indigenous communities throughout the United States have traveled to the reservation offering aid, including some Hawaii Island residents who participated in protests of the proposed observatory on Mauna Kea last year.

Michael Kyser Jr., who also goes by the name “Kalaemano,” said in a Facebook message Thursday that there are four Hawaii residents at Standing Rock, including one from Oahu who was arrested. Kyser Jr., a Kalapana resident who has provided video updates through social media, said he has been there since Aug. 20.

“It reminded me of our stand for Mauna A Wakea last year,” Kyser wrote, when explaining why he made the long journey. “The same emotions were hitting me, tears were shed as I was looking at all the (social media posts).”

Pua Case of Waimea said she was leaving Thursday with her daughter, Hawane Rios, to travel to Standing Rock.

She said some Native American protesters who are at the reservation supported their efforts to stop TMT construction, and now they are returning the favor.

“They have put out a call for us to come,” said Case, a party in the TMT contested case hearing. “If someone stands for you, you stand for them as well.”

Some at Standing Rock identified themselves as “protectors,” which TMT opponents also prefer to be called.

A judge is expected to rule today on whether to block pipeline construction.

The tribe’s lawsuit alleges that the Dakota Access pipeline violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and threatens the region’s water supply and sacred ancient sites outside of the 2.3-million acre reservation.

The tribe argues that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not have used a streamlined permit process when it reviewed the pipeline and that engineers did not do enough to consult with tribal members about the $3.8 billion project as required by the historic-preservation law.

TMT opponents prevailed in their own case against the $1.4 billion project, forcing the international observatory to re-seek approval for its Conservation District land use permit. The high court in December ruled the state Board of Land and Natural Resources violated the state Constitution by voting to approve the permit before a contested case hearing was convened.

That permit application is now before retired judge Riki May Amano, who is overseeing a new contested case for the next generation telescope, expected to keep Hawaii at the forefront of astronomy.

While telescope supporters might recoil at comparisons between the observatory and pipeline projects, TMT opponents, many of whom believe telescope construction will desecrate a mountain they consider sacred, say they see parallels between the disputes.

“Just like home guys,” said Kyser, regarding the upcoming court decision, in a video posted on the Facebook page “Na‘au News Now.” The page was created to document TMT protests on Mauna Kea, and has served as a link between activists in Hawaii and the reservation.

“I’ve been through this before,” he added. “I’m a little more prepared now.”

Case, who was a plaintiff in the TMT lawsuit, said both issues come down to protecting water. Some TMT opponents say they fear the telescope will pollute an aquifer under the mountain, a claim project supporters say is unfounded.

“They are standing for everybody’s water,” she said. “It’s not just the Indians who are affected, but they are willing to take a stand.”

Standing Rock is located about 70 miles south of Bismarck, N.D., the nearest city center and the state capital.

Without support from other indigenous communities, Case said they might not be heard.

“As they said themselves, if they had been standing alone, if it was only them, they probably would not have any attention at all, and they know that,” she said.

“It’s a unifying movement.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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

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