About two dozen people calling themselves “kanaka rangers” held an unauthorized checkpoint Monday along the Maunakea Access Road.
They staged themselves about 700 yards from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway and erected a small shack next to the access road on property belonging to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
The makeshift structure was named “Hale o Kuhio” after Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole, who spearheaded passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. A few inverted Hawaii flags were flown.
Organizers, including members of a group called the Beneficiaries Trust Council, said they are frustrated by delays in putting beneficiaries on DHHL land around Maunakea and were staging the checkpoint to mark Prince Kuhio Day.
By keeping track of who was on the road, also used to access land held in trust for Hawaiians in the area, Kalaniakea Wilson said they were practicing resource management. No one was being told to leave or denied access, he said.
“It’s a Hawaiian management program. It’s a ranger program,” Wilson said. “It’s not a protest.”
Wally Ishibashi, DHHL commissioner for East Hawaii, said the checkpoint wasn’t sanctioned by the agency, though he understands the organizers’ frustration.
The beneficiary wait list is more than 22,000 statewide. Ishibashi said some of the longest delays are with pastoral or agricultural lands, such as those around Maunakea, where DHHL holds 67,000 acres in trust.
“They’re getting desperate, and desperate people do desperate things,” he said.
Ishibashi said lack of water infrastructure is one of the reasons for the delay in issuing leases in the area.
“We’re land rich and cash poor,” he said.
The checkpoint wasn’t related to the Thirty Meter Telescope or other issues surrounding management of Maunakea, though some of those present were part of the TMT protests held on the mountain a few years ago. TMT opponents held a similar checkpoint ahead of a roadblock during one of the protests.
In this case, there were no reports of anyone blocking the road, and a state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman said an enforcement officer was monitoring the situation. The road above Halepohaku was closed because of snow.
When a reporter was present, participants, wearing reflective safety vests, were waving to motorists to encourage them to stop. The motorists were then asked where they were going. A stop sign stood in a traffic cone on the side of the road.
The interaction lasted a few moments, and drivers were wished a happy Prince Kuhio Day.
Lakea Trask, who participated in the TMT protests on the mountain, characterized the action as direct land management by those who are supposed to benefit from the land trust.
“We’re here to assert and exercise our rights,” he said. “… We’re the kanaka on the land. This is direct accountability.”
Asked if the checkpoint would continue beyond the holiday, Wilson said that’s up to the “community.”
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.