Proposed rules for managing Maunakea lands draw fierce criticism

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Mililani Trask testifies during a public hearing Tuesday about the University of Hawaii’s proposed new administrative rules for managing Maunakea lands.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Randy Moore, the sole member of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents in attendance, listens to testimony during a public hearing Tuesday at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo about proposed new administrative rules for managing Maunakea lands.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The crowd applauds after Mehana Kihoi testified during a public hearing Tuesday at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo about proposed new administrative rules for managing Maunakea lands.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Mehana Kihoi holds a sign that reads “NO JURISDICTION” during a public hearing Tuesday at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo about the University of Hawaii’s proposed new administrative rules for managing Maunakea lands.

“Institutional racism.”

“Colonization.”

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“Genocide.”

Those words and others were used during a heated public hearing Tuesday evening at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo about the draft of University of Hawaii’s proposed new administrative rules for managing Maunakea.

More than 30 people submitted verbal testimony about the proposed rules, which would prohibit certain activities and items on Maunakea land, require permits for certain other activities on the land and would allow an agent of UH — referred to as “the president’s designee” — to control access to the mountain at his or her discretion.

All of those who submitted verbal testimony Tuesday did so in vehement opposition to the proposed rules. Several pointed out specific complaints with aspects of the rules, with some citing unacceptable vagueness or internal contradictions.

Testimony quickly gave over to passion, however, with most speakers denouncing the rules as unfairly discriminatory toward Hawaiian cultural practitioners — one testifier, a former tour guide named Tom Peek, called the proposed rules a “draconian” attempt to “take over the mountain.”

Sierra Club member Nelson Ho said the various prohibitions that would be imposed by the rules — including a prohibition on producing sound “in a manner and at times that create a nuisance,” including with musical instruments — amount to institutional racism aimed at cutting off Hawaiians from their traditional worship practices.

Other testifiers, including Hawaiian activist Mililani Trask, protested the rules’ requirements that certain cultural practices might require special use permits and that groups of 10 or more require permits while permit requirements for tour groups appear more generous — for example, while special use permits for practitioners only last for the duration of their event, tour permits have no maximum term.

“These rules are replete with provisions that criminalize our practice,” Trask said. “There is not a damn thing we do when we pray that meets your compatibility requirements.”

Trask also criticized the rules from the perspective of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, saying the rules are a naked attempt to bait Hawaiians into protesting, giving state and federal authorities further excuse to enforce control over the mountain.

Many testifiers invoked the Hawaiian Kingdom in their testimony, to general applause from the attendees. One testifier, holding a sign reading “No Jurisdiction,” deferred the majority of her allotted three minutes of speaking time to stand in silent protest before Randy Moore, the sole member of UH’s Board of Regents in attendance.

The absence of the remainder of the board did not go unnoticed.

Testifier Roxane Stewart said the board’s apparent declination to attend rendered the hearing a farce and doubted UH’s sincerity in seeking public feedback, to murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

“Does this mean the board won’t even consider what we say?” Stewart asked. “Could it be this process is for naught?”

While several testifiers voiced support for the university and even for the astronomical platform at the summit of Maunakea, all agreed that respecting Hawaiian culture was more important.

“I am not Hawaiian, but I care about their rights,” said Hilo lawyer Peter Kubota. “They’ve been practicing on the mountain for the last 1,000 years … It was their mauna before us.”

Another testifier summarized what seemed to be the general opinion of the proposed rules: “43 pages of doo-doo.”

Moore made no comment throughout the testimony, merely thanking attendees at the end of the hearing for sharing their views.

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One more public hearing about the proposed rules is slated for Friday at UH Maui. Citizens can submit testimony electronically at hawaii.edu or by emailing uhhar@hawaii.edu until 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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