Kupuna protesters plead not guilty

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Kahookahi Kanuha, left, one of the TMT protest leaders, talks with Marie Alohalani Brown, one of nine kupuna arraigned Friday in Hilo District Court for allegedly obstructing Maunakea Access Road on July 17.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Dozens pack a Hilo courtroom Friday with dozens more waiting in the hallway as nine of 38 individuals arrested July 17 for during a blockade of Maunakea Access Road on July 17 entered not guilty pleas to misdemeanor obstruction. Demonstrators have prevented construction vehicles and workers from scaling Maunakea to build the Thirty Meter Telescope since July 15.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Edleen "Aunty Tootsie" Peleiholani talks to the media following arraignment and not guilty pleas for her and eight other kupuna for misdemeanor obstruction Friday at the Hilo courthouse. Police arrested 38 individuals on July 17 for allegedly blocking Maunakea Access Road to prevent construction trucks and workers from scaling the mountain to build the Thirty Meter Telescope.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Jim Albertini, a longtime local activist, was one of nine individuals who entered a not guilty plea Friday to misdemeanor obstruction of Maunakea Access Road on July 17 to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Tomas Belsky, a Hilo artist and activist, was one of nine individuals who entered a not guilty plea Friday to misdemeanor obstruction of Maunakea Access Road on July 17 to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Ranette Robinson was one of nine individuals who entered a not guilty plea Friday to misdemeanor obstruction of Maunakea Access Road on July 17 to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

About 200 people showed up Friday in Hilo to support nine people facing their initial court date for charges of obstructing Maunakea Access Road on July 17 to prevent construction vehicles and workers from scaling Maunakea to build the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The nine — Jim Albertini, Tomas Belsky, Marie Alohalani Brown, Ana Kahoopii, Kaliko Kanaele, Carmen Hulu Lindsey, Edleen Peleiholani, Hawley Reese and Ranette Robinson — all pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor obstruction charges. They were the first of 38 individuals arrested on the third day of protests on the mountain.

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Peleiholani, who’s known as “Aunty Tootsie,” was attired in a bright red blouse with a Hawaiian floral print and ti leaf lei, bearing a red- and yellow-feathered kahili. She told Hilo District Judge Bruce Larson, “I plead not guilty of being on Hawaiian land.”

Larson ordered all nine to appear at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 for pre-trial conferences. Trials will presumably be set during those court dates.

“I arrived here at the courthouse a little after 8 o’clock, and there was no room in the courtroom for me,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the protesters, who call themselves kia‘i, or “protectors” of the mountain. “It was already full. The hallways were filled with probably well over a hundred people with another hundred or so inside. Our kupuna took a stand. They made a sacrifice for something much larger than themselves, for the lahui (nation), for the ‘aina (land), for the mauna (mountain). And so, people are here to support them and let them know that no matter how long the process … they’re not in this alone. And it’s beautiful. It’s nice to see all the support for them.

“What you can see today is that there’s support for Maunakea wherever you go, whether it’s on the mauna, whether it’s down here.”

Lindsey, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Maui trustee, said after the hearing she was heading back up to the protest site on the access road where it intersects Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road.

“I can’t come to this island without going up to support the cause, you know, the love of our mauna,” Lindsey said. “I think it’s a very positive movement, and I can see the unification of our people, so it’s very, very exciting.”

Many of the demonstrators consider Maunakea sacred, including Brown, an associate professor of religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who is the faculty specialist in Hawaiian religion.

“I was arrested for attempting to prevent further desecration of Mauna a Wakea,” Brown said, using a name for the mountain that connects it to Wakea, literally the “sky father.”

“It’s a spiritual awakening. It’s a huliau. It’s a time of change, and we’ve been building toward this for many decades,” she added.

Peleiholani said she was asked to join the kupuna in the front line of the protest, “I guess, because I have white hair, too.”

“I felt so honored to be in there,” she said, becoming emotional. “So when I sat next to the kupunas, they told me, ‘Aunty, you know, you’re sitting in the front row. We’re going to get arrested.’ ‘For what?’ They said, ‘For obstruction.’

“Now, there are both sides lined up, there were all the sheriffs. I mean, anybody would be intimidated … by the law. But because the kupunas sat there in love for their people, their moopunas (grandchildren) and for the mauna, and for the whole world — we are the people of aloha. There is nobody else that practice kapu aloha like us.”

Asked her age, Peleiholani shot back, “That’s a secret,” eliciting laughter from those who heard.

Obstruction carries a potential year in jail upon conviction, and the remaining 29 individuals arrested face court dates next month and in October.

Maunakea Access Road continues to be blocked by demonstrators protesting the construction of the $1.4 billion telescope.

On Monday, the state Department of Transportation placed detailed no parking signs on Daniel K. Inouye Highway near the protest site, and police announced Thursday they had issued more than 600 traffic citations and arrested seven individuals as a result of stepped up traffic enforcement in the area.

“The new parking signs, you know, the no parking, no standing, no loading/unloading, we look at that as a tactic of intimidation and harassment, trying to suppress, in a sense, the amount of people that are there and our ability to be there,” Kanuha said. “But I don’t think it’s made any difference. Our people continue to show up. We will continue to show up. Adjustments have to be made based on those things, and we’ll make them.

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“You know, 10 new signs on the side of the road are not going to prevent us from protecting Maunakea. They can put up 10 signs, they can put 100 signs, they can put 2,000 signs. People will continue to be there, will continue to stand in kapu aloha, and will continue to protect Maunakea from further desecration through the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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