Ethics Board to take on Maunakea road block

  • Bamboo poles make a roadblock at the Maunakea Access road in this July 20, 2019 photo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Protesters quiz occupants of a car before allowing telescope workers to pass a Maunakea Access Road roadblock in this July 20, 2019 photo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

The fences blocking Maunakea Access Road came down more than a month ago. But the debate over whether the government applied the law discriminately by not removing protesters and reopening the road is as robust as ever.

Some 16 testifiers weighed in on the issue Wednesday as the Board of Ethics considered a resolution allowing itself to conduct an investigatory hearing into why the rule of law wasn’t enforced at the protest site. Ten people also submitted emails.

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“The general tone of the emails we received were very positive toward our movement toward investigating,” said board member Nan Sumner-Mack.

The board, which is empowered to call officials to testify on their actions or lack of action, agreed to amend its resolution and continue its discussion at its Feb. 28 meeting.

The road was blocked from July 16 to Dec. 26 by protesters, who call themselves “kia’i,” or “protectors,” opposed to construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. The kia‘i allowed some vehicles, such as those of maintenance workers, to proceed up the mountain. But tour groups and others weren’t allowed access.

Protesters, who objected primarily on environmental and religious grounds, said the state closed the road first.

Most of those testifying in person also seemed open to an investigation, although not everyone agreed that law enforcement acted inappropriately by not arresting those blocking the road. Two asked the board why they wanted to “open this can of worms.”

“The same rights, privileges and protections are afforded to all citizens,” said testifier Lisa Malakaua. “The law is evenly applied no matter who you are. …The state of Hawaii and Hawaii County should fairly and equally enforce its own fair laws. … Be a voice for us.”

Veteran Michael Nathaniel said he served to help protect the nation, and he wants government leaders to uphold the constitution as well.

“Whether you like it or not, this is America….. to say we are illegally occupied, to say this is a fake state is an insult not only to me but to the nation,” Nathaniel said. “This is not OK. This is out of control.”

Several testifiers suggested the Board of Ethics also investigate actions by government officials they say violated the civil rights of those traveling on Saddle Road and people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest.

“You’re carpet bombing this place with citations to criminalize a civil movement on the lands of the public,” retired Hawaii Police Department Lt. Juergen Canda said of the 8,000-plus traffic citations doled out while the road blockage was ongoing.

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Becky Thurston said if the board is going to look at ethical violations, it should start with the treatment of the Hawaiian people and management of the mountain going back more than 50 years.

“There are many examples in history when people act out of moral obligation, it can be ethical,” Thurston said. “When the rule of law is designed to not protect cultural values … then you have a moral obligation to protest.”