‘It’s not a valid dialogue’: Some activists unhappy with Maunakea plan forum

  • In this 2015 file photo, observatories and telescopes sit atop Maunakea. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

A recent public meeting to discuss the University of Hawaii’s future plans for Maunakea failed to win the trust of some Native Hawaiian activists.

UH on Wednesday held a “virtual public forum” on YouTube to discuss an updated draft of the university’s Maunakea Master Plan, which spells out the institution’s intentions for the mauna’s summit lands over the next 20 years.


Participants were able to submit questions about the master plan via email ahead of time to be answered by UH panelists.

The master plan, although titled “E O I Ka Leo (Listen to the Voice),” has failed to address Native Hawaiians’ many concerns about UH’s management of the summit lands, Native Hawaiian activists said Friday.

Shelley Muneoka, board member for the activist group KAHEA, said she was “not really satisfied” by the forum as a method for community engagement, reiterating complaints made by the group during the forum that the process was not transparent.

Wednesday’s forum was tightly moderated, Muneoka said, with panelists able to select and prepare for questions ahead of time. Furthermore, online comments for the video were disabled.

“It’s not a valid dialogue,” Muneoka said. “There’s value in being able to hear other people’s comments on such a large document in real time, to hear what other people are concerned about.”

During the forum, panelists did respond to some questions from KAHEA — the only questions whose source was named.

Some of those questions directly challenged the lack of transparency, to which Greg Chun, UH-Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship executive director, responded by saying the format was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the discussion to remain on-topic.

But Muneoka said she was unconvinced by Chun’s justification, saying that countless organizations have had to shift to online discussions during the pandemic while still allowing community participation.

Muneoka also said that although Chun said UH was not avoiding questions it didn’t want to address, there is no way of knowing whether that is true, because full list of the questions submitted to the forum was not released.

But regardless of the effectiveness of the forum, activists said the new master plan draft already indicates that UH has not listened to Native Hawaiians.

“They’re never going to take us seriously,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale, spokeswoman for the Ka Lahui Hawaii Political Action Community. “(The Thirty Meter Telescope) will always be more important to them than us.”

Sonoda-Pale said the position of Ka Lahui and other activist groups has been clear for years: Development of the Maunakea summit lands must end.

“In a perfect world, we’d love a plan calling for no further development on the mauna,” Sonoda-Pale said. “But our voices have not been heard in any UH process. They named it ‘Listen to the Voice’ but the fact of the matter is, they’re not listening.”

Although Chun said Wednesday there will be further opportunities for public feedback on the master plan, Sonoda-Pale was skeptical of the value of future forums.


“Any plan for the future of the mauna has to come from Kanaka Maoli,” Sonoda-Pale said. “We don’t agree with UH’s plan, but they haven’t given us the opportunity to voice that publicly.”

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

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