The ship of state is headed for the perfect storm and there’s no way to sail around it.

Navigating the rising sea of passion surrounding the Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope controversy demands clear thinking and patience from all sides. I sense that this critical conflict will severely test Hawaii’s leadership on all fronts and is shaping up to be one of the year’s most important and difficult challenges. Whatever the outcome, the aftermath will reverberate for years to come as was the case with the Kahoolawe stop-the-bombing movement.

Gov. David Ige’s brokering of an extension of the moratorium on construction is an important and critical step in working toward a resolution.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees’ intent to retrace their deliberative process when previously considering the telescope proposal is a step in the right direction. Given the context and circumstance of a somewhat new reality it seems that any path to a resolution must lead through a review of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan of 2009 even if it means rolling back the clock.

Big Island resident Kalae Kauwe draped in Hawaiian flags as hula halau dance near the Mauna Kea visitors center. 10 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Big Island resident Kalae Kauwe is draped in Hawaiian flags as a hula halau dance unfolds near the Mauna Kea visitors center.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It is equally important and commendable that as of this writing, the protectors have demonstrated great restraint in their respectful engagement with authorities. Hopefully, as the passion escalates, and the ranks of the protectors grows, the current leaders will be able to maintain their influence for peaceful engagement.

At this juncture, the tipping point for maintaining peaceful engagement lies with the authorities who make the call on when to resume construction knowing that civil disobedience is likely to occur by way of another blockade of the road leading to the TMT site triggering a second round of arrests.

I would highly encourage authorities to consider a longer respite period even though having the contractor stand down for much longer has some serious cost implications for everyone. The impact on the Hawaii Island community of workers, suppliers, and construction related services will be substantial and hit the pocketbooks of those families caught in the fray who have long waited for this economic activity to begin.

Time is not an ally for either side and meaningful dialogue between the two camps needs to occur sooner than later. But, the dialogue will require a careful and thoughtfully measured approach not suited to crises management hurry-up timetables.

I pause here to caution those who have and will continue to cite the argument that an agreement is in place and the state must keep its promises. No one knows better than indigenous peoples what it’s like to be on the short end of breeched agreements.

Moving forward, while I am by no means an expert on the 178-page MKCMP, I am aware of some of its key provisions. I am also aware of some language of intent contained in the MKCMP addressing the cultural issues that might have been better articulated with a higher level of commitment.

If the notion of reviewing the MKCMP has any chance of gaining traction here’s a list of items I believe worth discussion by decision makers:

  • Stand down on construction pending completion of the EIS lease agreement that will trigger a new term of 65 years.
  • Stand down on construction pending rulings on existing litigation.
  • Commitment that TMT is the last telescope.
  • Give teeth to the language of the MKCMP that sets a decommission/deconstruction timeline that holds the promise of a shrinking footprint.
  • Commit to requiring rigorous cultural workshops for all personnel working on the mountain.
  • Review Native Hawaiian access to cultural and religious sites with the intent of increasing opportunities for access.
  • Develop an educational/research program that provides regular viewing time to Hawaiians.
  • Conduct a legislative audit of MKCMP specifically focused on the state’s public land trust responsibility to native Hawaiians.
  • Review state’s trust responsibility to Hawaiians on all public trust lands and codify guidelines that produce more clarity and predictability to land use policies.

To the state, the University of Hawai’i, the consortium of investors, and the community of astronomers – I know you are aware of, and discussed, many of the cultural concerns that have been voiced over the years in the long deliberative process leading us to this moment.

To you I ask that you walk that bridge of cultural sensitivity again with a higher degree of empathy and walk the extra mile to seek a deeper understanding of our culture as it relates specifically to Mauna Kea.

You can begin by reading the opening section of the MKCMP, “Cultural Anchor,” prepared by the Edith Kanakaole Foundation. It is a profound but easy read that strikes deep into the essence of why Mauna Kea lies as the bedrock of our cultural existence.

Walk that bridge of cultural sensitivity again with a higher degree of empathy and walk the extra mile to seek a deeper understanding of our culture as it relates specifically to Mauna Kea.

To the protectors, first, thank you for your dignity, thank you for your respectful demeanor even though the passion within you screams for release.

Although fledgling in my understanding of the spiritual complexities of Mauna Kea I do understand that Mauna Kea is fundamental to our spiritual existence as a people “requiring a pristine environment free of any spiritual obstructions.” And that any penetration of the mountain or structures that interrupt the air space where the spirits dwell is an unacceptable violation.

Construction equipment rests on the TMT work site on Mauna Kea.  9 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Construction equipment rests on the TMT work site on Mauna Kea. 9 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

My cautiously stated hope, absent any intent of spiritual insult, is that there may be some cultural vetting process to consider the evolution of our spirituality. A spiritual thought process that would, rather than consider the telescope as an injury to Mauna Kea, view this instrument as an extension of that spirituality directly connecting us to the celestial bodies and the very stars themselves.

For centuries, seeking such knowledge has been so fundamental to our cultural credentials as an enlightened people. As a matter of growing our body of native wisdom, it would seem compelling that we consider how we might play an active role in the opportunity of the century to see back to the origins of time and contribute to the world’s understanding of our global existence as the family of man.

Perhaps I go too far with my hope and aspiration that we can find a way to turn spiritual disaster into spiritual opportunity. If I offend, e kala mai, please forgive.

It bears repeating that the immediate challenge is to find some way to suspend the ticking clock. To buy time. We cannot emerge from this challenge with a winner and a loser. But, for us to even have a chance to find resolution will require time even without a guarantee we will succeed.

At the end of the day we cannot leave the field of play without expending every last drop of effort to forge a symbiosis of science and culture in a linking of arms toward making the world a better place. We are Hawaii and we will find a way.

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About the Author

  • Peter Apo
    Peter Apo is a former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and legislator. He is the president of the Peter Apo Company, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city's director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano.