The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has spent more than $39,000 as of Sept. 17 to help demonstrators on Mauna Kea and dedicated nearly 160 staff hours to the conflict, including documenting and publicizing the protests.

The agency also approved $67,000 in three emergency contracts to aid the hundreds of activists who have camped on the mountain for months to block the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

That money includes $45,000 for portable toilets, $11,000 for dumpsters and $11,000 for tents.

The food tent at Pu'uhonua o Pu'u Huluhulu on July 26, 2019. The kitchen provides three hot meals per day and snacks and drinks are always available.
Tents on Mauna Kea protect activists from the brutal sun on the mountainside. Pictured here is the food tent at the activists’ camp on July 26, which provides hot meals and snacks and drinks every day. ronitphoto

The $39,000 spent thus far includes funding for OHA staff, trustees, volunteers and legal observers. Agency staff spent the bulk of the 159.5 staff hours on livestreaming, videography, photography, posting on and monitoring social media and supporting Jam4Maunakea.

The money came after the OHA board approved a resolution in July authorizing the agency to “advocate for the rights, safety, and well-being of OHA beneficiaries engaging in peaceful protests” on Mauna Kea.

OHA spokesman Sterling Wong said that whether the agency spends the full $67,000 in emergency contracts depends on the health and safety situation on the mountain, adding that OHA is in regular contact with the leaders of the protesters, who call themselves the kia’i. The contracts expire Dec. 31.

“The resolution authorized OHA to assess our beneficiary needs related to safety and welfare on the mountain so whether we continue to fund certain things depends on the assessment,” Wong says.


The key indicates which aspect of the board resolution supports the expenses. 

During Thursday’s board meeting in Honolulu, OHA’s public policy manager Jocelyn Doane said the expenses are in line with the agency’s commitment to support beneficiaries’ rights to exercise their constitutional rights and provide for their health and safety. She added that the semi-autonomous agency hasn’t spent any money on legal defense for activists.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” Collette Machado, the OHA Board of Trustees chairwoman, said at one point during the meeting.

The board considered the expenses after about two hours of public testimony in which many beneficiaries testified about the significance of Mauna Kea to them and urged OHA to maintain and grow its support.

“This is a turning point for our people,” testified Camille Kalama, a Native Hawaiian attorney, who said OHA’s support is critical. “We are a living people. We are not of history. We don’t belong in a museum… What is happening today is not for show. It’s not for Facebook … It’s for our lahui (people).”

Thursday’s release of the detailed expenses to support the protesters came after the state attorney general subpoenaed the expenditures. Wong said Thursday that OHA has provided some of the documents requested but not all. The agency is reviewing each document request individually, he said.

OHA is a state agency that receives most of its funding from trust funds intended to benefit Hawaii’s indigenous people and revenue from ceded lands, property that previously belonged to the Hawaiian Kingdom. The organization’s mission is to benefit the Hawaiian people.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author