A Big Island lawmaker wants Native Hawaiians and government officials, including representatives of observatories, to come together this year to develop a new management structure for Mauna Kea.

The proposals introduced in the Hawaii House of Representatives on Friday by Rep. David Tarnas seek to bring together groups that have been in conflict over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Tarnas’ proposals also come two weeks after House Speaker Scott Saiki called for UH to relinquish its management of the mauna.

The working group contemplated in House Concurrent Resolution 41 and House Resolution 33 would include 15 members, including seven Native Hawaiians nominated by various organizations, groups and communities. Saiki would consider the nominations and appoint the members.

Hilo Bay with the majestic view of Mauna Kea with tiny dots on the summit, the observatories.
House lawmakers will consider proposals to start the restructure of Mauna Kea management. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

There would be one representative each from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the UH Board of Regents and the Mauna Kea Observatories.

Saiki would also nominate three members of the House as well as an individual to chair the group. Tarnas said the seven Hawaiian members would bring balance to the seven members representing government agencies.

“I hope this can be a first step in reconciliation,” Tarnas said.

The group would have until Dec. 31 of this year to come out with a report including any proposals for lawmakers and the BLNR to consider.

While Saiki called for the removal of UH from Mauna Kea management, and while a majority of lawmakers have previously stated their support for TMT, Tarnas said he has no preconceived notions of what the group’s outcome should be.

“I really want to give the process a chance to consider all the alternatives, and I want to honor that process,” Tarnas said.

He included UH and the observatories in the working group specifically to bring those entities and Hawaiian communities to the table.

“They really have to have a better understanding of the perspective of the Native Hawaiian community,” Tarnas said of UH and the observatories. “I see this as an opportunity for them to learn and listen. I wanted them at the table so they can have that opportunity and not feel like they’ve been left out.”

The university has been criticized for its management of the mountain in the past and was targeted by protest groups for its role in bringing the Thirty Meter Telescope to Mauna Kea. 

Rep. David Tarnas hopes to bring Native Hawaiians and government officials together. Jonathan Rawle

Kealoha Pisciotta, a protest leader, said she was cautiously optimistic when Saiki called on UH to end its pursuit of a new master lease for the Mauna Kea summit. Now, she says she is appalled at the resolutions introduced Friday.

One of her biggest concerns is that the resolution would allow Saiki to choose the seven Hawaiian members to serve on the working group.

“That’s not self determination,” Pisciotta, who leads the protest group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, said.

Pisciotta is also concerned that state officials have not addressed other longstanding issues facing Native Hawaiians over land rights and other issues. Several bills she and others have pushed to ban further development on Mauna Kea never got a hearing this session.

She also believes that Hawaiians opposed to astronomy on Mauna Kea have tried to engage in peaceful dialogue in the past, echoing sentiments voiced by others who opposed a resolution last year that sought to create a Native Hawaiian commission.

“We have participated in all the forums we can, and when dialogue fails, we rise up,” Pisciotta said. “This can’t be placated by hollow words, trying to manufacture the idea that somehow they will try to do the right thing.”

‘Genuine Consultation’

Rep. Tarnas’ resolutions cite a recent report from Ku‘iwalu, a consultant that evaluated the UH’s implementation of its management plan on Mauna Kea. The consultants found that, while UH has improved its management practices, it still struggles to engage with the Hawaiian community, including those who support and others who oppose UH’s management of the summit.

“In particular, there is an absence of genuine consultation with the Native Hawaiian community that has resulted in greater mistrust of UH,” an executive summary to the report noted.

UH was still reviewing the resolutions Friday afternoon and couldn’t comment on them yet, a spokesman said.

But in an interview Feb. 12 with Civil Beat’s editorial board, Greg Chun, UH’s executive director of Mauna Kea stewardship, said that — while he had not yet seen the resolutions — the state must figure out the broader objective of restructuring management on the mountain.

“If it’s to support astronomy and UH’s role in astronomy and the role of astronomy in a larger knowledge-based economy for the state, then I would make the argument that UH is the proper entity to continue managing the mauna,” Chun said.

“But if the objective is something else, if it’s to address the unresolved Native Hawaiian land claim or something like that, then of course the structure would look different,” Chun continued, adding that such a discussion must include the whole state.

The House resolutions must be vetted by at least one House committee during the 2021 legislative session, which ends April 29, where the public will be able to testify on the proposal.

If the resolutions win approval in the House, one will also be sent over to the Senate to seek support of the 25-member chamber.

Join us for a virtual Legislative Update event to check-in with a panel of lawmakers halfway through the session:


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