Let's Think Bigger When It Comes To Governing Mauna Kea - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Richard Ha

Richard Ha is a longtime Big Island resident and farmer and a founding board member of PUEO. He also is a former president of the Hawaii Island Native Hawaiian Chamber, Hui Oihana, board member of Sustainable Energy Hawaii, and a leader of the Hawaii island chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Last week, state House Speaker Scott Saiki said the University of Hawaii should be replaced as the entity managing Mauna Kea and that the House “will introduce a resolution to begin the process of reassessing a new governance structure for Mauna Kea.”

Assigning a different group to manage Mauna Kea doesn’t solve anything but merely costs more money and makes the whole situation more complicated.

We have another idea.

Rather than reassigning UH’s governance of our mountain, let’s think bigger.

Right now, if you look at that wahi pana, you see telescopes reigning over the mountain like massive temples. There is no visible Hawaiian presence on Mauna Kea – just some trails and a small Visitor Information Station.

Where is the respect for the Hawaiian culture and tradition?

PUEO (our Native Hawaiian organization that uses Hawaiian language, culture, science, and technology to help our children and communities continue exploring and learning about Hawaiian culture) supports creating a “cultural and science center above the clouds” on Mauna Kea.

Snow and telescopes sit atop Mauna Kea. Huffington Post Hawaii

Not a cultural/science center that we squeeze into the existing Visitor Information Station as an afterthought, but something much bigger and more thoughtful in size and scope. A cultural and science center that is built to truly support present and future generations of Hawaiians who are affiliated with and do their work at that location – including cultural preservation, education, research, science and ecology.

Imagine, too, if instead of selling imported goods there, the cultural and science center had Hawaiian craftspeople selling their own work. The cultural center would benefit our people in so many ways, including culturally, educationally and financially.

It could be ‘Imiloa Mauka to the existing ‘Imiloa Makai.

We got an educated preliminary estimate that it might cost around $30 million for a road and facility. We can easily raise that.

The center could also hire native guides to lead tours up the mountain, with hefty fees per van seat that support the cultural/science center and also control access to the summit.

As far as I know, there currently aren’t any Native Hawaiians with permits to give tours. I went up the mountain informally with one Hawaiian guy who was frustrated he couldn’t obtain a permit. At the summit, we were the only group that did protocol. Of course, there are limits to how many permits are allowed, but is anyone looking at the big picture?

UH is currently limited in what it can do. The university controls only 20 acres, which includes the Visitor’s Information Station area and Hale Pōhaku. It can only work within those boundaries.

But UH can certainly advocate for a cultural/science center above the clouds at another location.

We have located a good site for a center on land currently controlled by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. It sits across the street and a quarter-mile from the VIS and looks to the west. You cannot see it from Saddle Road, so the facility wouldn’t be jarring as you drive past.

The governor should make an executive directive to give the land to a separate entity for a future cultural/science center above the clouds. Then, when we can get the money together, and it’s the right time to build that center, it will be there. We got an educated preliminary estimate that it might cost around $30 million for a road and facility. We can easily raise that.

If the vision is to show respect to Hawaiians and the culture — and it is — we need to be thinking so much bigger than we are.

First, we need to put aside land for a cultural and science center above the clouds. This is a first step to show we can work together to respect our culture and people.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Confusion Surrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

Richard Ha

Richard Ha is a longtime Big Island resident and farmer and a founding board member of PUEO. He also is a former president of the Hawaii Island Native Hawaiian Chamber, Hui Oihana, board member of Sustainable Energy Hawaii, and a leader of the Hawaii island chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Latest Comments (0)

It's interesting how other countries deal with their natural treasures.  For instance, Japan and it's people consider Mt. Fuji a 'sacred' mountain and has done so for many centuries.  That has not stopped authorities from removing access to the mountain and all it offers.  Hiking trails to the top is a popular activity.   There are designated areas for rest and sleeping accomodations at various locations along the trail.   The 5th station accessible by vehicles lies at the halfway point up the mountain and has various facilities for visitors.  Recent approval has been granted to allow a train to take people to the mountain and replace motor vehicle traffic.   This all sounds like a pragmatic and inclusive approach and still allows the reverence for the sacred mountain to exist.

incredibles2 · 2 years ago

The vocal minority of Hawaiians is the real reason the TMTwill not be built.  No one know just how many of thesilent majority are waiting in the wings to come forwardto back the vocal minority.  You will be surprised to knowthe State is leary if the silent becomes active.  The lastvoting shift is only the beginning.  Respect Mauna Kea!!!

6_Pence · 2 years ago

PLEASE leave this mountain alone.  Let it rest. I am a retired Native Hawaiian kupuna who has traveled all over the world enjoying other pristine snow capped mountains in other States and countries without having to have telescopes and buildings blocking my view. This mountain has been mismanaged and abused. While visiting it last year several times, I cannot help but cry when seeing all those buildings blocking its beautiful peak.  Our community is managing without building another (larger) telescope.  How many of those jobs anyway will go to local people from the island? The only current ones know of go to lower paying jobs like security, janitorial, etc.   The few dollars  promised to STEM education can come from other resources. As a retired social worker I would rather see our resources put into decreasing social issues in our community like; food insecurity, homeless, medical access, domestic violence, child abuse, etc.  Within my lifetime, most of these land telescopes will be obsolete or dwindling in importance as other types of higher tech scopes take its place. I am not part of a "vocal minority". I ask for everyone to PLEASE LEAVE THIS MAUNA ALONE"!

Kupuna · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.