About the Author

Kawai Kelekolio

Kawai Kelekolio is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu. He enjoys writing, surfing, hiking, playing music, good food, and spending time with close friends and family. He is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Over the last three years, the call “We Are Mauna Kea” has come to symbolize the fight for Hawaiian sovereignty, self determination, and for the return of resource rights to the Hawaiian people.

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Mauna Kea is not only a spiritual resource, but also a water and forestry resource. It provides a massive watershed that feeds the main aquifer of Hawaii island; large forests (used to) grow on its flanks, providing habitat for many species of plants and animals endemic to Hawaii.

It is also considered the spiritual center of Hawaii island and the connection point between the Wao Akua (realm of the gods) and Wao Kanaka (realm of man). In order to protect this precious resource, we must return Mauna Kea, among other resources, to the Hawaiian People.

Returning Mauna Kea to the Hawaiian people is much closer today than some might think.

In December, lawmakers from the state House of Representatives announced plans to introduce a bill to establish a new governing agency to manage the mountain, headed by a nine-person board.

According to the initial measure, the state agency would replace the University of Hawaii as the managing agency in charge of the mountain, and the board would be heavily composed of Hawaiian leaders and cultural practitioners.

However, the latest version of the bill being considered during the legislative session that began on Jan. 19 would have UH and the new authority jointly administer the mountain.

“I’m just happy at the fact that at this time we are allowed input into what goes on in the mountain,” Dr. Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele stated in a Civil Beat article from December.

Chemical Hazards

In addition to the transfer of management duties, the CalTech Submillimeter Observatory is slated for final decommissioning and site remediation later this year. This is good news.

However, as Kealoha Pisciotta points out in a Civil Beat article from February, “the main thing that we are always concerned about is that all of the telescopes are built above the aquifers that are the main aquifers of Hawaii island,” she said. “We’ve been extensively concerned about their use of toxic chemicals and the human waste (in cesspools).”

Demonstrators hold signs calling for the closing of the Red Hill fuel tanks at the Capitol Rotunda.
Demonstrators hold signs at the Capitol Rotunda in February calling for the closing of the Red Hill fuel tanks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In addition to the potential chemical hazards facing Mauna Kea that Pisciotta describes, a similar hazard now sits dangerously close to the main aquifer on Oahu.

Since a fuel spill of at least 19,000 gallons from a fire suppression drain line at the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Storage site in May, contaminants have slowly made their way into the Navy water system. In order to stop the contaminants from spreading to the public system, or possibly further polluting the aquifer, the Navy and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply have shut down not only the Red Hill pumping shaft, but several others in the area in order to stop contaminants from spreading.

Mauna Kea is not only a spiritual resource, but also a water and forestry resource.

In order to prevent this mistake from ever happening again, we must not only immediately defuel and remediate the Red Hill fuel storage facility, but also move the management duties of the land to a group who will actually take care of it: Native Hawaiians.

Not only would the move prevent another accident in the area, it would also create jobs for Native Hawaiians and more habitat for native species to grow.

Similar to what’s being done for Mauna Kea, groups of people across the state have been fighting to protect Oahu’s aquifers from potential contamination both on the legal and the industrial fronts.

Continuing to protect Mauna Kea by decommissioning telescopes and changing its management, and the shutdown of the Red Hill (Kapukaki) Fuel Storage Facility, are two steps we can, should, and are beginning to take to protect vital natural and cultural resources.

In order to protect not just those two, but all the resources Hawaii currently has, we must return control of them to Native Hawaiians. Not only will this begin to remedy the injustices perpetrated against the Hawaiian people for generations, it will also ensure that the land and its resources are used responsibly and protected from harm. Hawaiians understand that people everywhere depend on the land to survive, so we must take care of it if we want to continue to use the resources it provides.

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Read this next:

Red Hill Crisis Underscores Water Insecurity In Hawaii

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About the Author

Kawai Kelekolio

Kawai Kelekolio is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu. He enjoys writing, surfing, hiking, playing music, good food, and spending time with close friends and family. He is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Latest Comments (0)

Return to what native Hawaiians? Who represents all native Hawaiians singularly? I would think we would want inclusion of many, many experts and leaders in their fields of relative study to be part of a transparent decision moving forward. If you don't have unity even amongst the Hawaiian community, then you aren't representing the community.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

1. Anyone who thinks that the telescopes actually pose any threat to Hawaii Island's water supply has not a clue how hydrology actually works. This has been explained again and again during the contested case hearings on TMT. Those holding on to the "will damage the aquifer!" trope are as tethered to evidence as anti-vaxxers.2. Definitely agreed that Red Hill should be shut down. Also agreed that Hawaiians should be given a seat at the table for management: cultural practitioners are stakeholders on the summit after all.But I do not want to hear one single word about "environmental damage" from anyone who looked the other way while anti-TMTers littered the Mauna Kea Access Road with trash and abandoned vehicles leaking oil or battery fluid and damaged plants in a conservation district. The TMT protesters desecrated Maunakea, period. Not astronomy.

inwakea · 1 year ago

Mahalo for an idea whose time has come. All of all of the Hawaiian islands should be under the total and absolute control of the the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The DHHL is the only truly indigenous governmental entity in Hawaii.Its sterling record in managing the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homestead program speaks for itself. The wait list of 46,255 applications is evidence of the popularity of the DHHL.As an organization found by Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole over 100 years ago, its authority and actions cannot be questioned or criticized.

Peter_Bishop · 1 year ago

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