The hearings heard that Native Hawaiian perspectives have been previously dismissed.

Last year’s appointees to the Mauna Kea Stewardship Oversight Authority are on their way to being officially confirmed by the Senate, following unanimous votes by the Senate Water and Land Committee.

The appointees include Richard Matsuda, Gary Kalehua Krug, Kamanamaikalani Beamer, Paul Horner, Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, John Komeiji, Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, and Pomaikalani Bertelmann.

All but Komeiji – the Authority’s appointed chair – had their hearings last week, while Komeiji had his on Wednesday. 

The hearings all proceeded the same way: smoothly. 

Six people smile and pose for a photo in a conference room at the Capitol
It was all smiles and shakas as John Komeiji, third from left, received the green light from the Senate Water and Land Committee to continue chairing the Mauna Kea Stewardship Oversight Authority. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

Nominees were questioned by the committee members, chaired by Sen. Lorraine Inouye. Inouye had voted against the bill creating the Mauna Kea Authority last year, but now spoke of embracing the opportunity to help establish a new board. 

The theme of the hearings – and of the Authority in general – revolved around promoting consensus and dialogue. 

Mangauil, who helped lead protests against telescope construction on Mauna Kea, testified that Native Hawaiian cultural perspectives are too often dismissed as “just stories or just fairy tales and stuff like that,” he said.

He sees his role as “being able to help articulate the deep scientific knowledge that our people hold with this place as well.”

After a five-year transition period the Authority will be tasked with exercising final control over lands currently leased by the University of Hawaii, including over the 13 telescopes on the summit.

The university’s stewardship of its Mauna Kea land – deemed sacred by many Native Hawaiians – came under fire, notably in a 1998 state audit often described as “scathing.”

The university says that its stewardship has vastly improved since then, and points to its Imiloa Astronomy Center, which opened in 2006, as “the only science center in the world founded for the explicit purpose of public education on contemporary science within the context of an Indigenous culture.”

But some say the community outreach is too little too late. Sen. Kurt Fevella articulated this point at Komeiji’s hearing: many people lost trust in the university. 

The bill that created the Authority stipulates that its eleven voting members – eight of whom require Senate approval – be drawn from a variety of perspectives, including education, astronomy, and Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.

Then-Governor David Ige appointed the members last September, and in March, Gov. Josh Green nominated the same people for official Senate confirmation. 

Their first few monthly meetings have consisted of setting an internal structure and budget request, as well as working to hire an executive assistant and consultants.

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