Column: Stopping TMT won’t help Hawaiians much
To the protesters I say this: Keep the end in mind. There are more challenges ahead. Ask if winning this battle will actually help win the war.
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I support the construction and operation of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. TMT is now legally entitled to begin construction. However, as a Native Hawaiian I also understand why many kanaka maoli believe the law has failed them. Again.
In making decisions affecting the public, government is bound by rules that guide the decision-making process. “Due process” includes fair notice of proposed government action and an opportunity for citizens to be heard by participation in the decision-making process. If a decision made appears to be arrived at arbitrarily and against what the evidence shows, it can be appealed to the courts for judicial review. Court decisions have upheld the rights of the “little guy.” That includes the Hawaii Supreme Court decision in 2015 to nullify the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ approval of the TMT project because the procedure used by the board deprived relevant parties a fair opportunity to challenge TMT’s proposal.
Acceptance of, and respect for, the finality of decisions ensures that “the rule of law” prevails, rather than decision-making based on the whims of a chief executive or on who cheers more loudly.
Protesters have demonized TMT. TMT followed legal procedures to obtain approval.
It relied on government to provide a final decision, up or down. After many years, hearings, and court battles the state finally did. Criticizing government authorities for their support of the project and the response to the protest on the mountain is appropriate; voting in elections for those who are opposed to the TMT is also appropriate. Unleashing venom against TMT is not.
Despite my support of TMT, my na‘au — my guts — feels this way: Why should kanaka maoli trust the process when the original sin — the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy — was bereft of process? The Kingdom was taken by extra-legal means without any opportunity for the sovereign and her citizens to participate in determining the fate of the island nation. What followed was a systematic attempt to extinguish Hawaiian culture and language and, by extension, the Hawaiian people.
Thus, when I see kanaka maoli protesting or read anti-TMTers’ angry social media posts I don’t necessarily see irrational people who fail to see the unique opportunity TMT can provide to Hawaii and the world. Instead, I see the accumulation of decades of pain, hurt and resentment, passed down through generations. It is a cry for acknowledgement and respect, even if at times a few protesters act with disrespect toward others. Some who support TMT have also made very disrespectful comments toward the protesters. I would ask that they consider the historical forces at play.
The protests have already achieved much: They have galvanized kanaka maoli who look to achieve some form of sovereignty to a degree not seen before and have garnered the support from many, both locally and worldwide.
The momentum this protest has sparked can be applied to achieve longer-term goals. Getting TMT to abort the project will do little to fundamentally change the cultural or political landscape.
Just because one is on the summit does not mean one is at the summit. The movement toward self-recognition has been a slow climb, and for good reason: Change on this level of magnitude does not happen overnight. To the protesters I say this: Keep the end in mind. There are more challenges ahead. Ask if winning this battle will actually help win the war.
Robert Kekuna is a Honolulu attorney and a Native Hawaiian.