University of Hawaii regent declares support for TMT protesters
University of Hawaii regent Alapaki Nahale-a declared his support for the activists who are blocking Mauna Kea Access Road during the midday protocol on the road Saturday.
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HILO >> University of Hawaii regent Alapaki Nahale-a declared his support for the activists who are blocking Mauna Kea Access Road during the midday protocol on the road Saturday, telling an audience of about 300 opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope that “every time I come up here, I’m reminded of what’s possible if we live aloha and aloha aina.”
“As I come down the line today, I realize that sometimes you gotta pick a side, and today, formally, I take your side,” Nahale-a told the crowd as he stood at the centerline of the access road.
Nahale-a, a former chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, said he initially supported the $1.4 billion TMT project as an initiative that would advance science, create jobs and help fund education for Hawaiian children.
But Nahale-a said in an
interview he reconsidered after repeatedly visiting the protest site, sometimes with his family.
“Every time I come, it’s loving, caring, it’s what I know Hawaii needs to move towards,” he said, standing near the protest camp. “So, this is more important to me than lots of things, including the progression of TMT. This, what’s happening here, needs to be cherished.”
The 12-member board of regents is the governing body of the University of Hawaii system, and Nahale-a’s announcement puts him at odds with many in the UH system.
The university leases and controls the public land on Mauna Kea where 13 observatories already have been developed and where TMT is slated to be built, and UH-Hilo applied for the conservation district use permit that the telescope needed to proceed.
Opponents of the telescope consider it a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred, and say they will not allow the telescope to be built. Supporters of the TMT say the sponsors of the project spent a decade obtaining the necessary government approvals to move forward, and now the project has a legal right to proceed.
Others who have publicly sided with the protesters
include state Sens. Kurt
Fevella (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) and Kaiali‘i
Kahele (D, Hilo), who have both said the TMT should relocate to its second-choice site in the Canary Islands.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also has said she does not understand how the project can proceed without addressing deeper concerns raised by the protests. Activists demonstrating on the access road have raised issues ranging from Hawaiian sovereignty and self-governance to environmental preservation to preservation of Hawaiian language and culture.
Nahale-a represents the island of Hawaii on the board of regents, and said he never had an opportunity to vote on the project. He said he took a second look at the TMT plan after it was rejected by Hawaiian elder and protest leader Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele.
“I don’t think it was OK that we just go past someone like Auntie Pua and find
other folks who say it’s OK,”
Nahale-a said of the process that led to approval of TMT. “I get that that’s the process that we have, but that process was not adequate for who we should be as Hawaii.”
“Just because it’s scientifically sacred doesn’t mean it’s OK to sacrifice environmental and cultural sacredness,” he said. “To dismiss the number of people who’ve gotten behind this movement as uninformed, or lawless or somehow uncaring, it’s not only ignorant, it’s offensive.”