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Lawmakers want Ige to launch commission to address Hawaiian issues

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Hawaiians gathered for morning protocol at the state Capitol on the opening day of the legislature. Hundreds of opponents to the Thirty Meter Telescope held hands in unity on the ground floor. A panel of Hawaii lawmakers, Monday, passed a resolution calling for the governor to convene a Native Hawaiian reconciliation commission.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Hawaiians gathered for morning protocol at the state Capitol on the opening day of the legislature. Hundreds of opponents to the Thirty Meter Telescope held hands in unity on the ground floor. A panel of Hawaii lawmakers, Monday, passed a resolution calling for the governor to convene a Native Hawaiian reconciliation commission.

Top lawmakers are proposing that Gov. David Ige convene a “blue ribbon” panel to address various Native Hawaiian issues, including the protests on Mauna Kea that have blocked construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope for months.

House Concurrent Resolution 37 was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki last week, and proposes that Ige form a commission to establish a reconciliation process “relating to past, present, and future issues of importance to the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America.”

The panel should also identify reconciliation proposals related to land use, the environment, economy, culture, and science, according to the resolution.

The draft originally proposed that creating a process to resolve the controversy on Mauna Kea be the “first task” of the commission, but the House Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee amended the resolution to delete that language Monday.

The goal of the measure is to initiate a healing process between the state and Native Hawaiians, according to Rep. Ryan Yamane (D, Mililani-Waipio-Waikele). “In order to do that, it needs to be open, it needs to be fair and it needs to be pono,” Yamane said.

Makiki resident Ilima Long opposed the measure, telling lawmakers the bill “came out of nowhere.” If lawmakers want to build trust with the Hawaiian community, they should amend the resolution to “take the governor out of it, specifically this governor.”

“I’m not saying that because of any personal feelings I have about this governor. It’s to me a political no-brainer,” she said.

Long said she believes the resolution should be rejected, but said there is an opportunity to open genuine communication lines in support of a grassroots initiative that “leaves the power in the people’s hands to determine the future of particular issues, whether that’s Mauna Kea or the other kind of broad, vague issues that the bill points to.”

“It also seems disingenuous to put a reconciliation process forward when the state totally knows what it needs to do,” Long said. “They absolutely know, we’ve gone through this before, we’ve been saying for a long time the same things. Stop trying to develop our sacred lands. Stop trying to privatize and develop on our un-ceded lands, and drive down the cost of living and make this place livable.”

Samuel Wilder King II, who has been an outspoken supporter of the $1.4 billion Mauna Kea telescope project, told lawmakers that if the blue ribbon panel moves forward, it is important that TMT be severed from the reconciliation process.

Debate about reconciliation has “been going on for hundreds of years, and so it’s not clear that it’s going to be accomplished on the timeline that TMT requires to get built before it abandons Hawaii or the entire operation collapses, which would be a disaster for our people, for the state of Hawaii, for the world,” King said. “So, we want to make sure that the TMT’s construction is not delayed forever by the reconciliation.”

The TMT sponsors already have the right to proceed with the project because they have obtained all the necessary permits and followed the law, and will invest billions of dollars in the state, King said.

Peter Apo, a former state senator and trustee in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said he believes the proposal for a blue ribbon commission came about because of public concern about the ongoing series of Hawaiian protests, and the frustration in the Hawaiian community that so little progress has been made during the past century.

“Definitely, Native Hawaiians need to convene themselves in some form or fashion,” Apo said. “This resolution, although it doesn’t do that, at least creates a center of gravity for some kind of dialogue to take place that will involve Native Hawaiians, but it will also involve other people in the state, other leaders of the state.”

Apo also argued that OHA needs to step up to provide leadership “that doesn’t only talk to Hawaiians. We need to be talking to everybody.”

Walter Ritte, a long time Hawaiian activist who was among the elders who were arrested on Mauna Kea on July 17, said the resolution amounts to politically punting the issue.

Ritte suggested a more direct approach would be to have House leaders, Senate President Ron Kouchi and Gov. David Ige meet with the protest leaders on Mauna Kea to agree to restructure the management of Mauna Kea. “Once that is done, then whoever is managing that mountain can make a decision whether the TMT is built,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in several Hawaiian issues over the years, and I’ve seen the Hawaiian community grow, but I’ve never seen anything like what happened on Mauna Kea. Nothing comes close to what happened at Mauna Kea,” he said. “You guys are dealing with a whole different Hawaiian community.”

“If we don’t solve Mauna Kea, you guys — when I say you guys, that’s the state of Hawaii — is going to have to act in a way that’s gonna be detrimental to everybody, because we are not going to back down on Mauna Kea as Hawaiians,” Ritte said. “We cannot back down. We cannot. All the years of struggling has come to the top of the mountain, and if we get pushed off that mountain, there’s no place else for us to go. We have to win this battle as Hawaiians, so that’s what you guys are dealing with.”

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