(BIVN) – The possibility of creating a future Hawaiian cultural and/or educational center somewhere on the higher elevations of Mauna Kea was discussed during a recent informational briefing at the Capitol.
The January 24 meeting of the State Senate Committee on Water and Land, Committee on Higher Education, and Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs provided lawmakers with an update on the Thirty Meter Telescope project planned for Hawaiʻi Island. Although TMT International Observatory officials were not in attendance, state officials were able to give progress reports on the various conditions set by the state land board when it granted the permit for the observatory.
State Senator Kai Kahele wanted to talk about Condition 2 of the approved Conservation District Use Permit:
Working with the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, OMKM, and Kahu Kū Mauna to develop informational exhibits for visitors regarding the natural, cultural and archaeological resources of Mauna Kea that could be used at the Mauna Kea VIS, ‘Imiloa, TMT facilities, and other appropriate locations;
PUEO, or Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities – a non-profit comprised of Native Hawaiians in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea – has been pushing for a cultural center, above the clouds.
“Maunakea — just like the voyaging canoe Hokule‘a and the Merrie Monarch hula competition — belongs to the Hawaiian people. It’s time we Hawaiians have a robust and significant presence on the mountain,” wrote PUEO member Richard Ha in a recent editorial. “We can do that by creating a cultural center that shows who we Hawaiians have always been and still are, and that proclaims our value system. We can put this cultural center mid-level on Maunakea, where there is controlled and safe access. Our Hawaiian cultural experts and language speakers, present and future, can set its agenda.”
“What plans do we have to expand beyond the Visitors Center so that people who come to the Hale Pōhaku site can have more of an interactive experience like they can at the ʻImiloa in Hilo?” asked Sen. Kahele during the Jan. 24 briefing.
“ʻImiloa has begun the process of partnering with the Visitor Information Station, which is located at the 9,000 foot elevation, to upgrade – within the existing square footage – the exhibit interpretive stories shared at the VIS,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, the executive director of the University of Hawaiʻi-run ʻImiloa. “So we are getting ready to release an RFP to on-board some exhibit consultant services so we can move that forward. And the intent specifically is to tell the stories of Maunakea, beyond the astronomy stories coming from the observatories.”
Sen. Kahele asked the director of the Office of Maunakea Management, Stephanie Nagata, if there is “any additional area for us to expand an ʻImiloa-type cultural / educational center at the Hale Pōhaku site?”
“Its pretty tight,” Nagata replied. “You could always design something that could fit on a certain size parcel. But there really is no room to expand the footprint.”
Such an endeavor “would require careful review by the DLNR” which is concerned about increased traffic to the mountain, Nagata said. The VIS already sees roughly 150 cars per day, Nagata said, with another 50 to the summit.
Sen. Kahele asked if the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands had expressed any interest in developing such a cultural center on its ʻAina Mauna lands.
“We have had discussions with DHHL a few years ago,” Nagata said. “They put forward some thoughts on a possible visitor center at the Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road junction.”
If DHHL developed such a project, it would release a lot of pressure at the VIS, Nagata said.