(BIVN) – In the latest chapter to the ongoing conflict over the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, several Hawaiians who say they have constitutionally protected rights to access the mountain were blocked by state law enforcement officers on Monday.
On a wet and foggy morning, a handful of hunters and cultural practitioners drove and/or walked up to the police checkpoint on the Mauna Kea Access Road, but were denied their request for entry. Various observers recorded the exchange with DOCARE officers. Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu shared the video with the media.
“So, access to the road is closed to the public?” asked Andre Perez, one of the leaders in the TMT opposition movement.
“It’s restricted,” Lino Kamakau, DOCARE’s Hawaiʻi Island Branch Chief, answered, adding that all of the workers on Mauna Kea are permitted access, as well as one car for Hawaiian cultural practitioners per day.
“This morning at approximately 7:15 (a.m.) we had a group of 6 Department of Hawaiian Homelands beneficiaries attempt to assert their right to access Hawaiian Home Lands and Mauna Kea Access Road for the purpose of hunting, gathering, ceremony, and religious rights,” Perez later said in a recorded video conference, explaining how their access was denied.
Many seeking access cited Article XII Section 7 of the Hawaiʻi State Constitution, which reads:
The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupuaʻa tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights.
Others said they were exercising their rights as Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries.
“We know from recent news that the transfer of land that was supposed to happen between DHHL and the Department of Transportation,” Perez told Kamakau at the checkpoint. “We know that that never happened.”
The matter was recently debated in a State Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee meeting.
“We had to turn around six beneficiaries,” Perez reported after Monday morning’s discussion with law enforcement. “Immediately after that, we had approximately a dozen astronomers, astronomy technicians, maintenance folks, who accessed Mauna Kea Access Road with full and free access.”
During the “peaceful and respectful exchange”, Kanuha said they were able to ask questions, although “we were not able to to gather any clear information.”
“Whoever is making these decisions to close this road or to restrict access is not passing that on to the law enforcement officers who are here to uphold that,” Kanuha said, “and so another question that we asked was by what authority are they enforcing this limited and restricted access?”
“They responded to us that there’s a an MOU, a Memorandum Of Understanding, between the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the County of Hawaiʻi,” Kanuha continued. “It is that Memorandum Of Understanding that gives them, in a sense, the power to enforce this limited and restricted access.”
Also on hand for the video address was Rosalee Gonzalez, the executive director of the United States Human Rights Network – a non-profit NGO made up of 300 national member organizations from civil society across the United States. Gonzalez said that “we’re here as human rights observers working closely with our partners at the United Nations to identify and address human rights violations within the U.S.”
“We’re here to support the kanaka maoli and report on the human rights violations we’ve observed, including what we observed this morning,” Gonzalez announced. “This morning I witnessed a six vehicles of indigenous peoples and one group of elders walking on foot, each denied access to Mauna Kea Access Road, the only road that leads to Mauna Kea Mountain. We believe that human rights violations are occurring here, including violations of the standards set by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United States, including the states of Hawaiʻi, is obligated to respect the cultural and religious customs of indigenous Hawaiians.”
“I requested a meeting with Governor Ige, and look forward to his office’s response,” Gonzalez said. “The U.S. Human Rights Network will be supporting the protectors in order for them to engage with the United Nations system and we will be reaching out to UN special procedures which include Special Rapporteurs and working groups regarding this issue. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi and demand … that their rights be respected.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified Rosalee Gonzalez’ organization as the United Nations Human Rights Network. It is the United States Human Rights Network.