(BIVN) – Edward Halealoha Ayau testified at the Hawaiian Homes Commission meeting in Hilo on Monday, before announcing that he was resigning his position with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Ayau has been outspoken in his belief that the State Department of Transportation does not have legal jurisdiction over the Mauna Kea Access Road, where opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope have held space since July 15 in order to prevent construction of the observatory on the mountain.
The state says Act 14 (1995) resolved all claims concerning the use of Hawaiian home lands for public roads and highways built before and after statehood. But Ayau, in his personal capacity, has argued that certain conditions of the settlement were never met, and that the deal is therefore void.
Ayau has already given the state notice that he and three other beneficiaries intend to sue over the alleged breach of trust relating to the disputed road.
Before delivering his testimony to the Commission, Ayau played a video set to music showing the events from July 17 when law enforcement arrested 38 kūpuna on the Mauna Kea Access Road. Ayau then talked about how – at first – he wanted nothing to do with the conflict on Mauna Kea.
“In that video you saw the state of Hawaiʻi, by an order of the Chairman, arrest Hawaiians standing on Hawaiian Home Lands,” Ayau said, “some of whom are beneficiaries, all of whom are elders. Once that happened, I couldn’t stay out. I had to engage.”
“The issue here isn’t whether or not we want different things. We want the same thing,” Ayau told the commissioners. “We want Kūhiō’s vision to be carried out. We want our people to be put on the land. We want our people to make plenty babies and to raise them with the food that they grow on their land, because in doing that, that’s what he meant by rehabilitation.”
Ayau also shared a message about the tenor of the dispute. “I want to reaffirm that I hold no ill will towards [Hawaiian Homes Chair] William Ailā,” he said. “I take offense to people to who call him names and swear at him and and treat him disrespectfully. Let us let the difference in our opinions do the fighting. But be absolutely respectful to each other in terms of of that discourse.”
Ayau then said that he is prepared to move forward with the lawsuit over the Mauna Kea Access Road, “but we first extend an invitation of hoʻoponopono one last time, since the commission – through the chairman – has refused to meet with us,” he said. “The governor, however, has reached out and he is now consulting with one of the beneficiaries.”
Ayau concluded his testimony, but later in the meeting he returned to announce that he would be resigning his position with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
When someone in the crowd asked why he is stepping down, an emotional Ayau replied: “shame.”
“Working for the department was a sacred duty of doing the people’s work,” Ayau explained. “The people are the beneficiaries and that’s what I signed up for, because that’s all I grew up in. I can no longer do that. If this Commission doesn’t want to engage, then I don’t want to be part of that. I’ll wait until we have a commission that is willing to engage, and recognize that the state is compromising your abilities.”
“You guys have the ultimate power here with the Mauna Kea Access Road,” Ayau told the commission, “and you’re not exercising it, and that hurts.”
Big Island Video News will be featuring more public testimony from Monday’s Hawaiian Homes Commission meeting.