(BIVN) – The possible creation of a “reconciliation commission” to address long standing Native Hawaiian issues, such as the conflict over Maunakea, was discussed at the State Capitol on Monday.
The Hawaii State House Committee on Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs held a hearing on HCR37, “requesting the Governor to convene a blue ribbon reconciliation commission to examine and formulate a reconciliation process relating to issues of past, present, and future importance to the native Hawaiian people, the state of Hawaʻii, and the United States of America.”
The measure had the support of top state officials, including Governor David Ige and State Attorney General Clare Connors.
In his written testimony, Governor David Ige said the resolution presents a “unified and comprehensive way forward for all the people of Hawai‘i”. His full statement reads:
As an elected government official who has served the State of Hawai‘i for decades, I have faced Hawai‘i’s challenges from different perspectives and have worked to build consensus around solutions. Working together, our state has addressed many complex issues, including through legislation, public/private partnerships and other collaborative efforts. The joint package of proposals presented at the beginning of this legislative session is one effectively. Indeed, the convening of the Legislature provides an opportunity to address pressing issues with a unified and comprehensive approach.
Mauna Kea, and the complex task of stewarding it respectfully, is front and center among the issues that require a unified approach. Historically, our state has been able to address some of the grievances and challenges implicated by Mauna Kea. These include amending our state constitution in 1978 to provide express constitutional protections for Native Hawaiians, and enacting legislation to create programs directly benefiting Native Hawaiians. Examples include the establishment of the Native Hawaiian programs at the University of Hawai‘i Manoa and the University of Hawai‘i Hilo, as well as our statewide public charter school system, approximately half of which are schools with a Native Hawaiian focus and which complement the establishment of immersion schools throughout the State. We have pursued cooperative efforts between Kamehameha Schools and the Department of Education to advance the Hawaiian language as a medium of teaching in public schools, and to promote Hawaiian culture-based education statewide. And, we established the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Efforts such as these place us far ahead of other states and even countries. However, all that has transpired regarding Mauna Kea has made it impossible for anyone in our state to avoid the conversation about what our shared future will look like. While emotional and often discordant, the conflict that emerged surrounding Mauna Kea created a unique opportunity to conceptualize a process reflective of and responsive to such a complex moment. I, alongside other public officials, have listened and learned from the different voices that have made their perspectives, concerns and insights known. And, as I have said many times, I am willing to work with anyone interested in finding a way forward for all the people of Hawai‘i.
House Concurrent Resolution No. 37, introduced on February 4, 2020, marks the beginning of an effort to find a new place of understanding and resolution. HCR No. 37 calls for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine and establish a reconciliation process relating to past, present and future issues of importance to Native Hawaiians, the State of Hawai‘i and the United States of America. The purpose of this Commission is to create a framework that will address more than just Mauna Kea. It will create a model that can be replicated and used to address other complex state moments.
This concept was not arrived at in a vacuum, but after looking carefully at the examples presented by countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and others that have addressed similar moments in their histories. Like those efforts, this Commission will be comprised of experts and leaders from our community, and it will have both my support and the support of the Legislature as it conceptualizes and designs a process. As directed by the resolution, I will act swiftly to appoint a coordinator and to identify interested and experienced individuals to participate.
HCR No. 37 also asks the Commission to turn its attention first to Mauna Kea. There is no doubt that this is the appropriate and necessary starting place. We stand in this moment with a deep understanding that there exists no place like Mauna Kea for the fulfillment of so many aspirations – spiritual, cultural, educational and scientific. And while emotions run very deep, this is not a time to let anger and frustration overpower the possibilities for moving forward together. Our history and geography make us unique, and we must find ways to work together.
This Reconciliation Commission is a first step towards a future that respects and includes all the people of Hawai‘i. It will promote empowerment and inclusion by acknowledging both different Native Hawaiian perspectives as well as the many perspectives of our larger community.
I strongly believe that by working together, our shared future can be a positive and harmonious one.
Governor David Y. Ige
Advocates of astronomy on Maunakea testified in favor of the resolution.
Doug Simons, the Director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, joined Hilton Lewis, the Director of the W.M. Keck Observatory, in signing the following written testimony in support of the resolution:
Through this letter the Maunakea Observatories express their strong support for HCR37 which proposes to establish a Blue Ribbon Reconciliation Commission to examine and formulate a reconciliation process relating to issues of past, present, and future importance to the native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America. As members of the Hawaii Island community, the Maunakea Observatories are keen to see progress made with reconciling long-standing grievances in the native Hawaiian community, particularly those that relate to the future of Maunakea, where we operate the most powerful collection of telescopes in the world. The Maunakea Observatories stand ready to support this process and respectfully request representation on the Reconciliation Commission on matters related to Maunakea, given the potential effects of this commission on the future of Maunakea astronomy.
However, the resolution was opposed by many Native Hawaiians. For them, it is an issue of trust.
M. Healani Sonoda-Pale, chair of Ka Lahui Hawai‘i Hui Komike Kalaiʻāina, explained the opposition in her written testimony:
This measure attempts to start a reconciliation process between the Kanaka Maoli people and State of Hawaiʻi with the appointment of a “Blue Ribbon” Reconcilation Commission appointed by the Governor. The first task of this Commission will be to examine and establish a reconciliation process for Mauna Kea. Any process that begins with Gubernatorial appointees, is State initiated and flawed especially a reconciliation process for Mauna Kea.
In the month of July 2019 alone, Governor Ige called the National Guard on peaceful protectors of Mauna Kea, dismantled traditional ahu (altars) and structures used in religious ceremonies on Mauna Kea, and arrested 38 elders who were blocking construction of the private Thrity Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea Access Road. More recently this administration is targeting organizations that have shown support and helped to sustain the occupation ofMauna Kea by peaceful protectors demonstrating that Govenor Ige and his administration do not have the best interests the Mauna Kea protectors in mind and will use whatever means necessary to “clear the way” for TMT including a bogus reconciliation process.
Any State initiated reconciliation process would be within the context of State laws and the Constitution which already protect and recognize many Kanaka Maoli rights and entitlements. However, the State of Hawaiʻi has shown time and time again that they will not follow their own laws and legal precedents when it comes to Kanaka Maoli rights and entitlements always putting the burden of proof on Kanaka Maoli and distorting the laws to serve corporate interests. With this said, the Governor appointed panel to look into reconciliation is disingenuous and any true process of reconciliation should begin with an apology and admission of the wrong that was done to the Mauna Kea Protectors and Kupuna and the wider Kanaka Maoli community.
The committee decided to advance the measure with a positive recommendation. However, they approved a change to the language of the resolution, removing the mention of Maunakea with the intention of supporting a reconciliation separate from the conflict on the mountain.