Friday, June 18, 1999

Science vs. spirit is
key Mauna Kea issue

Native Hawaiians tell the University of
Hawaii's regents of their concern about more
development at the cluster of telescopes

By Susan Kreifels


Native Hawaiians spoke with deep emotion, and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents listened in what some called a symbolic breakthrough in UH attitudes toward Hawaiian issues.

And this morning, the regents adopted the concept of establishing a Mauna Kea management authority that will report to the chancellor of UH-Hilo and also establishing a permanent advisory committee made up of native Hawaiians, business people, astronomers and others in the community.

No new construction will be approved on Mauna Kea until these two bodies are in place.

Regent John Hoag said he hopes this is the "first step in the healing process" surrounding the Mauna Kea controversy and that it will lead to "more global recognition of the Hawaiian culture."

The authority, instead of the Institute for Astronomy at UH-Manoa, would manage telescopes atop the Big Island mountain, the most sacred spot in the islands to native Hawaiians.

Larger issue outlined

Yesterday regents heard details on the proposed draft Mauna Kea Master Plan for construction of more telescopes on the summit.

During six hours of committee meetings, native Hawaiians gave impassioned testimony about the sacredness of Mauna Kea, their opposition to further development, and their great distrust of the university and the astronomy community. For most of the regents, it was the first time they heard such testimony firsthand.

Regent Nainoa Thompson, a native Hawaiian, said the Mauna Kea controversy reflected much bigger issues.

"This is really about abuse of the native people being subject to racism and disrespect," said Thompson. "This is an opportunity for a real turning point, a defining moment. The university is the most powerful instrument to shape Hawaii's future."

The master plan, according to Francis Oda, Group 70 International chairman and chief executive officer, would build up to four new telescopes on Mauna Kea and up to six "outriggers," minitelescopes attached as "appendages" to existing telescopes. The plan, which must be approved by the regents, also includes up to 12 new antennas, said Oda, whose company was hired by UH as professional planners.

Environment-sensitive design

Oda said the new sites would be designed to blend in with the environment, making them less eyesores, and they would not be built in areas that would interfere with sacred native Hawaiian sites. Public access to the summit would be managed but not restricted, and Hawaiians would be free to carry on religious and cultural activities.

Oda said a lot of misinformation has alarmed the public, such as talk that more than 50 new telescopes would be built.

Hank Fergerstrom, a Hawaiian from Waimea, next to Mauna Kea, said he was happy about the regents' reaction but was "also very cautious. Words are very cheap."

Eight people testified against the draft plan, most Hawaiians, and some suggested violent protest.

"One time we were warlike people," said Charles "Uncle Charlie" Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a Hawaiian cultural consultant. "You are pushing us in a corner. When will you hear?"

Powerful spiritual place

Reynolds Kamakawiwoole Jr., a former police officer, said he has had powerful spiritual experiences on Mauna Kea.

"In Japan if you did this to a temple, they would kill you," Kamakawiwoole said, referring to the telescopes built on Mauna Kea's summit.

Hoag said he was a regent more than 30 years ago when the first telescopes were built on Mauna Kea. He said no native Hawaiians protested then. Thompson said, however, that the lack of protest then didn't mean Hawaiians didn't care. Back then Hawaiians were "so depressed, they had no sense of dreams, of the idea of standing up for their beliefs."

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