January began with the TIO (the TMT International Observatory, LLC) wrapping up its case in support of the Conservation District Use Permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope. Witnesses included two native Hawaiians with doctoral degrees in astronomy or astrophysics: Paul Coleman, a full professor of astronomy at the University of Hawai`i Institute for Astronomy, and Heather Kaluna, a native of the Puna district of the Big Island and now a post-doc fellow with the UH Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.
Both attempted to explain how their pursuit of science did not conflict with their respect for their culture and Hawaiian tradition. Although the TMT opponents were generally reluctant to criticize other native Hawaiians, Coleman and Kaluna were challenged on the authenticity of their practices.
Kealoha Pisciotta, representing Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, asked Kaluna if she considered herself a “traditional cultural practitioner,” to which Kaluna replied in the affirmative, explaining how she gave offerings when ascending the mountain and also regarded her work as an astronomer as being part of her cultural practice.
Pisciotta then immediately stated her opinion that Kaluna’s testimony was “outside the scope of this contested case hearing, because astronomy is not at issue. … If the TMT were attempting to build a hospital using the same methodology with the same threats to the environment or cultural practices, we would object, but it wouldn’t mean we were against health care, so I believe this witness’s testimony is outside the scope of this hearing.”
When Coleman said he wanted to see the TMT project go forward, Pisciotta then stated that it was “safe to say your idea … is not really based from a cultural perspective.”
Coleman disagreed: For Hawaiians “not to take advantage of this would be going against our culture. I mean, we are scientists. How did we get here in the first place? You don’t find the Hawaiian islands in the middle of the Pacific without knowing science, and particularly astronomy. It’s impossible.”
Pisciotta then claimed that if the TMT were built, her “star-knowledge practices” would be hindered.
Again, Coleman disagreed: “Native Hawaiian star knowledge was, I think, mostly confined to things that can be seen from much lower elevations. Who would want to go up to the summit of Mauna Kea to observe stars which you cannot see as well with the naked eye as you can from ocean level? At sea level, your eyes work just fine. And in old Hawai`i, there were no ground lights, so astronomy could be done from anywhere. To say the old Hawaiians went up to the summit of Mauna Kea to do astronomy, that’s just not true. We have to go up to those tremendous altitudes simply because we have built lights that makes seeing from lower elevations untenable.”
KaHEA, one of the TMT opponents, presented as a witness its own native Hawaiian scientist, Narissa Spies, a doctoral candidate in zoology at the University of Hawai`i who is studying diseases of coral. Spies, who declined to accept a scholarship from the THINK fund established by the TMT, said she felt the efforts of the astronomy community to engage the larger community “feel disingenuous and obligatory. It’s as though they are fulfilling some kind of task in order to get something they want.”
‘King of the Owls’
A dispute over who has claims to Hawaiian words arose at one point, when Pua Case informed Amano that she objected to the group PUEO being referred to by the Hawaiian word pueo (owl). “Every time we say ‘pueo’ for Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, it just – my na`au just turns over because that is a very sacred bird and it’s also an aumakua for some of us.” Case proposed referring to the group as P-U-E-O.
Petitioner Clarence Kukauakahi Ching added his own objections, noting his deep respect for the Hawaiian short-eared owl. He added: “And the deeper reason for my objection – and you can look it up in the Hawaiian dictionary, Pukui’s dictionary – is that my name is the same name as our mythical king of the owls and the legend that goes with it. And so I seriously object to the use of that word.”
(Pukui’s dictionary defines it this way: “Ku-kaua-kahi. n. Said to be an old name for the gods Kane, Ku, and Lono. The theory of a trinity is believed due to remaking of Hawaiian legends by Kepelino, Kamakau, and Fornander to conform to the Bible.”)
Keahi Warfield, president and one of the founders of PUEO, addressed the hearing: “Naming practices in Hawaiian culture are very important. In creating the organization PUEO it was never my intention to call it P-U-E-O. There is a story connected to the naming of PUEO. And if any of the petitioners would have come to me and asked for two minutes of my time I would gladly give them the time to explain to them how that name came about.”
Case replied, saying it was not her intention “at any time to in any way engage or insult you. … I am also going to say that I’m kanaka maoli first, and I aloha you for your response … the last thing that I want to have is us sitting in the same room with a misunderstanding.”
Since then, Amano has referred to the group by its full name. Most of the TMT opponents have continued to call it P-U-E-O.
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The Opponents’ Case
Once the TMT opponents began presenting their cases, the nature of the testimony changed substantially, focusing far more on the claimed religious practices and beliefs of native Hawaiians.
Ku Kahakalau, a Hawaiian teacher, testified that the TMT’s construction would constitute desecration. Hawaiians, as younger siblings to the mountain, are called on to protect it, she said. “Our definition of sacredness is very different than that of people who come from a mentality and a culture where the predominant religion is to subdue the earth, that their view of sacredness of the earth is a completely different view than my view and the Hawaiian view, which is … that I am a direct descendant of the same deities that created the land and the mountain,” she said. “I am a younger sibling to the islands and a younger sibling to the mountain, and as a younger sibling I need to take care of and love and cherish and fondle, in a most precious way, the environment, the entire environment.”
Lincoln Ashida, attorney for PUEO, asked Kahakalau if she might be open to some compromise regarding the TMT construction. “There are things that I would call non-negotiables. And non-negotiables are never open to compromise,” she replied. “The building of the TMT is a non-negotiable.”
She went on to describe it as “another monument to Americanism, to capitalism, to expansion, at all costs, without any care and any concern about the people that live here and our values and traditions. … They clearly remind us that we are being colonized … continue to be exposed to things that we feel are not ethical, that are not pono in terms of expanding scientific knowledge at the expense of our values and traditions.”
Candace Fujikane, an English professor at the University of Hawai`i-Manoa, also testified that the TMT would desecrate Mauna Kea, which she claimed was sacred from the Saddle Road to the summit.
“The land itself is a map that reminds us of the mo`olelo,” she said. And if the TMT is built, Hawaiians will lose the ability to relate the mo`olelo, or stories and legends, to that place. The bottom line, she said, was “Mauna Kea is overbuilt.”
Laulani Teale, a traditional healer presented as a witness for Deborah Ward, talked about how the TMT would affect “alignments.” “Alignments in the heavens are reflected in alignments on Earth,” she stated in her written testimony, and “these directly relate to alignments within and between human beings. Our relationships to one another, to the Earth, to pono within ourselves are all affected by natural alignments that are the product of Wakea and Papa relating to one another in the context of creation. … Human interference with this great act of continual alignment is very harmful.”
Jon Osorio, a professor of history at the University of Hawai`i, acknowledged that he had never been to the summit of Mauna Kea, yet described it as an “industrial park.” When challenged on this, he said he was using the term in a way meant to be “rhetorical” and that with its use, he “intended to call attention to what you can actually do to a conservation district if you ignore its basic conservation-ness.”
Osorio said he had “looked at the way in which the approvals of this project have gone forward, the disregarding of testimony and in some cases the inability of cultural practitioners and environmentalists and other people to present opposition to this project…. I believe that one of the things we are addressing here today is not just the cultural concerns of my own people but also the political processes and procedures of this state.”
David Kimo Frankel, an attorney who resigned from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in December, was called to rebut testimony offered by David Callies, a law professor at the University of Hawai`i. Among his more controversial statements, Callies, offered by TIO to testify about land use law in Hawai`i, had maintained that the public trust doctrine did not apply to state lands. Frankel spent much of his time on the stand addressing that issue.
Kehau Abad was offered by KaHea as an expert in Hawaiian anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, historic preservation, and culture. She testified that the studies done for the TMT of Hawaiian cultural and historic sites did not extend far enough out from the proposed building site.
Abad also discussed a “ring of shrines,” stating that the TMT site needed to be considered “in that context.” Ross Shinyama, representing TIO, asked where the shrines might be found. “Within this ring of shrines area, are there any observatories currently within this ring?” Shinyama asked.
“Okay, so when you say within – I would need you to show me what you mean by within, visually show me what you mean by that term,” Abad replied.
“When you use the word ring, I’m thinking of a circle. Am I incorrect?” Shinyama said.
“If you’re imagining there’s a doughnut, that’s not the distribution,” Abad answered. “Our whole point, the point I am trying to raise, is there hasn’t been adequate enough study to really address the relationship of all of these relative to the undertaking.”
To address the botanical impacts of the TMT, KaHEA presented Eric Hansen, apparently in rebuttal to Clifford Smith, a lichenologist who testified for the University of Hawai`i. In 2011, Hansen was crew leader of a baseline survey of lichens, mosses, and other plants in the entire summit area sponsored by the Office of Mauna Kea Management. His crew found two endemic grasses and two endemic ferns as well as several indigenous plants.
Hansen acknowledged that his survey was by no means comprehensive. Pua Case asked, “Is it correct that in order to find good specimens in [the TMT area], one would need to conduct monthly collections for at least one year?”
“You can’t do it once a month for a year,” Hansen answered. “You’d need to do it every day, 365 days, to just get a baseline of what’s going on up there.” Until that is done, he opined, no further development on the summit should be undertaken.
Petitioner Harry Fergerstrom offered as one of his witnesses Williamson Chang, a law professor at the University of Hawai`i. Chang’s written testimony challenged the legitimacy of the state government and its title to the summit lands, among other things. Because Amano and the Land Board had earlier ruled that these topics would be off-limits, Amano did not allow Chang to testify.
Her decision led to an angry outburst from Fergerstrom. “You, Ms. Amano, have done a very poor job of this contested case. It has been riddled with administrative bias. … You’ve actually made my case, this is going to go to appeal and you’re going to lose.”
TMT opponents also put on several witnesses who gave what, since the Salem witch trials, has been called spectral evidence. Pua Case was the first of these to take the stand. Case is an educator and a kumu hula and, along with her husband, Kalani Flores, is part of the Case-Flores `Ohana that has been admitted to the contested case. She attested to her special relationship with a mo`o wahine (female deity) called Mana`ua, who can be called upon to make rain in Waimea.
“Mana`ua, the pohaku, the rock, is where Mo`oinanea, the kupua of Lake Waiau, comes to when she visits Mana`ua, if you want to say, the mo`o of the rain,” she said.
Mo`oinanea appeared one day to Case’s younger daughter, Case said, and asked her daughter to appeal to Case to intervene in the contested case, to “stop the telescope.”
Diana LaRose, a self-described sensitive of Cree ancestry, described even more extensive contacts with the spirits on the summit.
Claiming that her visions were “99 percent accurate” and that physicians called on her to help in diagnoses, she described several visions she experienced on the summit of Mauna Kea.
In one instance, while sitting near the proposed TMT site, she saw a stone circle with a cylinder in the center with wedge-shaped stones radiating out. She described seeing “constallations moving across the sky… Then the light from a particular star and particular constellation would go down in the center of this cylinder and it would be distributed out into rays.”
Hawaiian astronomers and navigators were sitting in the circle, LaRose reported, and they received “direct knowledge of the stars through the energy of the stars into those pohakus.”
“The real importance of this site is that the stars, these stars I saw, they would give specific knowledge directly to the people right through the crown of their head,” she stated.
First to question LaRose was TMT opponent Deborah Ward, who asked her to explain how to convey that experience to others so that “people can comprehend and understand confidently that it’s not superstition. I’m trying to understand how to language an intangible feeling.”
“Most people around the entire world have intuition,” LaRose replied. A lot of scientists are visionaries, she said, mentioning Einstein and Hawking.
Michael Lee, a witness for Harry Fergerstrom, stirred controversy last summer by placing the bones of one of his ancestors in one of the `ahu built in 2015 on the road to the TMT site.
Lee’s testimony defies easy summation, but he related stories of murder, incest, and many supernatural phenomena, including a “space vagina,” female ancestors who engage in “genetic engineering” and who marry “children and grandchildren for 500 years,” shark goddesses, and a rainbow bridge linking Haleakala and Mauna Kea.
“We are headed … to turn this planet into Mars, a dead planet,” Lee stated. “We are moving down that path. Ke akua knew we would go there so he created the Hawaiian people and the Hawaiian islands to be here when we get in this global warming to show the path to navigate the correct pono way.”
— Patricia Tummons