HILO — After meeting with protesters Monday at the Maunakea Access Road, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he would advise Gov. David Ige to de-escalate the confrontation on the mountain.
For several hours Monday morning, Green toured the site where protesters have encamped since July 15 in opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope project, listening to their concerns and pleas for help.
After hearing from dozens of kupuna, or elders, about their various grievances, Green said he would speak with Ige about removing “all weapons” from the mountain and whether the telescope should still be built.
Green said the time is approaching for a “reckoning” to determine whether the TMT project can go forward.
“The people with the most wisdom feel we can’t go forward without cracking the foundation of the Hawaiian culture,” he said.
With the protests on Maunakea now into their second week, and similar protests occurring on other Hawaiian Islands, Green said the issue is no longer solely TMT, but is now about the “generations of hurt” felt by the Hawaiian community.
While many of the kupuna Green met with restricted their comments to worries about the TMT project itself, many others discussed how underserved the Hawaiian community feels by their elected officials.
“Why are our Hawaiian people suffering?” asked kupuna Emily Naeole. “If the American government doesn’t want to take care of us, then they should let us go.”
Green said he was impressed by the community and the camp, Puuhonua o Puu Huluhulu, but he added that, as a doctor, he is worried about the continued health of the kupuna, who are exposed to the elements.
“Up here, older people are going to suffer,” Green said, adding that the cold and the wind can cause pneumonia or even death.
“I think their point has been made,” Green said, visibly shivering against Monday’s cold mists.
Naeole, a former member of the County Council, agreed that it was difficult for her to visit the mountain two days in a row, and said she would rather have a full day in order to recover between visits. However, despite the conditions, Naeole said she would try to continue to visit the mountain whenever possible.
Dr. Lorraine Sonoda-Fogel, one of the doctors providing medical service at the puuhonua, said the kupuna tend to be cycled through during the week, with kupuna returning home to rest while refreshed kupuna take their place on the mountain.
Meanwhile, medical staff at the puuhonua — made up of medical professionals — assess the conditions of the kupuna and determine whether they need more serious medical attention.
“It’s part of our culture. We take care of our kupuna,” Sonoda-Fogel said. “It’s not like we lack common sense.”
Green’s visit came three days after Ige remarked that the protesters and the puuhonua presented a public health and safety hazard.
State Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison said police observed protesters consuming beer and smoking marijuana last week, but acknowledged that puuhonua leaders put a stop to such behavior.
Despite Green’s remarks, Dennison said law enforcement continues to plan and prepare to clear the access road for construction to begin.
An estimated 1,000 protesters were in attendance Monday, Dennison said. Without any conflict with police, many protesters retreated to vehicles or pop-up tents to shelter from the wind and rain.
Ige’s office declined to comment on Green’s remarks.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.