TMT Hearing: Hawaiian Language Restricted

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tmt sunset

An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope at sunset. TMT photo.

A contested case hearing was requested with respect to the 2011 Thirty Meter Telescope decision by the state Board of Land and Natural Resource to issue a permit to build the $1.4 billion next-generation telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.

The Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled the permit invalid until a contested case hearing could be held to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo witnesses Wallace Ishibashi Jr. and Dr. Clifford Smith testified in the BLNR Contested Case Hearing on the TMT on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.

Native Hawaiian practitioner Ishibashi, who testified previously, is the senior advisor at the Office of Mauna Kea Management. He previously served as the cultural advisor at OMKM after working in construction for over 20 years. Ishibashi is also a commissioner for the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands. He will serve as the construction advisor for the TMT project—if approved.

Ishibashi testified about his personal experience growing up and being taught traditional cultural practices, including annual visits to Mauna Kea, as well as the large number of “diverse” reasons others may have to object the TMT project.


During cross-examination by Petitioner C.M. Kaho‘okahi Kanuha, Ishibashi testified that “Sacrilege, if it did happen, happened way back when the first telescope went on. It’s just continued to build and it was allowed, so we are just continuing.”

Kanuha asked Ishibashi if Mauna Kea is a National Treasure. Ishibashi replied, “To me, yes. It’s my treasure.”

Kanuha attempted to question his support for destruction and desecration of a treasure, but objections prevented Ishibashi from responding.

Kanuha asked Ishibashi, “Are you aware the fake state of Hawai‘i has a law on desecration?”

Kanuha continued to refer to the state as fake a couple more times before (retired) Judge Riki May Amano, the hearing officer, interjected, asking if he was saying “the great state of Hawai‘i.”


At that point, UH-Hilo Attorney Tim Lui Kwan objected.

Amano explained she was concerned the questioner was implying that the witness agrees with him in calling Hawai‘i “a fake state.”

Following Kanuha’s cross-examination, Judge Amano informed Kanuha that the Hawaiian words and phrases he used must be written down and given to the court transcriptionist in order to be on record, otherwise the record would read, “Hawaiian Language.”

An observer from the gallery yelled, “Mauna Kea is a Hawaiian word.”

Judge Amano asked security to take note of the person responsible for the outburst but gave no clarification, explanation or further instructions to Kanuha, saying, “I thought I was helping.”


Kanuha argued that the state recognizes both the English and Hawaiian languages, therefore, he should be allowed to use both languages. He said an interpreter was needed.

Kanuha spoke in English for the majority of his questioning, using Hawaiian words and phrases when inquiring about Ishibashi’s cultural practices on Mauna Kea.

During cross-examination by litigant Jennifer Leinaala Slightholm, Ishibashi testified he understands that for some Native Hawaiians, the construction of the telescope will be hurtful.

Slightholm pointed out that Ishibashi’s written, direct testimony says he believes everyone is free to practice what they chose as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

She also questioned Ishibashi on the protection of physical spaces that are significant to one’s family.

Ishibashi in the past advocated against construction on/near Pu‘u Poliahu on Mauna Kea. The OMKM senior advisor said, yes, it is true that an area with significance to one’s family should be protected.

Slightholm then asked if it is true that the same protections do not apply to others and areas significant to them and their ‘ohana. Ishibashi replied, “Yes.”

Ishibashi was further questioned during Petitioner Tiffanie Kakalia’s cross-examination about the policies and procedures followed by OMKM specifically regarding cultural practices and activities on the mountain.

She asked what process Ishibashi took the day he knocked down rocks that had been placed upright on the summit and if the procedures outlined on the Mauna Kea Management Plan were followed.

Ishisbashi said, “We are not going to Kahu Kū Mauna for every attempt for lay down one stone. The policy was already agreed upon and vetted through Kahu Kū Mauna prior.”

Kahu Kū Mauna, which means, guardians of the mountain, is a volunteer community council that advises the OMKM Board on Hawaiian cultural matters affecting University of Hawai‘i Management Areas. According to the Mauna Kea Management Plan, Kahu Kū Mauna is to be contacted and consulted each time a cultural matter arises on the mountain.

During Brannon Kamahana Kealoha’s cross-examination, Ishibashi testified that he is a descendant of (amakua) Poliahu and related to her by blood.

Ishibashi testified that cultural practices on the mountain are not limited as stated in the management plan, but later testified that in order to build an ahu, shrine or place rocks upright, one must first receive a permit to do so.

Following Ishibashi was UH witness Dr. Smith, a botanist, who explained that the environment for flora on Mauna Kea is harsh and mostly a barren landscape.

Smith testified that the summit of Mauna Kea is rather inhospitable and that most lichens grow on the underside of the rocks.

His lichen studies concluded that the magnitude of cumulative impact on the Alpine Stone area could not be fully determined due to timeline constraints. He recommended a yearlong study in which samples would be collected once a month. At this time the study has not been completed and no plans are proposed or in progress.

Concerns Smith expressed included dust from vehicular traffic and decommissioning of telescopes, as well as impacts of skiers on Mauna Kea. Smith said the broad-scale impact is minimal and well-confined, noting the exception of Lake Waiau.

Lake Waiau is a high-elevation lake located at 3,970 meters above sea level on Mauna Kea. It is arguably one of the highest lakes in the United States and one of the very few lakes at all in the state of Hawai‘i.

Smith testified that since he first visited Lake Waiau in 1982, the color of the water has changed, algae is growing, the level of the lake has gone down and there is evidence of increased foot traffic around the lake.

“There’s obvious human impact there,” said Smith.

UHH witnesses Judge Walter Heen and Tom Nance are scheduled to testify on Dec. 2 in the Willie K. Room at The Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo on Banyan Drive in Hilo on the island of Hawai‘i.

Heen will testify about the history of UH management of Mauna Kea and Nance on water resources.

The BLNR contested case hearing on the TMT project is also scheduled for Dec. 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 20.

Next year’s scheduled hearing dates include Jan. 3 to 5, 9 to 12 , 19, 23 to 26, 30 and 31.

TMT Hearing: Native Hawaiian Practitioner Testifies
Judge Puts Time Limit on TMT Cross-Examinations
TMT Hearing: Native Hawaiian Navigator Testifies

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