VIDEO: Nine TMT Protestors Plead Not Guilty

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As of 8:40 a.m. on July 17, 2019, 15 protestors/protectors/kūpuna were going to be charged with obstructing a government operation. PC: Crystal Richard

With contributions from Darde Gamayo

The first nine of the 35 kūpuna arrested on July 17 for blocking Mauna Kea Access Road appeared in Hilo District Court for arraignment before Judge Bruce Larson on Friday morning, Aug. 23, 2019, at 8:30 a.m. The citations were issued in accordance with Hawai‘i Revised Statutes for Obstructing Government Operations, a misdemeanor offense.

Approximately 150 Maunakea Protectors showed up to support the kūpuna who appeared in court today:

James V. Albertini
Tomas Belski
Marie Alohalani Brown
Ana Nawahine Kahoopi‘i
Kaliko Kanaele
Carmen Kahulumealani Lindsey
Edleen O.K. Peleholani
Hawley Ann L. Reese
Ranette C.K. Robinson

Approximately 150 Maunakea Protectors showed up to support the 9 Kupuna who appeared in court today, Aug. 23, 2019. PC: Darde Gamayo


The nine plead not guilty to the charges and were ordered to return to court on Sept. 20, 2019 for their pretrial hearings.

Edleen Peleholani, one of the Maunakea kūpuna arrested and arraigned, shared her thoughts on the charges.

“When I went up there, there were a lot of kūpuna there and I was asked to join them. I felt so honored to join them.”

Edleen Peleholan. Video clip: Darde Gamayo

After taking a seat in the front row in the blockade of Mauna Kea Access Road, she was told by other kūpuna that it was likely she would be arrested.

“For what?” she asked. Obstruction, she was told. “There were both sides lined up—all the sheriffs—anybody could be intimidated by the law. But… the kūpuna sat there in love with their people… and for the mountain and for the whole world. We are the people of aloha. There is nobody else who practices Kapu Aloha like us.”


A Kapu Aloha is an order of restraint placed by kahuna or other Hawaiian cultural practitioners, to act with only kindness, love and empathy.

Peleholani was then interrupted by a member of the protestors legal team.

Kūpuna attorneys gather to make a statement to the press on Aug. 23, 2019. PC: Darde Gamayo

Attorney Kelli Ponce said, “It is a great honor and privilege for me to represent the ki‘ai who are here today for arraignment… Our clients have plead not guilty. They look forward to their day in court, where they will persist in their defenses which include freedom of religion, freedom of speech and their native and traditional rights to gather and to practice their culture and religion in a sacred place.”

Attorney Sonny Ganaden said, “We believe that our clients have every right to be on the mauna and continue to be on the mauna.”

Attorney Moani Crowell said, “We are adamant in their innocence and we believe that justice will prevail in the forthcoming hearings.”


Attorney Dexter Kaiama said he will be representing four of the ki‘ai on Sept. 20. He said, “Once the stories of our kūpuna are heard, for lack of a better word, it will be awesome.”

Kaiama said it was the kūpuna who set the tone for all this, requesting to be in the front line of the protest. “When kūpuna tell you what needs to be done, that’s what’s done.”

He said there has been a peacefulness and reverence to this protection movement. “This is extraordinary,” he added. “The kūpuna have been the main reason why this has been such a peaceful protection.”

All members of the defense team are donating their time.

Protect Mauna Kea Leader Kaho‘okahi Kanuha spoke and began a pule outside the courthouse after the proceedings, expressing thanks to all the kūpuna in attendance today… and in the future.

“This time around is very different than how it was in 2015,” said Kanuha. shared. “This is so much bigger, so much better and more beautiful… it’s not just different generations standing up at different times but it’s all of us standing together.”

“Some of us have done this before so we know the struggle—and sometimes getting arrested is the easy part,” he said. “And it’s coming back to court, coming back to court, coming back to court…”

Kanuha talked about the financial sacrifice made by those who live off-island and are expected to return to court.

“We are proud to know that these are the kūpuna that we walk with—and now we are going back up to the mauna, where it can happen all over again,” he said.


Protectors gathered outside the courthouse to pule before leaving on Aug. 23, 2019. PC: Darde Gamayo


There were an estimated 1,000 people at the intersection of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (formerly known as Saddle Road) and the Mauna Kea Access Road on day three of the protests against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, despite the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in October 2018, affirming the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to issue a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers issued citations to 33 individuals on July 17. All were almost immediately released. Additional arrests were made in the following days of protest.

Gov. David Ige signed an Emergency Proclamation that day, allowing additional state assets to support actions at Mauna Kea to ensure all lawful activities and the safety of everyone in the area. The proclamation expanded the authority of law enforcement to control and manage areas on Mauna Kea.

On July 23, Gov. Ige took himself off the front lines, naming Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim lead negotiator in the standoff—then in its ninth day.

On July 30, Gov. Ige rescinded the proclamation, a decision protesters and several local, state and federal politicians had called for.

Gov. Ige also told reporters the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources has approved a two-year extension, allowing the state to push back construction of TMT more than two years until September of 2021. Construction of the telescope may take up to 10 years to complete.

The University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents is rescheduling decision-making on the proposed administrative rules for UH managed lands on Maunakea. The additional time will allow the board to consider the feedback that was received on the proposed rules, while the recently formed regent interaction group reviews the university’s stewardship and governance activities on Maunakea.

The board will take up the rules on Nov. 6, instead of Aug. 30.

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