Hawaiian group asserts claim to Mauna Kea
by Janet Snyder
Dec. 12, 1999
A Native Hawaiian group that considers itself the modern embodiment of the overthrown Hawaiian monarchy held an overnight vigil and ceremonies this weekend to declare jurisdiction over Mauna Kea, the expanded development of which they oppose.
A leader of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday that civil disobedience was an option that Hawaiians might take to ensure an immediate end to development of the mountain they consider sacred.
The group timed the vigil, which began at midnight Friday and ended Saturday, to press home its demand for control over Mauna Kea.
The event coincided with the Dec. 11 birthday of Kamehameha V, who founded the Royal Order in 1865. He was the grandson of Kamehameha I, whose statue in Wailoa Park was the vigil site.
"This is an appropriate time to exercise our sovereignty and to fulfill our responsibility with regards to kingdom law," said the order's ali’i of East Hawai’i, Paul K. Neves.
The Royal Order is a fraternal organization whose members are men of Hawaiian ancestry. Its leaders are designated ali’i, or lords, of Hawai’i's traditional districts.
Neves said that the current season of Makahiki, a time of peace and reconciliation, traditionally calls for redistribution of the land's resources.
"One of the things we wish to redistribute is the care of Mauna Kea to our people," Neves said. "What we're doing is taking back jurisdiction over Mauna Kea. The care of Mauna Kea is within our jurisdiction, no one else's."
Neves slammed the State of Hawai’i, the University of Hawai’i, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the U.S. government for its handling of development atop Mauna Kea's summit, which is home to a number of high-tech telescopes. He held the door open for consultation, however.
"They've shown they're incompetent, but they have competent people we'd like to sit down with," Neves said. "The Native Hawaiian people have very grave concerns over what has been done on Mauna Kea and what is being said will be done."
UH Institute for Astronomy officials could not be reached for comment. A spokesman from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the agency had not been contacted by the Royal Order about its claim to the mountain.
Neves said Native Hawaiians have never been consulted over expansion plans for the astronomy facilities atop the mountain, and warned that any future development would have to include his people.
"The Royal Order of Kamehameha strongly suggests that anybody who wants to do anything on Mauna Kea need to talk to the people who own it," Neves said. Neves said that Native Hawaiian stewardship of the mountain, the home of many sacred sites, would not harm anyone.
"We're looking at a great new day; we don't see this as being detrimental to anyone," Neves said.
"The Royal Order of Kamehameha is prepared to protect and defend the honor and integrity of the Native Hawaiian people," Neves said. "No more groveling."
Neves said that while his group wants to talk with government agencies about its claim to Mauna Kea, it did not rule out civil disobedience.
"Obviously, if nobody listens to us, there's only one road up and one road down. I have to protect my mountain," Neves said.
He said that a blockade or similar protests by Hawaiians could be a daily occurrence and cost the astronomy industry millions of dollars.
"It would hurt everybody," Neves said. "We're not asking for a removal of anything up there, but we are asking for an immediate moratorium on development."
Saturday's events included a ceremony to commemorate Kamehameha V's birthday.
The ceremonies coincided with formal reconciliation meetings held Friday and Saturday on Oahu between Native Hawaiians and officials of the U.S. Department of Interior and the Office of Tribal Justice.
Members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha place adornments on a ku’ahu, or altar, built Saturday morning near the base of the King Kamehameha statue in Hilo. The men were among some 15 people who took part in an overnight vigil at the statue to demonstrate their claim of jurisdiction over the summit of Mauna Kea.