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Kuleana and Lanakila Mangauil

The third part of our profile on the Mauna Kea movement leader examines Mangauil’s interpretation of his duty to protect the land, his people's culture and their right to self-determination.

Ka'iulani Milham

Photo: Photo: Lanakila Mangauil (center) marches at the Aloha ʻĀina Unity rally on August 9, 2015 | The Hawaii Independent Staff

Aug. 26, 2015

As the political landscape surrounding Mauna Kea shifted and expanded over the summer, Lanakila Mangauil managed to keep his balance; alternately flowing with and directing the unseen current of a movement that, like the island of Hawaiʻi itself, is still building.

It had been one week since he’d been arrested on Haleʻakalā and a little over two weeks since he’d stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a line of fellow Mauna Kea protectors at the front of thousands of Aloha ʻĀina Unity marchers in Waikīkī.

On Oʻahu for the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court hearing on the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT)’s Conservation District Use Permit, Mangauil had spent the day discussing long-term plans for Mauna Kea at the State Capitol. It was nearly 9 p.m. when we finally sat down to talk in the Capitol courtyard.

As we talked, a small group began to gather at the end of the courtyard facing the Spirit of Liliʻuokalani statue in preparation for an overnight prayer vigil for Mauna Kea and the hearing. Lanakila would join them, but could not stay all night. The court case was set to begin in less than 12 hours. Afterward, Lanakila planned to attend the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) monthly board meeting in Kakaʻako. He would need some sleep.

In the 11 months since Mangauil burst into the TMT groundbreaking ceremony, it’s become abundantly clear that the Mauna Kea movement is much more than a flash in the pan.

The movement to protect sacred places applies to Maui as well, where the Kakoʻo Haleʻakalā campaign has organized against construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on the storied mountain’s summit.

On August 9, the Aloha ʻĀina Unity March tapped into the natural affinity between environmentalists and Hawaiian cultural activists to bring an estimated 10,000 people together as a unified force for the ʻāina. It was a heady moment indeed.

But what now?, I wondered. Was the movement still picking up steam?

“Definitely. We’re still just getting started,” answers Mangauil. “People are starting to feel their kuleana and their responsibilities and they’re finding their place in that.”

Mangauil believes real change requires sacrifice and dedication, “not showing up a couple of times or something and thinking it’s gonna change. We need more people to dedicate their life to doing the work,” he says.

Like all of the kiaʻi, Mangauil’s commitment to the mauna has come at a price. In supporting this movement, he’s had to give up his home and, following an accident several months ago, his car, too. But Mangauil looks at these “earthly” sacrifices as necessary. He feels it’s a good thing that he and other kiaʻi are at a point in their lives where they are able to maintain their presence as guardians on Mauna Kea. Such dedication, he says, allows others to attend to their own kuleana and is necessary for the long-term protection of ʻāina.

“If we’re just looking to take care of the mountain for this one particular situation … and then what? We stop TMT and everybody goes home?”

One of the things he’s been working on, is developing ideas on how to best steward Mauna Kea for the next 500 years.

“It means educating ourselves on what needs to happen. So really, the true protection of the mountain.”

Rules of Engagement

While looking at the long term, Mangauil has also directed his attention to practical matters, such as ensuring the kiaʻi keeping vigil on the mountain remain safe, even in defiance of Emergency Rules the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) passed, ostensibly, in the interest of “public safety.”

The rules, effectively banning the protector’s presence on the mountain between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., were first enforced July 31, when Big Island Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) officers rousted the kiaʻi out of their sleeping bags at 2:30 a.m. A prior-restraint ban was in full effect, preventing media from reporting on the arrests, but a DLNR-provided video shows the defenders, apparently, caught off guard as they slept. However, Mangauil says, the arrests were not a complete surprise. Agreements made previously with DLNR were in place to provide a warning before any arrests were made.

Mangauil had been on the mountain all day when a call came in from DLNR First Deputy Kekoa Kaluhiwa notifying the protectors that the go-ahead had been given for the Big Island DLNR officers to enforce the new rules. Anticipating the arrests sometime in the next day or two, some protectors decided to stay. Others, including Mangauil, thought it better to go home to rest and prepare for what was to come.

As it turned out, the arrests came the very next morning, just hours after 20 Haleʻakalā protectors—who had locked arms inside duct-taped PVC pipes before laying down in the road to block delivery of telescope equipment—were arrested at the Central Maui Baseyard. Though Mangauil could not have known it then, in a matter of weeks he too would find himself in handcuffs on that mountain.

But on Mauna Kea, relations with police have been relatively stable. Over the months that Mangauil and others have been protecting Mauna Kea, they’ve been able to establish a relatively open dialogue with DLNR and police, making sure to let them know of any incidents as well as randomly calling to check in and let them know things are alright. Big Island officers, by this time, were well aware of their position. Rather than taking the protectors completely off guard, which could lead to bad, spur-of-the-moment decisions, they’ve agreed that safety is better served if the protectors are informed before arrests.

“They know that when things go down, we’re going to do what we have to do. But the main thing is safety … including the safety of the mountain,” says Mangauil.

With such open dialogue, Mangauil and his fellow Mauna Kea protectors were disturbed to find a much heavier and more militant police presence when they came to support the DKIST blockade on Haleʻakalā on August 20.

The night started out as a remarkably peaceful protest; a lei-draping ceremony at the Central Maui Baseyard where Kākoʻo Haleʻakalā protectors erected a bamboo altar on which to lay their offerings to the sacred mountain. For nearly two hours, police had stood by as a quiet stream of worshippers brought forward hundreds of flower and ti leaf lei. But, after police made an announcement giving Haleʻakalā protectors a five-minute warning, the atmosphere began to heat up. Protectors found themselves facing a line of officers in full riot gear who began pushing the altar against them. Rather than see it destroyed, protectors at the front of the line removed it from the roadway. As the crowd of about 150 demonstrators dispersed, a convoy of tractor trailers pulled out and began to make their way to Haleʻakalā for their telescope equipment delivery.

Arriving at the roadblock police had set up at the turnoff to the road to the summit, Mangauil joined with other protectors who were heading up the mountain on foot. They had gone about two miles up when police brought the group up short.

“They wouldn’t let us go up, under threat of arrest,” recalls Mangauil. “Just around the next bend, you could here them calling ʻKū kiaʻi mauna!’”

It wasn’t until after the police vans carrying those arrested passed by, that Mangauil was able to continue up the road. At the place of the arrests, he met up with Mauna Kea protector Mehana Kihoi, and together they continued up the road walking alongside the line of tractor trailers. Ahead, they could see the line of traffic had stalled, and police were getting in and out of their cars. Chanting as they approached the area, they saw where grass, dirt and other debris had been placed on the road. Mangauil recalls walking past an officer’s SUV just before he was stopped.

“He pulls up ahead of me, gets out and he comes up to me. He says, ‘Turn around you’re under arrest.’ And at first I said, ‘Why am I under arrest?’ And he says, ‘for throwing things in the road.’ I said, ‘Oh no. I did not throw anything in the road. I was behind you guys.’ And he said, ‘they [truck drivers] said you was putting things back in the road.’” Mangauil, who had been cautious that night to avoid arrest, was charged with obstruction.

Building Towards Unity

On August 9, an estimated 10,000 people came together for the Aloha ʻĀina Unity March, chanting, dancing hula and singing their way through the tourist center of Waikīkī peacefully, and without incident.

For Mangauil, the display of unity was powerful, bringing together activists and advocates from throughout the islands in a single call for the protection of ʻāina, from industrial-style telescope development on Mauna Kea and Haleʻakalā to unbridled development and GMO-pesticide threats against farmland to militarism in the Pacific.

“To see them marching was so uplifting and, definitely, it was beautiful. It was wonderful,” says Mangauil. “We were drawing no lines of separation amongst our people.”

But it is the spiritual underpinning of Mauna Kea that Mangauil credits as the unifying force under all.

“It is the mountain’s stand that has called; that has made the kāhea that is bringing everybody together. That’s why the mountain is a piko; that’s what it does. It is the center point that can bring us together. It is led by our spiritual connection to that higher understanding of our connectivity to the environment and to the respect of ‘āina.”

Mangauil interprets the massive participation in the march as a sign that consciousness—that spiritual connection with ʻāina—is growing.

“People are starting to pay attention to these kinds of things more,” he says. “I’m inspired to see so many young people because we know, I hope, that our kūpuna will feel more comfortable knowing that the next generation’s coming and they’re not by themselves. We have been getting educated and following in their footsteps and now we are ready to take up the kuleana. The consciousness is there; the people are poised and ready to move and gather together when the kāhea comes.”

Just as Mangauil is careful not to “draw lines,” he is purposeful about bridging gaps. When the International Astronomical Union Convention came to Waikīkī, Mangauil sought out, and was able to arrange, a last minute presentation for a group of conference leaders on the spiritual nature of Mauna Kea.

“I wanted to just speak to the hearts of the people. The biggest thing is, whatever the media paints out there about us—that we’re anti-this or whatever—I wanted to just tell our story of this mountain,” Mangauil says. “When they hear about why the mountain is so important to us and why the mountain is so important to the environment, then at maybe they’ll understand why we’re up there.”

That initial presentation—before the presidents of the International Astronomy Association and American Astronomy Association, a top astronomer from Yale University and others—led to a second invitation-only presentation the following evening, attended by about 30 astronomers. Assisted by Hina Leimoana Wong-Kalu, the presentation made a strong impression. By the end of the evening the astronomers were singing “Kū Haʻaheo,” the song, penned by Wong-Kalu, that has become the anthem of the Mauna Kea movement.

“Oh, they were in tears …They were all singing with us,” says Mangauil.

It is this kind of “human-to-human, heart-to-heart, naʻau-to-naʻau” interaction that Mangauil favors—titles, rank and other divisions be damned. “I just walk forward with pure aloha. And that’s the only thing I have. I’m just from Honokaʻa. I’m no politician. I don’t got degrees and studies … that’s all I know: just be straight up, be honest, do good and speak well.

Living Up To His Name

Some of the most gratifying moments for Mangauil this past year have been times spent with his ʻohana. Family reunions have brought strong support and confirmations that his journey is as it should be.

It was at a reunion a couple of weeks ago, as his family was gathering for a group photo with his parents, that his traditionally apolitical older sister, calling out “Kū Haʻaheo!,” started his whole family singing the Mauna Kea anthem and calling out “Ku Kiaʻi Mauna!”

“I was in tears,” admits Mangauil. “To hear that from my family. It wasnʻt just that they support me; they’re conscious, they’re thinking, they’re opening up about these kind of things.”

The youngest of six children, Mangauil has been amazed by the changes the Mauna Kea movement has inspired in his “old-school Hawaiian family.” Two of his “tita” sisters were inspired to give testimony at a TMT meeting at the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo. One sister spoke about kapu aloha, how the non-violent creed of the Mauna Kea protectors has changed her own perspective on life.

Mangauil’s parents took the occasion to remind him of the meaning behind his name.

“Actually my name is Lanakila o ka ʻāina, which means, literally, the conqueror of the land. And that is what Joshua [Mangauil’s first name] was as well, biblically. But then my dad, later on, he added on ‘i ka pono’ so it becomes ‘one who conquers the land in the name of righteousness.’”

Mangauil prefers to interpret his auspicious name in his own way: “Not that I conquer the land, but that I will strive and I will win for the land in a righteous way. I hold that as a kuleana; I don’t have a choice,” says Mangauil. “What else would I be doing with my life? I think this is good. I think it’s a choice that, when I get older, I can look back on and say I did something good for my people.”