Above: OHA vice chair Dan Ahuna led the faction of trustees who initially pushed for outright opposition to the TMT project. He was visibly the most disheartened by the board’s eventual decision to rescind support instead. | Will Caron
Yesterday, April 30, 2015, the trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) elected to rescind the agency’s 2009 decision to support the controversial Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project, a symbolic move the trustees hoped would appease their beneficiaries—the lāhui—the majority of whom wanted a strong message of opposition from the agency tasked with improving the lot of Native Hawaiians. The trustees’ decision was met with disappointment from most Hawaiians there, and outright ire from others.
Trustee Peter Apo led the faction of trustees who pushed for the more neutral position of simply rescinding support for the TMT project. He argued that a vote to oppose the project would burn valuable bridges connecting the agency to the University of Hawaiʻi (UH), the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the TMT LLC., who might retaliate by removing OHA from future discussions concerning the telescope, the mountain and the larger issue of land use and Hawaiian rights in Hawaiʻi.
“This is about more than just the mountain,” said Apo. “This is our chance to renegotiate the entire land trust system in Hawaiʻi. I want to thank all of you who showed up to testify against this project; because of you, we now have the strongest possible bargaining position that we can. But that is why we cannot let this opportunity slip away. This is a once in a lifetime chance, and we need to stay at the table for as long as we possibly can, rather than let other people make these important decisions for us.” (Watch the full video of the OHA trustee discussion concerning the vote below):
Trustees Dan Ahuna, Hulu Lindsey and Leinaʻala Ahu Isa initially pushed for the board to oppose the project, but trustees Rowena Akana, Haunani Apoliona and Colette Machado sided with trustee Apo’s argument for a more “strategic” course that would allow the agency to remain more flexible (trustee John D. Waiheʻe IV and chair Robert Lindsey were not present for the discussion or the vote). Despite audible protest from the gathered members of the Hawaiian community, a vote of 4–3 would have achieved nothing, as trustee Hulu Lindsey pointed out. The trustees, therefore, decided to pass the motion to rescind support for the project. When it came time for vice-chair Ahuna to vote, he gave an enigmatic answer: “kanalua,” meaning “undecided, or doubtful.”
Those Hawaiians who remained after the vote, including OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, and several of the trustees, held hands and sang songs together. As their voices filled the chamber, there were tears in the eyes of many. Finally, Mauna Kea defender and Hawaiian community leader Lanakila Mangauil gave a speech to those gathered.
“Dry your tears,” he told them. “This is not the end.” (Watch his speech below):