LIHUE — In an emotional meeting Wednesday, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami and new police chief Todd Raybuck called an impromptu “listening meeting” at the County Civic Center Rotunda, after recent protests over the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
The meeting ended after Kawakami and Raybuck fielded questions for over two and a half hours relating to public safety, protesting rights, native Hawaiian rights and water pollution on the Westside of the island.
Kawakami credited Raybuck with the idea of holding the meeting to address the community and to get ahead of the protests on Kauai that have increased in intensity, coinciding with the protests on the Big Island over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope
Kawakami said there has been talk of protesters closing highways or the airports on Kauai, and one attendee asked Kawakami during the meeting, “what other choice do we have?”
“I’m scared for my culture and the future of my culture and for my people,” 17-year-old Hi‘ilani Chow said, fighting back tears. “If Mauna Kea goes down then my culture goes down.”
Chow and her mother were joined by around 30 people at the meeting that Raybuck said was a chance to talk with the community and be proactive in their approach.
Kawakami stated he is in favor of the TMT project and he believes it will help provide a living wage for people will employ, even if people disagree with his stance.
“I think first and foremost making things right with our host culture is of the utmost importance,” Kawakami said. “With that being said, if you take a look at incarceration rates when you take a look at who is living in poverty, I wouldn’t be able to say that money is not important. In this society, if you don’t have any kind of way to provide, that’s where you can see people falling into depression and you see suicide rates and who is committing suicide.
“When we ask people ‘who is losing hope?’ It’s our host culture, but I think of the utmost importance is to pay respect to our host culture, to protect our wahi pana (place with a pulse) and that is why TMT is such a divisive issue.”
Preston Ornellas, draped in a Hawaiian flag, testified how he feels about the TMT and the Mauna Kea protests on the Big Island.
“This is a deep-rooted issue in me, myself, in my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents,” Ornellas said. “I watched my grandma practice in silence and secret in her own home. They don’t speak Hawaiian outside of their home but every morning I used to hear her singing in Hawaiian because she was punished for speaking Hawaiian outside of her own home…This thing is heavy, it’s big and we’re not speaking just on the surface.”
Ornellas pointed to the youth and people like Chow that will change the future of Hawaii with tools like social media at their disposal.
At the end of the meeting, everyone joined hands after forming a circle with Kawakami and Raybuck in a symbol of unity and peace. They sang Hawaiian songs and could be seen smiling together before disbanding.
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.