Hawai‘i stops prosecuting elders who protested telescope

  • FILE - Demonstrators block a road at the base of Hawaii’s tallest mountain, in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, on July 15, 2019, to protest the construction of a giant telescope on land that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred. Hawaii’s new attorney general said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that several dozen elders won’t be subject to another round of prosecution for blocking a road three years ago to prevent the construction of the new telescope. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i’s new attorney general said Tuesday more than two dozen elders won’t be subject to another round of prosecutions for blocking a road three years ago to prevent the construction of a new telescope on a mountain summit many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

Law enforcement arrested 38 elders, mostly Native Hawaiians, during a 2019 demonstration against the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea. Of these, 30 had their cases dismissed after a 2021 Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling clarified the process for filing criminal complaints and said authorities had been following the incorrect procedure.

Attorney General Anne Lopez had the option to refile charges but said it wasn’t in the best interest of Hawai‘i’s people to continue to prosecute the kupuna, or elders. Gov. Josh Green appointed Lopez to be attorney general after he took office last month.

Green, in a news release from Lopez’s office, said he appreciated her decision.

“The time has come to build a new pathway forward that considers all people and is respectful of our host culture,” Green said. “This is the kind of justice we want to see for our kupuna, who stood up for what they believe in — their culture and their ancestors. I will work to find a way forward together.”

The protests helped convince Hawai‘i’s leaders they needed a new approach to managing Mauna Kea. Last year, the state formed a new governing body for the mountain called the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority.

Native Hawaiian cultural experts — including one of the arrested elders — have voting seats on the authority. The governing body is tasked with protecting Mauna Kea for future generations and balancing science with culture and the environment.


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