Mauna Kea Kiaʻi Continue Their Work

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Land Board Will Consider TMT’s Permit Violation
Proposal to Designate the Mauna as “Traditional Cultural Property”

By Bianca Isaki, Ph.D.

Mauna Kea TCP boundary diagram
(Above) Mauna Kea TCP boundary diagram, excerpted from the Request for Nomination of the Mauna Kea Traditional Cultural Property and District, filed July 20, 2023.

For more than two decades, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Kealoha Piscotta, Paul Neves, Kūkauakahi Ching, and Deborah Ward have worked together as the “Mauna Kea Hui” (Hui) to organize for the protection of Mauna Kea. Today, two public processes are in motion that have a long history with the Hui.

Land Board Hearing on TMT Construction Permit Violation

In September 2017, the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (Land Board) approved the University of Hawaiʻi-Hilo’s (UHH) conservation district use permit for Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) construction on Mauna Kea. That permit included standard Condition No. 4:

Any work done or construction to be done on the land shall be initiated within two (2) years of the approval of such use, in accordance with construction plans that have been signed by the Chairperson, and, unless otherwise authorized, shall be completed within twelve (12) years of the approval. The UH Hilo shall notify the Department in writing when construction activity is initiated and when it is completed.

In 2019, UHH asked for a two-year extension, citing its 2019 equipment testing, road and utility surveys, and efforts to move its construction equipment onto Mauna Kea Access road in July 2019. On July 30, 2019, the Land Board chair granted the extension.

Photo: An ahu (altar) at Puʻuhuluhulu
An ahu (altar) at Puʻuhuluhulu, Mauna Kea near Saddle Road. Nā Kiaʻi Paʻa, community protectors, still remain at the mauna, maintaining a now years-long vigil to ensure that no sign of construction goes unreported. – Photo: Lehuanani Waipā Ah Nee

Also in July 2019, thousands of demonstrators against TMT construction encamped at Puʻuhuluhulu. No TMT construction occurred on Mauna Kea at that time going forward. Today, community members, Nā Kiaʻi Paʻa, remain on the mauna, maintaining a now years-long vigil to ensure that no sign of construction on the mauna goes unreported.

In April 2021, UHH wrote the chair again, claiming it had initiated construction of the TMT and completed Condition No. 4 based on actions that took place before July 30, 2019.

On May 24, 2021, the Hui challenged UHH’s claim that it had started TMT construction and asked the Land Board to hear their arguments.

After several letters from the Hui urging them to respond to their request, the Land Board set an in-person hearing for July 28, 2023. TMT attorneys opposed the date as inconvenient, despite other parties’ protests that they had already secured time off work, and purchased flights and accommodations. The Land Board acceded to the TMT’s opposition and is currently rescheduling the hearing.

Nomination of Mauna Kea as a “Traditional Cultural Property”

On July 21, 2023, KAHEA and Mauna Kea Anaina Hou submitted a request to nominate Mauna Kea as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) on the state and federal registers of historic places.

The request was prepared by their consultant, Huliauapaʻa, a nonprofit specializing in Wahi Kūpuna stewardship. TCPs are “places associated with the cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that are both rooted in a community’s history and important in maintaining its continued cultural identity.”

In practice, TCP designation will mean the state – and those applying for state funds or permits – must consider impacts of their actions over a wider cultural landscape and not limit their review to piecemeal artifacts, sites, or features lacking the full context of their importance.

Though Mauna Kea is boundless, the nomination process requires a boundary. The proposed Mauna Kea TCP is the area above 6,500 feet above mean sea level. This encompasses the Wao Akua and the upper part of the Wao Kānaka according to Huliauapaʻa researchers.

TCP nomination has long been part of the plan to protect Mauna Kea. Since at least 1999, the state recognized the Mauna Kea summit as eligible for inclusion in the NRHP. In 2000, historian Kepā Maly identified TCPs within the historic district and recommended eligibility for the entire mauna.

Even Dr. Tom King, an archaeologist who is widely credited for conceiving the TCP designation, along with fellow archaeologist and cultural anthropologist Dr. Patricia Parker, testified at a 2003 hearing in support of Mauna Kea’s designation as a TCP.

Between 2005-2010, other archaeologists concluded that their own research supported the Mauna Kea historic district as eligible for listing in the National Register. The state began preparing a TCP nomination that was never completed.

The TCP discussion also operated in the permitting context. In its 2007 order favoring the Hui in their challenge to the Keck Outrigger project proposed for Mauna Kea, a Third Circuit judge held UHH was required to prepare a “comprehensive” management plan for Mauna Kea before further astronomy development could occur.

In 2009, UHH prepared their Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP), which includes “Cultural Resource management action No. 2” (CR-2), which states: “Support application for designation of the summit region of Maunakea (sic) as a Traditional Cultural Property [TCP], under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, Public Law 89-665, as amended.”

From that time, each year UHH has reported, “If a nomination is submitted, UH will support it.” No one has submitted a nomination until now.

In their 2022 CMP Supplement, UHH rolled back their support for TCP designation of the summit to only three features that are already recognized as eligible as TCPs: State Inventory of Historic Places No. 50-10-23-21438 (Kūkahauʻula), 50-1-23-21439 (Pu’u Līlīnoe), and 50-1-23-21440 (Lake Waiau).

However, UHH’s reduced TCP support may be meaningless. On July 1, 2023, the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority began a five-year period of joint management with UHH during which the Authority will adopt a new management plan.

Next, the Hawaiʻi Historic Places Review Board will review the request for Mauna Kea TCP nomination at its Nov. 17, 2023 meeting. Mauna Kea may be the first – or one of the only – TCPs nominated for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) by an Indigenous organization.


Bianca Isaki, Ph.D., is the Mauna Kea Legal Director for KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. She also litigates as a solo practitioner.

Nā Kiaʻi Paʻa maintain a vigil at the base of Maunakea Access Road in alignment with the protection of Mauna Kea from further desecration. Your support for our efforts is much appreciated. Venmo @nakiaipaa.