US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



USHRN traveled to Mauna Kea to further ongoing advocacy efforts against the desecration of sacred lands

Aug 29, 2019

The US Human Rights Network has engaged with Kanaka Maoli members on the ground on Mauna Kea (Kona, Hawai’i), supporting their advocacy with a human rights framework. This month, USHRN Executive Director Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez and Deputy Director Salimah Hankins visited Mauna Kea to stand in solidarity and participate in actions and press conferences. Please read more for a timeline of USHRN’s engagement with this important issue and updates from our time on the ground in Hawai’i.

March 2019 - CSW 63

Pua Case, Program Coordinator for Mauna Kea Education and Awareness of Hawaiʻi, was part of the USHRN delegation to the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women in March, 2019.

On March 13, the Network’s Executive Director Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez moderated a CSW side event titled "Indigenous Women: Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities” at New York University. The event highlighted the advocacy work of delegation members Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California, and Pua Case at Mauna Kea Education and Awareness in Hawai'i.

(Members Pua Case, left, and Chief Caleen Sisk, right)

Following the side event, the Network denounced the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on the sacred site of Mauna Kea mountain, and began working with Pua Case to closely follow developments on the ground.

July 2019 - Member Call

The situation at Mauna Kea grew increasingly tense this summer, with dozens of Elders arrested for peacefully protesting on July 18, 2019. USHRN stayed in close contact with Pua Case and invited her to brief our members on our monthly member call on July 25. On the call, Pua described how the Protectors at Mauna Kea are standing in kapu aloha, in love and respect according to ancient protocol and wisdom. Pua described how Mauna Kea is everywhere -- the Protectors are standing not only for the most sacred site in the Pacific, but for waterways and sacred lands across the world.

July Member Call

During her briefing, Pua requested that the USHRN create a petition addressed to key TMT stakeholders including representatives of the state of Hawai’i and investors of the telescope project in California, and that our members across the country sign on to the petition to pressure TMT to move elsewhere.

August 2019 - Petition

Following the July Member Call, USHRN wrote and circulated a petition in consultation with Pua Case and other members on the ground, calling on the State of Hawai’i and TMT stakeholders to respect the rights of Kanaka Maoli, prohibit use of force against peaceful protectors, and halt the Thirty Meter Telescope project from desecrating Mauna Kea.

We successfully delivered our petition, signed by 50 civil society organizations, academic institutions, and Indigenous Peoples around the world. Our signatories represent thousands of concerned individuals around the world.

Within two days of delivering the petition to government representatives in Hawai’i and to key TMT stakeholders in California, we received responses from the office of Governor Ige and from Mayor Kim. On August 20, US Human Rights Network Executive Director Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez, accompanied by our member on the ground Kalani Flores, spoke by phone with Mayor Kim to voice our demands:

  1. Uphold Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which allows Indigenous Peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories, and permanently end the construction plans for the Thirty-Meter-Telescope on Mauna Kea
  2. Drop all charges against the elders who were arrested for participating in legal peaceful protest
  3. Create a meaningful process for Kanaka Maoli to access their sacred site and worship at Mauna Kea, as delineated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

August 2019 - Visiting Mauna Kea

On August 24, Rosalee and Salimah landed in Kona to visit the Protectors at Mauna Kea. The following day, they were invited to introduce themselves to the Elders at the Mauna Kea protest blockade, as part of a daily Protocol in which delegates from different Indigenous Peoples, organizations, and individuals in support of the Protectors are invited to speak. Indigenous leaders Pua Case and Kaimana Bacarse led their welcoming through chants.


Rosalee spoke for the USHRN, and told the community how we have followed closely and supported their struggle since Pua Case joined our UN delegation to CSW63 this spring. Rosalee outlined the demands in our recent petition and advocacy to raise the visibility of our vigilance and concern for any form of State violence against peaceful protest, especially the elders in the frontlines. Watch the video of her introduction here.

Later, USHRN met with members of the 'Aha Kāne Ho'okahua mentorship cohort in the elementsat Pu'u Huluhulu hill (volcano area) near Mauna Kea, to share mana'o (thoughts, feelings, beliefs), and discussed the importance of reclamation of native voice in native issues.


On Monday, August 26, Rosalee participated in an action organized by the Indigenous leaders at Mauna Kea, where she witnessed 6 vehicles of Indigenous Peoples, and 1 group of elders walking on foot, each be denied access to Mauna Kea access road, the only road that leads to Mauna Kea mountain. The groups were told that they were denied access due to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Land and Resources, Hilo County, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; they were told that this MOU gives the Department of Land and Resources the authority to shutdown and restrict access to Mauna Kea access road.

Kanaka Maoli have a right to exercise traditional customary practices, including for spiritual and religious purposes. The US Human Rights Network strongly denounces the denial of access to Mauna Kea, the MOU between Hawaiian Home Lands, Hilo County, and the Department of Land and Resources.

This denial of access to a sacred site, as permitted by the apparent MOU, is a violation of the standards set by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Rosalee spoke at a press conference organized by the Protectors to describe the human rights violations she witnessed on Monday. Watch the video here, or read her statement on our website.

Click to watch the video of Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez delivering USHRN's statement

Fall 2019 - Next steps

USHRN will continue to support Kanaka Maoli using a human rights framework. We plan to amplify their issue through international mechanisms at the United Nations, including reporting to Special Rapporteurs, relevant Working Groups and the UPR process. We will continue to support their advocacy by seeking further support from national and international organizations and discussions with TMT stakeholders including state actors across the globe.

We will continue to update you and provide further information on events happening on the ground.

UPDATE - Added September 7, 2019

This morning USHRN submitted formal communications to Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Chair Kirsten Carpenter, and Americas Desk at OHCHR regarding the potential escalation and use of force against Kanaka Maoli Indigenous Peoples at Mauna Kea.

There is credible information, including the increased mobilization in the recent days of National Guard, Sheriffs and local Police to the roads leading to the peaceful protest site of the Mauna Kea Protectors, leading USHRN to believe that as soon as Monday, September 9, the State of Hawaii will use force to remove the Indigenous Peoples. We are advocating for support of the United Nations to help de-escalate and call for a peaceful solution without the use of State violence against the Protectors at Mauna Kea.