A year after terming out as mayor and losing his bid for a seat on the County Council, former Mayor Alan Arakawa is back in the news and showing that he’s still got it (if by “it” you mean the ability to “needlessly enrage Native Hawaiians“). The former politician, known for such hits as “There’s no such thing as sacred rocks” and “She’s an idiot,” apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to wade into controversy this week, and was tapped for an Aug. 19 Star Advertiser article titled “Hawaii leaders needed to be more decisive in enforcing law on Mauna Kea, former Maui mayor says.”
In the story, Arakawa touts his administration’s handling of protests on Maui regarding the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakala. During 2015 and 2017, demonstrators blocked deliveries of telescope parts headed for the construction site, resulting in the arrests of 34 people over the course of three protests. Among them were Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, Kaho‘okahi Kanuha, and Lanakila Manguil, who have become leaders of the movement to protect Maunakea from the Thirty Meter Telescope.
“We didn’t fool around,” Arakawa told Star Advertiser writer Timothy Hurley. “It was, this is what the law is, and this is how you enforce it.”
Construction of the TMT “comes down to a simple question,” Arakawa said. “Are we a community of laws, or are we a community where anyone who raises an objection can defy those laws?”
Then, in a bit of wistful armchair quarterbacking, he added, “If he [Governor Ige] did what we did, construction of the TMT would be underway.”
Jennifer Noelani Ahia, who was part of the 2015 and 2017 demonstrations to halt the DKIST and is now on Maunakea as cofounder of the Mauna Medic Healers Hui, said the former mayor’s comments were “inflammatory but not surprising.” Ahia criticized Arakawa’s call for the rule of law, citing the lack of a treaty of annexation between the United States and Hawaiian Kingdom, and the absence of Kanaka Maoli consent to have lands placed under US jurisdiction.
“The lands in question were never ‘ceded,’” she said. “They were stolen.”
“Former Mayor Arakawa’s comments further illustrate his disdain for Indigenous culture and self-determination,” she added. “This is not a surprise from a mayor who said there are no sacred rocks and proceeded to have the ancient pohaku from ‘Iao Valley, the burial place of the highest ali‘i, crushed to make eco-compost. His disregard for all things Hawaiian are apparent in his comments in the Star Advertiser article.”
Kia‘i and UH Maui College assistant professor of Hawaiian studies, Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, agreed.
“Ex-mayor Arakawa had his facts wrong again,” he said. “Like he has in the past in regards to Hawai‘i’s political and cultural history, the issue over the sand mining of Hawaiian ancestral remains, and also his comments about Hawaiian culture and religion.” Ka‘eo added that while his reasons for protecting both mauna are the same, Arakawa is confused about “great differences [between Haleakala and Maunakea] in regards to the physical and spatial controls and ownership of the road and transportation questions.”
Both Ahia and Ka‘eo disagreed with the former mayor’s advocacy of the use of police force.
“What that man [Arakawa] is really asking for, is he’s asking for the police force over here to use violence,” Ahia said. While Arakawa told the Star Advertiser “Nobody was beaten up or physically hurt” in the arrests of the opponents of the DKIST, Ahia disputed this claim.
When I spoke with her by phone, Ahia told me that she’d just finished reviewing medical records with an individual who was injured during the Haleakala demonstrations, which included an MRI and PTSD.
“I was there in 2015, when the Maui police showed up to meet peaceful protectors with riot gear,” she said. “I was there in 2017, when police used excessive force and injured my friend. In fact I helped lift him, unconscious, into the ambulance. Our native rights are being trampled by the state and the former mayor is suggesting the settler state finish the job with more violence.”
Ka‘eo said Arakawa’s statement was shortsighted.
“The ex-mayor should also realize that although it seems that we lost the battle over the protecting of Haleakala, that struggle in particular and protests did become a huge catalyst in educating and preparing for our current struggle on the slopes of the Maunakea Access Road,” Ka‘eo said. “Such remarks reveal his shortsightedness, naivety, and arrogance… We are very clear and understand that if the police were to implement the same kind of tactics that the Maui Police Department used on us between 2015 and 2017 it would actually help to strengthen our resolve and help increase the number of protectors resisting against the desecration of our Mauna. Look at the amounts of support and people involved in protecting the Mauna in comparison to two years ago or four years ago.”
In the long run, history will be the judge, Ka‘eo concluded. “I intend to continue to educate the community,” he said. “I am confident that in the end [Arakawa] will be justly recorded in history and his name will become known as a villain who worked against the advancement of humanity, equality, and justice in Hawai‘i”