Around 80 people gathered Tuesday in front of HauMĀNA’s mural by the Art Building to protest their right for free speech to express their politics and cultural values, according to Andre Perez.
“Weʻre here to take a stand and say that the university cannot be a place of Hawaiian education and Hawaiian learning, while also participating in the desecration of Mauna a Wākea,” Haley Kailiʻehu, a Ph.D. student at UH Mānoa said.
HauMĀNA, a student movement for “aloha no ka ʻāina,” or “love for the land,” had painted a mural to be exhibited at the Ka Leo Arts Festival, protesting the developments of telescopes on Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Words that were painted on the mural were covered because they did not match the design that was approved to be painted.
“We’re on a university,” Perez said. “We’re talking about free speech to express our politics and our cultural values. And that includes protecting our sacred mountain.”
DEVELOPMENT ON MAUNA KEA
According to the UH Institute for Astronomy website, Mauna Kea hosts the world's largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. There are currently thirteen working telescopes near the summit of Mauna Kea, including the largest optical/infrared, dedicated infrared and submillimeter telescopes in the world.
The university has a lease from the State of Hawaiʻi for all the land within a 2.5-mile radius of the site of the UH 2.2-meter telescope, which is essentially all the land above 3,700 meters elevation except for the portions that lie within the Mauna Kea Ice Natural Area Reserve. The leased land is known as the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.
In June 2000, the Board of Regents formulated the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan, which establishes management guidelines for the next 20 years.
Management of the summit area is now the responsibility of the Office of Mauna Kea Management in Hilo.
Board of Publications (BOP) chairwoman Rebekah Carroll says the construction barriers around the new campus center, where the mural was painted, are owned by the Campus Center Board and, to her understanding, are not a venue for free speech.
On Sunday afternoon, Ka Leo requested that the painters of the mural cover the painted words, “UH cannot be a Hawaiian place of learning while leading the desecration of Mauna a Wākea. Hey UH, be accountable… Be a Hawaiian place of learning… Stand with the people… Stop the desecration. Stop the thirty meter telescope!” The painters refused and were told that the words would be covered if they didn’t cover them.
In order for the construction barriers to be used for the festival, Ka Leo had to ask for approval by the Campus Center Board. All of the designs that were to be painted had to be submitted and approved by the board.
“So we were requesting permission to paint, to allow the Ka Leo Arts Festival to be promoted in a space that did not belong to Ka Leo,” Carroll said. “The Board of Publications has no jurisdiction over those walls. So in order to get to paint on them, we had to get approval.”
Eight murals were painted to promote the Arts Festival.
“So there was concern about vandalism and maintenance so we were given some guidelines that we had to follow,” Carroll said. “And one guideline did state that what was painted had to match the approved design.”
The words on the mural were painted over with the Ka Leo Arts Festival information, which was a stipulation of all of the murals.
“It’s my understanding that there are free speeches on the campus, however, the Ka Leo Arts Festival murals were not designed as a free speech zone because there were restrictions on what could be painted in the sense that they had to be approved,” Carroll said.
She said other areas on campus, as well as Ka Leo’s student newspaper, are appropriate and available for free speech.
Students disagreed and believe that art is a way of expressing politics.
“It’s pretty ignorant and narrow-minded that art and politics can be separated,” Perez said. “Anybody who has a socioeconomic political understanding of history, culture, and politics knows that politics have always been expressed through art.”
Protestors marched to the Ka Leo offices to present their demands.
“We’ve given Ka Leo our demands that they issue a public apology, that they put the chalkboard tape back up, and that they allow for student dialogue and engagement on that mural for as long as it is available,” ʻIlima Long said.
According to Carroll, the BOP is reviewing those requests.
The BOP is the legal publisher of all student publications supported by funds derived from a dedicated portion of student activity fees on the Mānoa campus.