HONOLULU – Officials in Hawaii said Friday that they will not call up additional National Guard troops or use force on peaceful telescope protesters blocking access to the state’s highest peak.
Gov. David Ige said that his priority is to keep everyone in the community safe, including the activists at the base of Mauna Kea. The 80 guard members on the Big Island since the start of the protests will remain, state officials said.
“We will not be utilizing tear gas, as some of the rumors have been (saying),” Ige said. “We are looking for the best way forward without hurting anyone.”
The governor said last week that National Guard units would be used to transport personnel and equipment as well as to enforce road closures.
Ige said Friday no more troops would be called in to the Big Island, but he stopped short of removing an emergency proclamation that he enacted Wednesday. The emergency order broadened the state’s authority to remove protesters from the mountain, including the use of National Guard for security.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, who met with Ige Friday morning as about 800 to 1,200 activists gathered on the mountain, said he hopes the protesters and state officials will take some time to discuss a better way forward.
“We all need to step back a little bit,” Kim said. “This is still our home, this is still our family. On both sides.”
The move comes after some notable politicians weighed in on the issue Friday.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii followed fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in supporting protesters.
She said in a statement that Gov. Ige should withdraw the emergency declaration and sit down with protesters to find a peaceful way forward.
“Trust must be earned – it is wrong that state leaders have approved the development of a new telescope on a new site on Mauna Kea, without first ensuring the timely removal of decommissioned facilities along with full restoration of those sites,” Gabbard said. “This failure and a history of broken promises has resulted in the standoff that we are seeing today.”
Earlier in the day, Sanders said in a tweet that has since been deleted: “We must guarantee native people’s right to self-determination and their right to protest. I stand with Native Hawaiians who are peacefully demonstrating to protect their sacred mountain of Mauna Kea.”
Sanders’ campaign didn’t immediately respond to an email asking why the tweet was deleted.
Protest leader Kaho’okahi Kanuha said protesters have been bracing for law enforcement to show up in force ever since Gov. David Ige signed the emergency proclamation. That was the day officers arrested 34 protesters.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he plans to meet with people about the issue.
“I believe that this struggle is more about the heart of Hawaii and our sense of self and dignity, especially for the Hawaiian people, than it is about a telescope. It is about cultural recognition and people’s self worth,” he said in a Facebook post.
It’s the fifth day of protests at Mauna Kea in response to closing the road to the summit so that construction equipment for the Thirty Meter Telescope can be taken up. No trucks have gone up.
The Thirty Meter Telescope obtained permits from the state to build after a decade-long review process. Last year the state Supreme Court ruled the permits were obtained legally, allowing construction to move ahead.
There have been protests in other parts of Hawaii, including on Maui and at the state Capitol in Honolulu.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported protesters slowed traffic on Honolulu’s main highway, the H-1, for a second straight day on Thursday. A caravan of vehicles and mopeds forced other cars to slow to a crawl for several minutes until police cars entered the freeway in front of the procession.
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