Showdown in Pukalani

Protesters attempt to stop telescope convoy; 6 people arrested

Police attempt to restrain Kaleikoa Kaeo as he throws himself in front of a semitrailer carrying materials for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope atop Haleakala early Wednesday morning. Protesters gathered outside King Kekaulike High School from 6 p.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Wednesday to stop the convoy. Police arrested six people and eventually cleared the roads so the trucks could pass through. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

PUKALANI — “You gotta kill me if you gonna go on top of my mauna! You gotta kill me!” If any moment captured the passion of Native Hawaiian opposition to a telescope atop Haleakala, it was this — a man in a malo wedged under the axle of a semi-truck, daring to be crushed rather than see the another telescope on the sacred summit.

By the time 28-year-old Joseph Henderson was driven away in a police van a half hour later, his handcuffed wrists pressed against the window, the semi-trucks had finally passed through, one man had been taken to the hospital and a quiet night of waiting had turned into a emotional stand for dozens of protesters.

“There is no loss,” said Trinette Furtado, who served as a legal observer during the protests. “If there is anyone of you amongst us that thinks that this has been a loss tonight, you are wrong, sorely wrong. We may have had a setback, but we did not lose.”

Police arrested two women and four men in the demonstration. By 5 a.m. Wednesday, the rest of the crowd had left the grassy triangle outside King Kekaulike High School, where protesters started gathering at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The convoy carrying materials for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope made it to the summit between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Crater Road and Haleakala National Park’s summit road were closed until 2 p.m. Wednesday, and sunrise viewing for the day was canceled.

Protesters line up along Haleakala Highway as police attempt to send the slow moving convoy with telescope parts through in front of King Kekaulike High School. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

In a nightlong protest that was mostly peaceful but grew heated near the end, more than 60 law enforcement personnel from the Maui Police Department, Haleakala National Park and the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement responded, state officials said.

People who were following the wide load from the Puunene baseyard provided updates to the protesters in Pukalani on the progress of the convoy.

As the trucks approached King Kekaulike High School at around 3:45 a.m., protesters held a lei ceremony in the intersection and cordoned the street off with yellow crime scene tape. About a dozen protesters linked arms inside pipes and connected their wrists with carabiners attached to chain bracelets.

Over a loudspeaker, police officers advised protesters to leave the road or risk arrest. When the warning was repeated in Hawaiian, protesters drowned out the words with boos and laughter.

“In Hawaiian, they’re telling us that they’re here to protect, they’re here to malama,” Waiehu Kou resident and protester Ka’apuni Aiwohi said later. “But I’m like, ‘No, that’s what we’re doing. We’re the ones protecting the mountain.’ “

A police officer tries to coax protester Joseph Henderson out from under a semi-trailer. Henderson was one of six people arrested early Wednesday trying to stop a convoy of trucks. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

The group carried lele, traditional altars constructed of poles bound together in a teepee-like fashion, onto the road.

“To me that was like the center of everything, because we are going through this desecration up here (on Haleakala),” Aiwohi said. “So we put up these lele to kind of offset it, to give offerings, to ask for forgiveness. Even though we’re not the ones doing it, we’re still all responsible for it.”

University of Hawaii Maui College professor Kaleikoa Kaeo was one of those who joined the human chain.

“We’re really trying to showcase that we’ve never given consent to what has been occurring on Haleakala,” Kaeo said before the trucks arrived. “We’re prepared really to do whatever is necessary to stop the transport, including nonviolent direct action. . . . If we cannot protect our own sacred sites, what lands can we protect as Hawaiians?”

The chain of protesters laid down on the road, forcing officers to carry each person, one by one, out of the way. Then Kaeo, free of his arm restraints, bolted in front of one of the trucks as a pair of officers rushed to restrain him. While Kaeo was being handcuffed, Henderson dove under the axle of the same truck, yelling, “Run my head over!” as the shouts of protesters intensified. Another officer finally convinced him to come out from under the truck.

Protesters link arms inside of pipes using carabiners and chain bracelets to block large trucks from driving up Haleakala Highway to the summit of the mountain. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

Henderson and Kaeo were arrested along with 43-year-old Jonathan Kaeo of Pukalani, 26-year-old Monika Sipaite Kerr of Kahului, 18-year-old Shalia Henderson of Pukalani and 39-year-old David Prais of Kahului.

They were released on their own recognizance — which meant they didn’t have to post bail — and given court dates, police said.

In the commotion, one man required medical attention at the scene. He lay on his back and appeared unresponsive as concerned protesters and police knelt by his side checking his vital signs.

At around 4:30 a.m., paramedics took him to the Maui Memorial Medical Center emergency room, where he was evaluated and released back into police custody, according to police spokesman Lt. Gregg Okamoto.

It was still unclear Wednesday how the man ended up on the ground unresponsive. Wailuku resident Charles Revard, one of the protesters who also joined the human chain, said he saw an officer with his knee pressed against the man’s face, and that the man said he couldn’t breathe.

Holding a sign that says, “We do not consent,” Cody Nemet Tuivaiti expresses his frustration as the trucks carrying telescope materials pass through the throng of protesters. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

Okamoto said Wednesday that the department would “have to look into these claims.”

“I feel like the police did their job,” Revard said. “I felt like I was handled pretty well. But I feel like my brother Kai, who is now in an ambulance, didn’t get that same experience.”

Revard said at one point, his carabiner accidentally detached from the person next to him, and “instantly it felt like all the panic that was happening felt magnified.

“I managed to slip the tube back on and grab his hand, and he just looked at me and was holding my hand so goddamn tight,” Revard said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt a moment of connection and strength and unity within a purpose as strong as I have (tonight).”

Wailuku resident Melissa Hershberger described the confrontation with police as “full of love, but also separation at the same time.”

Kahele Dukelow (center), one of the leaders of the protest, chants along with the crowd awaiting the arrival of the convoy with parts for a telescope atop Haleakala. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo

“Seeing the dividing lines but knowing we’re all one, I had a few moments where I just locked eyes with the officer that backed me up the whole time,” Hershberger said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. Seeing that in his eyes, I felt . . . that he felt what we were preaching.”

Though the successful delivery took the telescope one step closer to completion, the group of protesters, organized by Kako’o Haleakala, vowed that the demonstrations would continue.

“For us it’s not as if it’s built and it’s over,” University of Hawaii Maui College professor Kahele Dukelow said. “We still look forward to the day where we take all those telescopes off atop of our mountain. That’s our end game. Maybe not in my generation, but hopefully in the generations to come.

“So this really is about educating our people to say that just because something is done doesn’t mean you can’t reverse it.”

According to project director Thomas Rimmele, there are no other wide loads scheduled for delivery the rest of this year.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

Protesters link arms inside of pipes using carabiners and chain bracelets to block large trucks from driving up Haleakala Highway to the summit of the mountain. The Maui News COLLEEN UECHI photo