I received the following commentary on behalf of Mililani Trask regarding geothermal development in Puna.
In recent weeks a small group of angry & uninformed individuals have begun a campaign of misinformation, the goal of which is to prevent the development of geothermal energy on Hawaii Island. Claiming ownership of the Pele name & case information, this group is asserting that geothermal development threatens the cultural & religious practices of Hawaiians and violates their First Amendment rights under the US Constitution.
I am sending out this email to clarify what occurred when the Pele cases were litigated and how the outcome of the cases expanded Hawaiian cultural practice but did not stop or prevent geothermal development.
In the early 1980’s the Campbell Estate made public its plan for geothermal development at Kahauale’a. They brought in cheap filthy technology, never had a public community meeting, ignored Hawaiian traditional rights to gather & worship, and presented a plan under which they would reap hundreds of millions of dollars without any benefit to the public & native Hawaiians, who were the owners of geothermal public trust assets. Campbell Estate had wanted to develop Kahauale’a , but when these lands proved undevelopable, Campbell & the State moved for a land exchange in order to develop Wao Kele O Puna Forest.
Palikapu Dedman & others then challenged the land exchange in State contested case hearings. They claimed genealogical ties to Pele & asserted that drilling for geothermal was a desecration & rape of Pele’s body & a violation of their rights under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The Pele Defense Plaintiffs lost on appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled their right to worship had not been burdened because the area of development was not a traditional place of ceremony. (see Dedman V. DLNR , 740 P.2d 28 (1987)
Following this loss, the Pele Defense plaintiffs brought suit in Federal Court arguing that the land exchange violated the trust contained in the Admissions Act. The Pele Defense Plaintiffs lost this case when the court ruled their claims were barred because of the State’s Sovereign Immunity under the 11th Amendment.
The Pele Defense Plaintiffs also litigated this in State Court, but lost when the State Court ruled that the Federal decision had resolved the issue.
Despite these losses, Hawaiians did win a significant victory when the Court acknowledged & supported Hawaiian cultural rights and expanded the exercise of these rights to areas outside the ‘ahupua’a. Prior to this case, the practice of cultural rights had been limited to the area of the ‘ahupua’a.
Initially, the legal strategy and work was undertaken by the Law Offices of Yuklin Aluli & Mililani Trask. Early on, I left Oahu and returned to Hawaii Island to represent the Kupuna who would later be called upon to lead the march. Soon, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) joined in and with the help of many Hawaiian legal minds and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) the Pele cases were initiated & litigated. Some attorneys gave advice, some did research & some took the case to the Supreme Court. Attorneys from the continent helped with the environmental claims, it was a collective effort by many. The Pele cases are important legal precedents that should be understood by all because they set criteria on Hawaiian rights to worship, and also established conditions for development in culturally sensitive areas.
In March 1990, environmentalists called for the ‘Big March’. Shortly after the announcement, it became evident that the so-called ‘Hawaiian leaders’ of the PDF were not going to get arrested. None of them lived in Puna, One was a medical doctor from Molokai & Oahu, who was concerned about his reputation, his girlfriend (an academic from Manoa) was worried about her career, Palikapu Dedman also backed out claiming he could not get arrested because he was a convicted felon on probation! In the end, it was aunty Pele Hanoa, (Palikapu’s mother) who walked at the head of the March with other Kupuna wahine from Ka Lahui Hawaii. I walked with them as their attorney, I met with the police before hand to ensure there would be no problems, I held their purses when they climbed over the fence & bailed them out of jail. The police, some of whom were Hawaiian, helped the Kupuna by assisting them over the fence, there was no negativity, injury or anger.
If you check the record you will find that none of the PDF ‘leaders’ have ever gotten arrested protecting Hawaiian cultural or religious rights. Palikapu Dedman did not bring or win these cases, he does not have the capacity, the attorneys brought and won this case. Whenever the time has arisen to stand up to stop desecration of culture, Palikapu has always used the same excuse….he is a felon with criminal convictions (shoplifting, firearms violations & multiple convictions for Promoting Detrimental Drugs in our community) and can’t risk getting arrested again!!!!!
As a Hawaiian who has been arrested protecting cultural rights & burials, I am proud of the effort that went into the Pele cases, and proud to have been a part of the legal effort to advance & expand our cultural rights to worship. Its time we use these wins to ensure that culture is respected & protected when renewable energy is developed for Hawaii Island.
In the 24 years since the case was brought and for the last 18 years that PGV has been operating in Puna, there has not been a single case or instance of a Hawaiian being denied their right to worship Pele because of geothermal development.
Mililani B. Trask, Attorney
Indigenous Expert to the United Nations
Indigenous Consultants, LLC
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