//Hearing Update 2/21 – Richard Ha takes the stand for PUEO

2/21 – Richard Ha takes the stand for PUEO

Day 38 of the contested case hearings had a second member of the Native Hawaiian group PUEO testifying in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

The non-profit organization, PUEO, was formed last year and is an acronym for Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities. Named after the Native Hawaiian owl, PUEO’s members are from the Keaukaha area in Hilo, the first Hawaiian Homestead built on the Big Island.

Richard Ha, a longtime banana farmer who is president of the 600-acre Hamakua Springs Country Farms, said the group wants to promote more Native Hawaiian students in the astronomy and other STEM-related fields.

“We represent folks who believe our children are as competent as any in the world. We are about keiki education,” Ha testified. “We are also about making sure our culture is not left behind as we move into the future. We can multi-task.”

Ha claimed the Big Island has the lowest median family income, the highest rate of homelessness and the highest suicide rate in Hawaii. He and his PUEO group recognize that education is the great equalizer.

“We believe through education, taking advantage of the resources around us and integrating our culture into what we learn, we can not only do better, we can lead the world.”

Ha feels that the TMT project through short-term construction jobs and longer-term astronomy positions could help sustain the local Big Island economy.

“It is not about us, the elders, it’s about the youngsters,” Ha said. “What kind of world will we leave them?”

While Ha acknowledged during cross-examination that he is not a cultural practitioner on Maunakea, he said PUEO is bringing students to tour the various telescopes and is also working to restore the voyaging canoe Hokualakai to make it seaworthy.

“We are reaching for an earth-sky connection,” he said.

Ha completed his testimony by afternoon today, with PUEO member Elroy Osorio taking the stand late in the day. We’ll highlight his testimony in tomorrow’s blog, as well as another PUEO member, Bill Brown.

The hearings for this week continue Wednesday and Thursday.