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Kānaka Maoli block construction of Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred Mauna Kea

When work crews arrived to begin construction of the long-opposed $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on the sacred Mauna Kea mountain on July 17, Kānaka Maoli (Hawai’ian) elders who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes demanded to be taken to the front line to be arrested. The elders were there to oppose further damage to and desecration of Mauna Kea, which already has had 13 smaller telescopes constructed on it since 1960.

Since the arrests of 35 people on July 17, thousands of Hawai’ians and supporters have blocked all access to the mountain.

The TMT Corporation and the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents want to build a huge, 18-story telescope and facilities covering about six football fields on allegedly “ceded” crown lands. Queen Liliuokalani of Hawai’i was overthrown in 1893 by a cabal of sugar planters and settler businessmen. Two years later, the U.S. annexed Hawai’i as a territory, and it became the 50th state in 1959. 

Mauna Kea is not just unique for its rare Hawai’ian plants and animals; it  also has deep significance to the Hawai’ian Nation. The site was honored in a January 2011 National Geographic special edition, “The Earth’s Holiest Places: Sacred Journeys.” The state Board of Land and Natural Resources originally blocked construction of the TMT in February 2011. (tinyurl.com/yxrmc4ss)

After the arrests of the elders, Hawai’i Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation threatening Mauna Protectors with police and National Guard troops. (tinyurl.com/y5zscqkc) More than 2,000 people then turned out to surround the base of the mountain in response to the arrests and the governor’s threats.

Kealoha Pisciotta told the Associated Press, “They’re taking our kupuna” (elders), as the crowd sang “Hawai’i Aloha.” (July 18) The blockade immediately forced a work stoppage of on-site astronomers and researchers.

Gov. Ige again attacked the Protectors at a July 19 press conference, alleging illegal activity, but local media reported the opposite. Heidi Tsuneyoshi of the Honolulu City Council said, “There are absolutely no signs of drugs or alcohol. No one is even allowed to smoke here.” (KHON2 news, July 20) Volunteers are feeding thousands of protectors daily meals and snacks from free kitchens, running medical tents, recycling, cleaning porta potties and hauling trash. 

KHON2 reported that the resolve of the Ku Kia’i Mauna, the guardians of the mountain, was growing stronger every day. Volunteers told KHON2 that anyone who comes into the Pu’uhonua is welcome. 

Pu’uhonua means “place of refuge of Hōnaunau,” ancestral home of the Kamehameha dynasty. The Hōnaunau regards itself as sovereign under international law, a successor government to the independent Kingdom of Hawai’i, not subject to U.S. law. 

TMT opponents marched in Waikiki July 20, blocking traffic along Kalakaua Avenue as people made their way to Kapiolani Park. (Honolulu Star Advertiser, July 20) Demonstrations have also taken place from New York City to Alaska.

More than 100 TMT-affiliated astronomers and more than 700 others have signed a letter against forcing the project on the Hawai’ian people. The letter also raises concerns about sovereignty and intrusions on Indigenous lands. It cites past environmental racism and white colonizers’ obsessions with conquest: “These histories progressed in lock-step with the development of Western ‘sciences’ of personhood: of who and/or what is human, and therefore who must be subhuman, and thus must be subject to control via mechanisms of policing, incarceration and military violence.” (tinyurl.com/yxulf4lu)

University of New Hampshire astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who signed the letter, stated, “What facilitated [scientific] access [to Mauna Kea] is American colonialism on kānaka ‘ōiwi (Native Hawai’ian) land in what we call the state of Hawai’i. It is the American state apparatus that continues to play a role in enforcing astronomer access to the Mauna, for example, with the police forces this week arresting the kūpuna, the elders, who took great physical risk to protect their family.” (earther.gizmodo.com, July 18)

The TMT has been falsely portrayed as science vs. Native Hawai’ians, but it is a for-profit project. The telescope’s investors have an alternate site selected in the Canary Islands. 

The Earther website paraphrased an email from Aurora Kagawa-Viviani, a Native Hawai’ian Ph.D. candidate at the Mānoa’s Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Hawai’i: “This isn’t a moment for scientists to stay silent. … That would make scientists complicit in oppressing Indigenous worldviews.” (July 18)

Support the Kia‘i; donate to the Hawai’i Community Bail Fund at hawaiicommunitybailfund.org. All donations will be used exclusively to bail out protectors of the mauna.

Stephanie Hedgecoke

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Stephanie Hedgecoke
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