The Hawaiians, Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope

“Mauna Kea, also known as Mauna a Wakea, is a 13,800 foot high mountain on Hawai‘i Island, and considered the most sacred site to Kanaka ‘Ōiwi, the Native Hawaiian people…Hawaiians have fought against Western astronomy on the summit since the industry got a foothold there in the late 1960s.  So far Hawaiians have managed to stop all efforts to begin construction through legal challenges and civil disobedience.” A. K. Kelly, Indian Country Today

Mauna Kea Sunrise- USGS

Excerpt:  Mauna Kea is only latest thing they want to take… By  Anne Keala Kelly,

“Named after Wākea, Father Sky, it is home to a number of religious deities, and is a traditional burial ground for the most revered ali‘i (royalty) and kahuna (priests). The spiritual and cultural significance of the mauna predates the European-American colonization of the earth by millennia…

Fifty years and 13 telescopes later, the newest addition, if the state and the TMT Corporation have their way, will be the Thirty Meter Telescope.  The first protest on Mauna Kea disrupted the internationally live-streamed groundbreaking ceremony in October 2014. That was followed by an around the clock vigil that began in March of 2015. Then there were 31 arrests in April, and a few months later in June, a day-long blockade that forced a convoy of workers and equipment to turn around resulted in 11 arrests.

Uncle Billy Freitas, pictured here with Kealoha Pisciotta, was the first kupuna arrested. (Photo by A. K.Kelly)

While news media typically portray resistance to the telescope as Indigenous culture versus Western science, Hawaiians who oppose the project are quick to point out historically relevant events that have led up to this moment. Among those are the U.S. militarily backed overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s government, the 1898 U.S. takeover, and what Hawaiians refer to as the 1959 ‘fake statehood.’

The telescope construction is experienced by Hawaiians as part of an ongoing lineage of more than a century of oppression, racism, and forced Americanization that has taken Hawaiian land, exploited and commercialized Hawaiian culture, and normalized the practice of desecrating Hawaiian sacred sites.

One of hundreds of vehicles lining the Saddle Road, Hwy 200 .(Photo by Anne Keala Kelly

‘This mountain represents the last thing they want to take that we will not give to them,’ said longtime activist Walter Ritte… After images of elders being arrested were broadcast, protests and signs of solidarity with the people standing up to protect Mauna Kea began to spread. Indeed, it was painful for many Hawaiians to see beloved cultural practitioners and others being loaded into police vans, with their wrists zip-tied.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is the colonizer trying to exterminate our identity and our sense of self as Hawaiians. But this mountain is so sacred to us we must protect it. In the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation story) Mauna Kea is where our akua (gods) dwell.”


Category: Culture