November 26, 2022
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ColumnsSeeking Justice

Free Mauna Kea

For centuries, native and indigenous communities have been rendered invisible at the hands of white “explorers” and colonizers. From Pocahontas actually being a child captive to Thanksgiving essentially being the celebration of the pilgrims massacre of Native Americans, history has been written to portray those of European descent as saviors. Continually, indigenous communities are subjected to this trope of the white savior complex, when in reality, their lives were rendered dispensable at the hands of people who were “searching for a better life.” 

Throughout history, this search for a “better life” became white lives replacing native and indigenous lives. Europeans’ search for a “better life” not only resulted in the death of countless native and indigenous people but it resulted in the colonization of indigenous land. Not only have native and indigenous lives been replaced, but their cultures, religions, histories and ways of life have been disregarded and minimized to two pages in a history textbook. Now history is repeating itself at Mauna Kea. 

For over 83 days the kia’i, or protectors, have blocked the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. Mauna Kea is sacred to many Hawaiians and is seen as a place of worship. Mauna Kea played an integral role in the history of those native to Hawaii, and it is regarded as the star knowledge by some regionally based beliefs held by the Lakota people. It aided Polynesian people in circumnavigating the globe, years before white “discoverers” did so. 

Because of its location, Mauna Kea is one of the best places to study astronomy. Currently, there are 13 observatories on the volcano. 

The issue regarding Mauna Kea lies somewhere between science, religion and sovereignty. From an astronomer’s perspective, Mauna Kea is the perfect location for studying the night sky. However, for the Native Hawaiians, these telescopes represent a history of blatant disregard for their beliefs and way of life. The fact that Native Hawaiians have voiced their disdain for the construction of the telescopes — voices scientists have disregarded — shows the lasting implications of colonization today. 

Hawaiians are being forcibly removed from Mauna Kea when it is sacred to them and is a crucial part of their religion. For Catholics, it’s like building a telescope on top of the Vatican. If the same thing that is happening to Native Hawaiians was happening to white Americans, it would not be allowed.

When utilizing the land and culture of others benefits white Americans, then it seems to be acceptable — as long as no negative repercussions affect them. This idea of stealing and robbing indigenous people of their rights has been woven within the fabric of America’s history, all in the name of “science” and “exploration.” This violation against Native Hawaiians’ rights is not surprising considering the United States’ obsession with colonialism and oppression. This violation of their rights was birthed long before the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893, the last ruler of the Kalākaua dynasty, which had ruled the Hawaiian kingdom since 1810. This was done to ensure that America could forever control Hawaii and ensure that it would not become more powerful than what the U.S. could maintain.

The ideology that stealing in the name of science is acceptable is the same thought process that allowed for slavery and mass genocide to occur for centuries in America. This thought process allows cognitive dissonance to occur so that those doing wrong can feel justified in the dehumanization of other people. What is happening on Mauna Kea is a clear violation of Hawaiians’ right to religious freedom.

As the government continues to disregard native and indigenous rights, the roots of white supremacy grow stronger. The denial of white supremacy is only proof that it exists. This act of violation is allowed because it perpetuates this colonized consciousness that those of the minority are inferior. Native Hawaiians have bit by bit been erased from history — Mauna Kea is just another example of how this erasure occurs. Science is not an excuse to infringe upon Hawaiians’ right to freedom of religion. A right is not a right if it can be taken away. It is a privilege — a privilege that Hawaiians were never offered.

John Turner can be reached at