I write for MauiTime, but my day job is teaching writing at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College, which is a part of the UH system that is subleasing Maunakea to the Thirty Meter Telescope. My students are incredibly diverse in terms of age, background, experiences, opinions, goals, and identity, but what they all have in common is that they are first-year students of Native Hawaiian ancestry. You see, I teach for a Title III grant-funded program that serves this group.
I teach summer school, and during these months the issue of the TMT has felt very present to us as we sit together for hours and hours each week, reading, talking, thinking, and writing together. We cover a variety of topics, of course, but the TMT has hovered at the edges of everyone’s attention.
It’s a complex situation for us all. It’s a teacher’s cliche, but I’ve never viewed my job as teaching students what to think about any given topic, and instead to give them the tools to think critically and research to make their own conclusions. Among the many complex topics to consider in a writing class are research concepts, and along the way we dive into confirmation bias, groupthink, viewing media and social media through a critical lens, and understanding the concept of “authority” in research – deciding who is worthy of listening to, to report on, to cite. All of these are important to consider when talking about the TMT.
Obviously, there is not one cohesive opinion about the TMT in my classroom or outside of it. There is disagreement and perhaps lack of understanding in the community about the TMT issue, as there always is with deeply charged issues like this. According to a recent statewide poll of 1,367 registered voters by Honolulu Civil Beat, despite the ongoing demonstrations on Hawai‘i island and beyond, there is still general support for the TMT, with 64 percent of total respondents in favor. But, only 44 percent of Native Hawaiians voiced support.
Some of this is borne out with my students’ opinions about the TMT; while most are opposed (some very passionately so), a few are in favor, and a handful are neutral. Last month, my students got an email from the Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i – a group that represents the entire student population of 55,000 – coming out against the TMT on Maunakea and in support of the kia‘i, or protectors of the Mauna. While most felt vindicated, a few were confused.
“No one asked me,” one said. Some students, who struggle with meeting their most basic needs, find that there is no extra time or mental energy to participate in this issue. Others have made the pilgrimage to Maunakea.
The Hawai‘i Psychological Association (an organization with a mission “to enhance the quality of life for the people of Hawai‘i by encouraging, integrating, applying, and communicating the contributions of Psychology in all its branches,” its website states) phrased their stance last week when they came out with a statement in support of the kia‘i: “As history has demonstrated, social justice issues can never be decided by majority rules because minority rights would never advance. This has been the case with slavery, women’s voting rights, and same sex marriage. The opinion of the larger community is not relevant.”
Which is an excellent point, and true. But broader community support is key when deciding on the kind of future we collectively want, and the kind of society we want to be, as we saw with issues like marriage equality. And if the poll results are any indication, the “melting pot” is not on the same page. Many who support the TMT may be confused or uninformed – how could a telescope, an instrument seemingly of science and progress, be that bad? The TMT may seem less clear cut than, say, a massive beachfront hotel built by foreign investors that excavates a graveyard of ancient bones.
At Saturday’s march, a woman held a sign saying “It’s not just about a telescope.” So what is it about? One central question to consider here is, what happens to the rights of citizens whose nation is unlawfully dissolved? So far, their rights have been disregarded in a way that can’t be ignored any longer. Hawai‘i’s host culture has endured a systemic oppression resulting in disparate treatment and outcomes evidenced throughout the institutions of our society, from the criminal justice system to education to health and wellness outcomes.
It is death by a thousand cuts, many of them invisible. Coupled with this is a generation in Hawai‘i who is growing more aware of America’s flaws, made apparent by the blatant corruption at the federal level. This public is increasingly aware of the way in which America ignored its own laws in overthrowing a sovereign nation and the lasting effects on that nation’s citizens generations later.
Other central questions here are, what makes something sacred? And who gets to decide what is sacred?
To me, teaching these students is a sacred experience. Their stories are sacred. Teaching them to express their ideas through writing, equipping them and empowering them, and sending them out into the world to participate in society is a sacred endeavor.
As a native of Maui who is not Native Hawaiian, I feel a deep responsibility to my students, and my colleagues, many of whom are up on the mauna, as we all wait to see what will happen as the weeks go on and the beginning of Fall Semester approaches. I asked my students if they wanted to share their voices for this piece; most, caught up in the flurry of final papers, did not have the capacity, or maybe couldn’t find the right words.
“What’s your opinion?” my students asked me, as they sometimes do on one topic or another. I told them that I want the outcome which best supports them, their well-being, and their future. We all should, though we may disagree on the right path to get there. But don’t take it from me. Listen to them.
To Be Aloha ‘Āina
By Lexi Figueroa
To be Aloha ‘Āina is to drop everything you’re doing for the mauna. To be Aloha ‘Āina is to wake up at 2:30am to the sound of the pū when you’re not a morning person. To be Aloha ‘Āina is to learn how to bail yourself out of jail at age 19. To be Aloha Āina is to remain in kapu aloha as your kūpuna get arrested. To be Aloha ‘Āina is to return home and remain steadfast with and for your lāhui no matter how much it hurts not being there anymore. To be Aloha ‘Āina is all this and more.
Being a young Native Hawaiian in these times is more than what could ever be expressed through words. I give all the credit to my kumu and those who have stepped in to my life no matter what stage I was at to shape me into the conscious kanaka I am today. Although I still have so much to learn, I credit a lot of my growth particularly to the educators I’ve had the privilege to know and learn from. School has always been the vessel in which I have experienced more of myself than any other. Being a student at the University of Hawai‘i, however, is a different story.
Being a UH student and being Native Hawaiian has been extremely conflicting for me, especially during this time. Being a Native Hawaiian student enrolled in the institution that transparently threatens who you are not only as a Native person to this ‘āina, but as a human being in general, is difficult. It is hard to sit in class and learn that UH Manoa’s school motto is, “Maluna A‘e O Na Lāhui A Pau Ke Ola O Ke Kanaka” or “Above all Nations is Humanity,” when they are the very ones who disrespect my people.
This repetition of history is not surprising to us, however; as more and more of my lāhui learn about our history, the more agitating it is. Our society as a whole seems to be continuously progressive, however, there will always be those who will state “Hawaiians are anti-science” and so forth. Our kūpuna had a relationship with the stars before a telescope was ever invented. As long as the University of Hawai‘i continues to diminish who I am as a person, the more I will continue to challenge the facade put in place to save the institute’s face. Although there are kanaka who do support TMT, the majority of those who don’t definitely outweighs those who do (just look at the rallies under the #WeAreMaunakea hashtag on Instagram). UH will never be a “Hawaiian Place of Learning” or the “World’s Foremost Indigenous Institution” if it continues to use anti-kanaka tactics to throw my people away, and here is why.
Maunakea was designated Crown Land through the “Great” Mahele of 1848. These lands became “ceded lands” following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and legally, revenues from the use of this land should be used for public purposes, including the betterment of Native Hawaiian people. The University of Hawai‘i got involved with the Thirty Meter Telescope project in 1968 through the Board of Land and Natural Resources. During this time, the State of Hawai‘i and UH entered a lease agreement for the Maunakea Science Reserve for only $1 per year for a total of 11,288 acres of land. If Maunakea were to be used for the site of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the size of the site that would be excavated for such desecration would be an 18-story tall structure which spans over eight acres. This telescope would also burrow below 20 feet underground. Keep in mind, an average size of a football field is roughly 1.32 acres.
According to the final environmental impact statement, the project will also produce approximately 120 cubic feet of solid waste per week and will use 5,000-gallon underground tanks for waste storage, which includes domestic waste and chemical-laced mirror washing wastewater. There is a possibility that the storage and transport of this could result in a spill or leak, and have a detrimental impact on the ecosystem and environment on Maunakea, especially the ground and surface water resources that most, if not all, Hawai‘i islanders use for their drinking water.
It is simple to understand that it is not possible to uphold Maunakea’s “natural beauty” or to “improve upon it” if more than 12 acres of land will be disrupted for this project. All of this would not be possible without the support from none other than the University of Hawai‘i, its administration, and its Board of Regents who helped to approve the plan of this desecration.
This is not just a Hawaiian issue. This is a human rights issue. Stop trying to “discover” black holes that my kūpuna already knew about through our Kumulipo, just to throw us in so we will never return. Stop trying to make me believe that I should be proud to be a UH Warrior; my kūpuna were not warriors of devastation unto ourselves. You will never convince me that my ahu and piko is not considered sacred because there are no crosses or churches that lay upon it. Stop trying to ignore the fact that the literal bones of my ancestors lay on the site of your planned attacks.
Know that I am only attending this university because that is my only option here, yet as our people progress, believe me when I say we will soon have other options. Notice that UH students are aware of the strategies of racism and institutional diaspora. Believe me when I say that I have an entire lāhui behind me, and although you may want to call our mauna “awesome,” it is certainly much more than that. Two more years of waiting? Or two more years of growth, ‘ike, and ea? I definitely know which one it is. Ku Kia‘i Mauna mau a mau.
Maui to Mauna: My View on Mauna a Wakea
By Aaron Veincent
For most of my life I’ve never felt a true connection to my Hawaiian culture. Although I attended an all-Hawaiian school for my K-12 career, the missing link was never provided there. It was only until after my graduation from that institution when I started weaving together the connection to Hawai‘i that I always craved. The urge to create such a connection came out of my decision to stay home for college. For most of my classmates, going to the mainland was the answer, but for me finding my identity was much more important. Attending UHMC and being able to immerse in my community as an adult gave me my sense of being a kanaka in our lāhui. During this journey, I consider it fortunate to be able to live during a time period where we, as a lāhui, are standing up for what we believe in. The construction of the TMT may be a controversial action, but for our lāhui, it is truly bringing us all together.
Like all stories, everything comes down to the roots. In regards to mine, I come from a household that does not practice, praise, or even at times acknowledge the Hawaiian culture. This may be due to the fact that I live with my mother’s side of the family, to which does not contain a single ounce of Hawaiian; but even for my Hawaiian father, our culture was never acknowledged. I relate these missing feelings to fact that our ‘olelo was once banned from our own homes and classrooms. It came to a point where my own great grandmother disciplined my grandmother and prevented her from speaking Hawaiian whatsoever. My family was one of the many in our lāhui to which the consequences of this cruel affect on our culture are felt. Although at times, I wish I was like other families who are more indulged in the culture, I know that it is my kuleana to fix the effects of what Westerners instilled, and perpetuate my culture that almost reached an extinction point.
Through this calling, I felt a need to take part in what is occurring around me. When I first heard about the TMT issue, back in 2015, I did not have the sense of identity to which I have on this very day. Because of this, I didn’t feel in any position to voice my opinions or even take part in the movement. Moreover, I was younger and did not have the available opportunities to do so. Four years later, these chances arose and I took them in a heartbeat.
My involvement began at the first sign-waving event held on Maui right outside UHMC. I attended the event with my friends and decided to bring my hae Hawai‘i. To be honest, I was surprised at how many people turned out. As my first participation in protest, I never felt a feeling like it ever before. Knowing that all these people came together for the same purpose, all bringing along their aloha, made the Hawaiian in me ecstatic and inspired. As a result, I took part in several more sign-waving events on Maui. One of these even being with my siblings and their families.
This event was just like the first and was held outside UHMC, but instead of the one side lined up, the entire side of the Ka‘ahumanu sidewalk filled with kia‘i showing their support for the mauna. Hae Hawai‘i swarmed the skies, extended by long poles from either protestors or trucks; horns and sirens blasted in support from cars, haul-trucks, and even fire trucks that drove by; and Tahitian drummers played on the curbside. The overwhelming experience I felt at the first event was doubled that day through the presence of my ‘ohana.
Following these experiences I felt an urge to go to the mauna and experience hands-on the place I am fighting for. So, a trip into Hilo later, I was able to do so. During my visit, I stayed with my advocate uncle, who served a term on the Maunakea Management Board and is the current high school principal at the Kamehameha Schools Hawai‘i. After I landed we headed straight up. On our way we passed several police outposts set up on along the way to ensure protesting was kept under control. When it came to these posts, I didn’t understand their purpose. Our movement against TMT was strictly kapu aloha, so their presence threw me off guard. Nevertheless, they were present and so was my other uncle who played his role on the “opposing side” as a police officer.
I flew into the welcoming of my advocate uncle who was proud to see me, and my family who came up a week later, being a part of and expressing our passion for our lāhui. As we drove up, he told me that his brother was working at an outpost that day putting in his hours for work. When it comes to police officers, many people against TMT carry a negative connotation considering their support for the government, but that is strictly their job. When it comes to my uncles, there is no hate or conflict. Both understand and acknowledge each other’s role and when it comes down to it, my police officer uncle is just doing his job. He actually voices his concern for the lack of awareness and support the government has for its people.
I was fortunate to go to the mauna with my uncle who introduced me to many of the leaders and kūpuna up there. While there, I was immersed in the presence of true aloha and mana. The established community was indescribable with an immense amount of organization. Donated goods, supportive crosswalk guards, and volunteers who ran around offering people food, sunscreen, and chapstick, gave the mauna a homey feel.
The feeling at the mauna was like no other and it was clear to see that they were there for the long run. In comparison to the Maui’s protesting events, there was a strangely calming feeling. There wasn’t any shouting or chanting like the on the sidewalk back home, but instead, we all sat down to be in the presence of the mauna and of the loving lāhui.
Going from Maui to Mauna was a once in a lifetime experience. The amount of aloha and mana I received throughout these events was the most I have ever felt in my entire life. Although on my return from the mauna to Maui, I felt uninspired to take part in the sign-wavings because of its highly energized setting – I knew that this was because I was in it for the long run. For all that, I support the awareness brought through sign-waving, but this movement is not going anywhere considering the fact that our government is not changing their position on the issue. So, I am here to stand with the mauna. I may not be expressing my support 24/7, but my heart will always be for the mauna and our lāhui who are both under attack right now.
Photos by Axel Beers