The spaces between “us” (inclusive) and “them” – aloha ‛āina is a kākou thing

Part 2 of 4 in our series on 'Resistance at Mauna Kea'

To read Part 1, click here.

Karin Louise Hermes, University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa

Until early April when the first arrests happened on Mauna Kea, I was entirely uninvolved in the issue, despite having witnessed my friends and classmates protesting the desecration on the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa campus back in the fall of 2013. Since my support began by writing and blogging for one of the Mauna Kea protectors’ media outlets, I have made so many new connections in this movement to protect Mauna Kea and in the over-all Hawaiian sovereignty and independence movement.

There is always the question of positioning and voice (and when not to have one) in this discussion. In the Facebook groups and in articles written, many state their ethnic background and connection to Hawai‛i before giving their opinion. Some Kanaka Maoli commenters then say there is no need to always mention this as a defense for speaking on Hawaiian matters, it’s “a kākou thing”. However, I find it is actually necessary as a sign of respect, as well as a statement of solidarity and mutual understanding.

Over and over again by the TMT and the media, the Mauna Kea protectors are described as a small group of dissenting and “backwards” Native Hawaiians, indigenous people protesting for their privileges and rights to animistic beliefs and practices. A small group of people putting “religion” before “science”, and “progress”, while the reasonable majority supports the TMT. Anyone who actually cares to be informed and doesn’t simply accept the racism and American imperialism perpetuated, knows how large the group of protectors on the ground and in virtual space are. This is not at all about being “anti-science”, but about standing for what is pono. The authors of many of the articles written or even those standing in the line of arrest are academics from the University of Hawai‛i and other universities, Kānaka Maoli or not, scholars of social studies or law, astronomers, engineers and other scientists. The protectors and community organizers online are based out of the US continent bringing in their kuleana, their responsibility for taking care of the ‛āina, long-distance.

This is where I state my positionality of not being Kanaka Maoli or even living in Hawai‛i at the moment. My motivation for joining in the kākou, the ‛ōlelo Hawaiian inclusive “us” pronoun against the pro-TMT “them”, is not only from answering the call of support from my friends in Hawai‛i, but even more, from feeling the need to step away and speak up against the group with a settler colonialist mentality counter to the protectors and aloha ‛āina.

Based on my ethnic appearance (Filipino/Chinese/Spanish and German) and a perhaps more culturally-aware outlook from Pacific Islands Studies, I’m more often than not Othered or invited into the kākou anyway. Although I hold an even more unusual position in the movement, as I can’t be called a settler colonialist “ally”, as much as I am merely a malihini, a visitor, since I am without any immigrant status to the Hawaiian Islands with my EU passport. Because I’m aware that I’m an outsider, not native, not “local”, I recognize I shouldn’t confront any Kānaka Maoli who are against the protectors. I would be a hypocrite and just as paternalistic as the pro-TMT crowd that claims they know what is better for the people indigenous to the land, than they can know for themselves. Fortunately, because I’m also not white, I don’t get called haole or fear falling into a white savior complex either.

Holding this middle ground or more nebulous position between Kānaka Maoli and settler colonialism, I chose my involvement. I choose to protect Mauna Kea with aloha ‛āina as the essence of respecting the culture and people indigenous to the Hawaiian archipelago. Expressing aloha ‛āina, standing for Mauna Kea, protecting sacred spaces and showing awareness and understanding of the injustice, that is what is pono for Hawai‛i. It’s what is right. I have since learned that aloha ‛āina is not only the “love of the land”, but can also be translated to “patriotism”, a word of pride for US Americans. Aloha ‛āina is what separates the kākou from “them”, either you respect it or you don’t. It might be the biggest cultural misunderstanding for settler colonialists in Hawai‛i towards Kānaka Maoli who regard and care for the land as family. Either you support what is pono, or you respectfully know your place and know that to perpetuate the colonial narrative of violence and oppression is against the life of the land.

The racist e-mails that came out of UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley by prominent astronomers showed disconnect to the issue at hand. Racist and paternalistic remarks confirm the disregard for the people of the land and voice the sense of entitlement to what is not theirs to own or change. The internet comments under mainstream media articles or letters to the editor, the new state legislations after the June 24 stand-off that now restrict Kanaka Maoli cultural practices and access to the summit road on Mauna Kea, the prolonged duration of the impasse and Governor David Ige’s mention of deploying the National Guard, these are all strengthening the resolve of the protectors. The thing is, for outsiders not in the know, anything that doesn’t actively involve them is seen as not happening, and the confused commentariat says “but why are they only protesting NOW?”

April 2, 2015, and the arrests of 31 protectors were covered by the mainstream media and social media when prominent supporters raised awareness to what was going on. June 24, 2015, and the arrests of 12 protectors were witnessed by over 700 people and private and independent cameras to counter the local media that has their own biased depictions. My own awareness was raised in October 2013, when I first saw my personal connections involved. The aloha ‛āina protectors of this generation know there were always protests against the TMT project and previous observatories constructed on Mauna Kea over the decades, only now the voices are becoming louder.

As a malihini I feel it is more of my kuleana to call out fellow malihini. Kānaka Maoli have no kuleana or obligation to educate or “enlighten” visitors who don’t care to understand. My purpose for writing this and other articles is not to speak for Kanaka Maoli or to give myself the title “ally”, my purpose is to clarify to settler colonialists, haole, malihini, that this is not an “us” against “them” along ethnic lines, but a division by aloha ‛āina. My intention is to show to “them” that there is a greater movement happening that they are not seeing. The protectors are not only sustained by the pōhaku in the road and by the strength of the koa that the warriors emulate, but also by the people who give their signatures on petitions and the hashtags of #WeAreMaunaKea in virtual space, and by the generations of kūpuna standing with them in the spaces (maybe as star particles that the astronomers hold so dearly) between the lines with the love of family, the aloha for the ‛āina.

Karin Louise Hermes is currently based in Berlin, Germany, 12 time zones away from Mauna Kea, to get in touch with her native German roots while writing on aloha ‛āina. She holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Heidelberg and an M.A. in Pacific Islands Studies from the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa.

Karin Louise Hermes is currently based in Berlin, Germany, 12 time zones away from Mauna Kea, to get in touch with her native German roots while writing on aloha ‛āina. She holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Heidelberg and an M.A. in Pacific Islands Studies from the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa.