Part 1 of 4 in our series on 'Resistance and Mauna Kea'
Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer, UC Berkeley
On March 31, 2015, I posted a link to Facebook asking my friends to sign and support the protection of Mauna Kea from the development of another (fourteenth!) telescope on the sacred mountain. Within minutes I received a response from an old friend, suggesting that I had been misled by the Internet: “Oh my gosh Natalee my mom is working to get this telescope built, don’t believe all you read, you should talk to her” [sic]. This friend – I’ll call her Diana – is a queer white woman, one whose politics occasionally align with my own, but more often they lean toward the homonormativity of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), respectability politics, and neoliberalism at its finest. I knew already that her mother had been living in Hilo for the past five years or so working on an (until now) unnamed astronomy project for the UH. A month before my post, Diana posted links to articles praising her mother for her work on the telescope; words that read like the archived diaries of 19th century white missionaries sent to bring morality and salvation to the “ignorant natives” in Hawai’i. Her mother, like so many settlers before her, was here to save us, to teach us “what’s best.”
I remained quiet when I read Diana’s initial posts praising her mother. I remained quiet (for a few hours anyway) after Diana commented on my post, informing me that her mother, a white settler working for the University, knew more/better than I, a Kanaka Maoli scholar and activist. I politely answered Diana’s post, letting her know that I was, in fact, quite well informed, and then asking, “I wonder why you'd suggest I'm being misled, rather than it is you (or your mom) being misled or unaware of ongoing indigenous struggles to protect Mauna Kea?” And then I went to bed, raging, hurt, offended, and overwhelmed by that familiar feeling of erasure. This is how whiteness works.
The next morning’s replies from Diana showered me with more “lessons” on (1) her mother as a “Christian and community liaison” (therefore a “good guy” and someone whose understanding was more complex than my own), (2) the fact that “many many Hawaiian residents, 100's more than those protesting have decided this is good for Hawaii” [sic], and (3) how disappointed she was in my “refusal to participate in conversation” regarding the TMT (translation: my refusal to agree with her interpretations of the project). My response to her? “What you have described here is the greatest example of settler colonialism I have ever seen.” And then she was silent, and my motivation to keep Mauna Kea in the spotlight here in California, across my social and academic networks, was renewed. This is how resistance begins.
I am writing this post today as a Kanaka ‘Ōiwi in diaspora, far from home, and never having set foot on Mauna Kea, nor Hawai‘i Island, for that matter. From where I sit, from this distance, I interpret the mainstream discourse around Mauna Kea, the TMT, and the protectors as yet another example of the cause and effect of centuries-old erasure of the Hawaiian people and our culture. As many others have noted, opponents of the TMT are caricaturized as stuck in the past, anti-science, and band wagon activists, and we are discursively reduced to misguided hordes of angry natives getting in the way of progress for no good reason. The growing movement to protect Mauna Kea is a refusal of this discourse, a refusal to be silenced, and a demand to be heard in a digital age wherein our names and our voices can no longer be hidden away and ignored. It is also important to note that the refusal and resistance we see today is not new, nor is it a hasty, last minute response (as many critics have claimed). Our resistance is more broadly visible outside of Hawai‘i, thanks to social media; however as Goodyear-Ka’opua, Hussey, & Wright demonstrate in their edited anthology, A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty, Hawaiian resistance to settler colonialism (and to all thirteen other telescopes on Mauna Kea) has been a relentless force for centuries.
In writing about the resistance at Mauna Kea, I can only speak from this distance, which at times feels immeasurable. I cannot speak for Ku Kia‘i Mauna, the protectors on the mountain, though I would like to speak to them and reflect back across the Pacific what their efforts mean to those of us far from home and family, assaulted by American entitlement toward Hawai‘i as their perfect paradise, rendered invisible and ungrounded again and again. I am speaking now to the aloha āina warriors, to those who were arrested yesterday and removed from the mauna due to the governor’s invention of new rules, to those who have worked to bail out and legally defend the aloha āina warriors, to those who are still on the mauna, to those who have advised and enforced kapu aloha during this ongoing struggle. I want to tell them that their perseverance gives me sustenance, and their love for the land and the people overwhelms me with emotions almost impossible to contain. I want to tell them that they are not merely protecting one mountain, but they are breathing life into our people, at home and in diaspora, filling us with a renewed sense of self that is so clear and deeply rooted that it leaves no room for the false narratives, nor the attempts at erasure and engulfment by settler colonialism and Americanization. Witnessing the movement grow and spread across the globe makes me indelibly “real” again. I am no longer silent, invisible, or necessarily rendered white. I am Kanaka Ōiwi, and I am Mauna Kea. Kū Kia‘i nā Mauna. Kū‘e!