She Who Watches: Mauna Kea

Native Hawaiians fight to protect a sacred site

Around the U.S. many tribal people hold particular places in high regard. Indigenous people have sought spiritual guidance from these sites creating a timeless bond between people and place. 

Mauna Kea means “white mountain, referring to the snow coat that seasonally covers the summit — as it is this week. Currently it is classified as a dormant volcano with its last eruption almost 4,600 years ago. Most of the mountain is underwater and when it’s measured from its true base it is the tallest mountain in the world.

In Oregon Crater Lake, also classified as a dormant volcano, is regarded as a sacred site to the Klamath Tribes. Once referred to as “an abode to the Great Spirit” people of the Klamath Tribes believe Crater Lake or Giiwas to be the place of creation of the tribe.

In Hawaiian history the five volcanoes of Hawaii are revered as sacred. Mauna Kea’s summit is the highest and most sacred. Lake Waiau can be found at Mauna Kea and is the highest lake in the Pacific Basin. In ancient practices the umbilical cord of babies would be dipped in the water of Lake Waiau to give the strength of the mountain to a newborn child, according to the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

The high elevation, dry environment, and stable airflow make Mauna Kea’s summit one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. As a result, those Indigenous to the area are now defending the sacred mountain from construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Development of the mountain is believed to be sacrilegious to in the “Save Mauna Kea” movement.

April 2013 the TMT was approved. In October 2014 the groundbreaking ceremony was temporarily halted by protectors of the Mauna.

March 2015 the access road to the summit was blocked by the protectors of Mauna Kea. Three hundred protectors were present near the visitor’s center when 12 people were arrested, and 11 more were arrested at the summit. Protests expanded all over the state and construction was halted on April 7, 2015, according to a 2015 article by the Huffington Post

On October 31, 2018 the Supreme Court of Hawaii approved construction to resume.

The Hawaii Star Advisor reports that in the last eight weeks Hawaii County police issued 4,632 tickets in areas around the TMT protests.

The TMT is designed and developed by the TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO). The TIO is a non-profit international partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India and Canada’s National Research Council.

According to Denise Ryan of the Vancouver Sun, in July the University of B.C. released a statement calling for the astronomy community to place a 60-day moratorium on construction of the telescope to ensure the rights of Indigenous peoples are respected. On July 25, several dozen UBC faculty members wrote an open letter to the school’s president, Santa Ono, urging the university, which is involved with TMT through its membership in the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), to suspend its involvement with the project.

In a statement, Ono said that UBC is asking for the moratorium in light of the university’s engagement and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, their support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the concerns expressed by Hawaii’s indigenous community.

Shows of celebrity support from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Momoa and Bruno Mars have drawn media attention to the issue at Mauna Kea. 

As of Sept 7, the protectors of Mauna Kea put out a call for those beyond Hawaii to join them on the Mauna. Solidarity actions have continued all over the world. From Ireland to North Dakota to Oregon many are showing their support to the “Save Mauna Kea” movement. A rally to show unity with those protecting Mauna Kea was held in Eugene on Aug. 3 at FORMATION Self Care Studio.

Sept. 14 marked the opening day for the Winnemum Wintu Tribe’s Run4Salmon to Shasta Dam in California which Klamath Tribal members have participated in. Chief of the Winnemum, Caleen Sisk, has been closely connected to leaders part of the Mauna Kea movement for the last few years. Unified prayers have amplified the voices of both Indigenous groups. The Run4Salmon is not just a Winnemum event, but solidarity act for all sacred places on earth.

As actions continue, “E MAKA’ALA KAKOU, stay vigilant and alert.. Kapu Aloha.”

Today, Eugene and Springfield and 12 states celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, while federally the U.S. still recognizes Columbus Day. EW columnist Kayla Godowa-Tufti ponders the protest at Mauna Kea.

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