CESA Supports the Kiaʻi of Mauna Kea

CESA Supports the Kiaʻi of Mauna Kea

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Over the past 83 days, a group of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) leaders have been camping and living on the road that leads up to the summit of Mauna a Wākea, also known by its shortened name, Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain on Moku o Keawe (Hawaiʻi Island). These Kanaka Maoli leaders are Kiaʻi Mauna (protectors, caretakers, and guards of the mountain), representing the voice of the many Kanaka Maoli and allies who are against the proposed construction of a Thirty Meter Telescope (popularly known as the TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea. The Critical Ethnic Studies Association supports the Kiaʻi Mauna and the overall struggle of Kanaka Maoli to protect and care for their homelands. In the spirit of informing our membership about the struggle, we offer this statement and links to ways you can support and boost this movement to protect Mauna Kea, perhaps in connection with other struggles to protect sacred sites near your home.


History & Current Status of the Struggle

Despite three ongoing court cases that question the environmental impact of the project—the proposed facility will be 18 stories tall and cover over 5 acres—the TMT project attempted to begin construction earlier this year. When the Kiaʻi Mauna began their stand on the mountain in March, they successfully blocked the road and refused to let the project’s heavy construction equipment pass. Thirty-one of the Kiaʻi Mauna were subsequently arrested on April 2. Yet, there are still Kiaʻi Mauna there on the mountain, and many across Hawaiʻi and indeed around the world have taken to social media to express their support under the campaigns #WeAreMaunaKea, #AoleTMT (No TMT), and #TMTShutdown. In April, Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige initially asked for a moratorium on construction of the project. Yet, on May 26, Ige stated in a press conference that the “TMT project has the right to proceed” and “the state will enforce and support its right to do so.” Thus, the struggle to protect the mountain continues.
The people’s opposition to the TMT project encompasses many issues of significance to the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, especially regarding environmental destruction, Indigenous sovereignty, and the role of the university in supporting settler colonialism. In Kanaka Maoli genealogy, Mauna a Wākea is the realm of gods and the piko (navel or umbilical cord) of the Kanaka Maoli people. Though traditionally the summit of Mauna a Wākea is not a place where people should dwell, in 1968, the state land board began leasing the summit to the University of Hawaiʻi, which began building telescopes at the site. Public protest about development on Mauna Kea has existed since this time, and throughout the construction of the 13 telescopes that currently exist (many unused) on the summit.


Funders of the TMT May Include Your University

The project has argued for the necessity of the TMT, what would be the 14th telescope on the summit, by stressing the importance of North America and others of having access to such a facility which could see further into space than ever before, heralding the possibility of investigating the Big Bang theory and exploring life on other planets. With a corporate headquarters in Pasadena, California, the partners and funders of the TMT project include a large, international consortium of universities, including the California Institute for Technology, the University of California, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. Yet, there is currently another, similar facility being constructed in Chile—the Very Large Telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory. Thus, the race for the TMT on Mauna Kea is in part a race between scientists and universities hungry to be the first to publish new findings that these telescopes will make possible.


Challenging Racist Backlash Towards Kanaka Maoli

As the movement to protect Mauna Kea has grown over the last few months, some astronomers have lashed back, with astronomers at UC Berkeley in particular calling the Kiaʻi Mauna an attacking “horde of native Hawaiians.” Such blatantly racist reactions are perhaps not surprising, but must not be left unchallenged. As many Kanaka Maoli have made clear in their actions and writings over the last few months, Kanaka Maoli are not anti-science. The Kiaʻi Mauna are acting for the future of everyone who lives in Hawaiʻi, for the protection of Hawaiʻi Island’s water aquifer, and for everyone who wants the future generations to be able to see and experience the sacredness of Mauna a Wākea for themselves. When the overwhelming response from many astronomers or other observers is that Kanaka Maoli are “superstitious” and “backwards” for insisting on a wider attention to the project’s environmental impact, racism and colonialism must be called out and challenged as important, overlooked contexts to this and other conflicts over land use and ownership in Hawaiʻi.

Many of those who attended CESA’s conference in Toronto in May were privileged to hear about the struggle on Mauna Kea from several folks who traveled from Hawaiʻi, including Noelani Goodyear Kaʻōpua, Andre Perez, Ilima Long, Candace Fujikane, Noʻu Revilla, Bryan Kuwada, Jamaica Osorio, Kelsey Amos, and Ellen-Rae Cachola. Below we provide further information for our members and allies to further support of this struggle wherever you may be. Please reach out to amplify the efforts of the Kiaʻi Mauna, especially for those at universities who are partners and direct funders of the TMT project. We also plan to feature more about Mauna Kea on our CES journal’s blog soon.



Though hardly comprehensive, here is a list of suggestions to help you begin to take action in solidarity with the Kiaʻi Mauna.

Sign Onto an Existing Petition or Letter


Organize a Divestment Letter at your University

  • If your university actively supports and funds the Thirty Meter Telescope project (you can check the full list of funding universities and consortiums here), and you would like to organize a letter asking your university to divest, there are examples from faculty at the University of Hawaiʻi and University of Victoria, in Canada, may serve as helpful templates. You can contact Maile Arvin at maile.arvin@ucr.edu to get copies of these templates.
  • Maile is also organizing a letter for the University of California system. You can email her if you would like to help: maile.arvin@ucr.edu.


Help Fund the Kiaʻi Mauna and Allies

Watch a Video, Listen to Music, and Share with Someone Else


Follow on Social Media


Read More About the Struggle

KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance has long been involved in protecting Mauna Kea and other sacred summits. Their website includes many useful resources including a one-page fact sheet on Mauna Kea and a timeline of the history of development and resistance at Mauna Kea.

Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale is a blog that has featured several essays related to the struggle at Mauna Kea, including these:


The Hawaii Independent has had strong coverage of actions around Mauna Kea, including these essays:



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