Mauna Kea: "More than just a list of physical attributes."

Recent events on Hawai’i’s Big Island represent the latest in a nearly decade-long dispute between Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and settler colonial forces seeking to build the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea. Kanaka Maoli have resisted the construction of TMT on the summit, one of the most sacred sites for Native Hawaiians.

On July 15, Hawaiian Governor David Ige announced that construction would begin on the telescope. Since then, in scenes reminiscent of other profound moments of peaceful environmental protests led by indigenous peoples such as Standing Rock, Native Hawaiian protectors have blockaded the roadway leading to the summit. On July 17, the arrests began, and many Native Hawaiian elders were forcibly removed and arrested for taking part in the blockade.

To amplify the messages of Kanaka Maoli protectors demonstrating their profound love of ‘āina (land), the University of Minnesota Press is sharing an article published in volume 4, issue 2 of Native American and Indigenous Studies. Written by Iokepa Salazar, assistant professor at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity at Ithaca College. Salazar is currently working on a book manuscript on the TMT controversy.

—JASON WEIDEMANN, Editorial Director, University of Minnesota Press



The article analyzes scientific, legal, and popular discourses surrounding Hawaiʻi’s famed mountain summit, Mauna a Wākea, to show how the co-constitution of Western science and imperialism is evidenced in astronomy’s cultural imperative to build its $1.4 billion “Thirty Meter Telescope” (TMT). TMT advocates promise to “discover new worlds” and to observe “the origins of the universe,” but their claims to objective knowledge are betrayed by the legacies of violence on which they are based. The article examines narrative practices that serve to rationalize settler privilege, possession, and belonging on Mauna a Wākea by recasting Kānaka ʻŌiwi as anti-science, criminal, and irrational. Using rhetoric that invokes a familial connection to “ancient Hawaiians,” “modern astronomers” imagine themselves as inheritors of Hawaiian lands; along the way conjuring systems of qualification whereby Kānaka ʻŌiwi are legitimate only insofar as we remained trapped in the past, and politically neutralized. Mauna a Wākea is more than just a list of physical attributes; it is our kin and the knowledge of our genealogies, rooted in the land itself, lies at the heart of our aloha ʻāina and activism.

Read the article’s full text.

Download a PDF.

Read the article on Project MUSE.

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