THE arrest of more than 30 native Hawaiians and activists protesting against a proposed telescope project on Mauna Kea — a dormant volcano considered sacred in Hawaiian culture — “will not be forgotten”, the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, the Rt Revd Robert L. Fitzpatrick, has warned.
The demonstrators had been camping at the foot of the 14,000-foot volcano, blocking an access road to the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, when they were arrested earlier this month. Police had been drafted in, and a state of emergency was declared by the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige.
There are already several telescopes on the site, the highest point in the US state, positioned to benefit from cleaner air and reduced light pollution. While some Hawaiians support the plans as a boost to the local economy, others believe it to be one project too many.
In an open letter last week, Bishop Fitzpatrick said that “the imprudence of and the insult caused by the arrest” and the emergency order “will not soon be forgotten. The actions inhibit conversation and reconciliation. The events, however, have brought attention to the alienation of the indigenous people of these Islands, the Kanaka Maoli, from their own land.
“Issues of power, control, identity, culture, and history are brought to focus on Mauna a Wakea but have meaning for all these Islands and our future together.”
He called for an immediate suspension on moves to begin construction of the telescope. “It wiStockMauna Kea, in Januaryill likely mean that such a new telescope should never be built. I acknowledge that the livelihoods of some will be impacted and the hopes of others overturned by such a move. I am saddened by that reality, and it certainly must be part of our conversations, but we must continue together.”
His letter was accompanied by a statement from two Kanaka Maoli clerics in the diocese, the Revd Jasmine Hanakaulani o Kamamalu Bostock and the Revd Paul Nahoa Lucas, who said that the dignity of the indigenous Kanaka Maoli people was not being respected. “With the militarised police presence, there can be no peace. . . The cultural practices lead many to protect Mauna a Wakea as she is perceived to be the genesis point of the people of these Islands — she is a part of us.
“The conflict on Maunakea has escalated with a “state of emergency” being declared to counter those who are standing to protect Maunakea as a sacred place. This is not an issue of being anti-science, as Hawaiian people have a long and proud history of technological advancement. We reject a colonialist world-view that sees indigenous peoples as ones whose intelligence is inferior.”
The site, like Mount Horeb, Mount Carmel, and Mount Zion, should be respected as a dwelling place of God, they said. “Sacredness is not merely a concept or a label. It is a lived experience of oneness and connectedness with the natural and spiritual worlds. . . Seeing the land and seas as nothing more than something created for human consumption and benefit has deep colonial roots.”