This week we witness a protest on the Big Island of Hawai’i over a telescope to be built on the peak of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is the highest mountain from the sea bed, and many scientist say the view will provide unprecedented access to our solar system and beyond. But for the indigenous leaders this huge telescope is the last straw. In the communities which have lived around and below this monolith, the mountain is not simply a platform to gaze beyond: it is the home of their Gods. The volcanos of Hawai’i gave birth to the islands themselves, and in a similar story Mauna Kea is known as a life giver in many native religions in the region. To the protesters this is like asking the ancient greeks to build a laboratory on Mount Olympus.
This is, however, not the first telescope to be built on Mauna Kea. Or the second. Or the tenth for that matter. This would be, in fact, the fourteenth. So why is this the one that many are fighting so hard against? Well a leading activist Pua Case spoke about how the other telescopes in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! saying, “We were in a time period where people would say, ‘Oh, they’re just going to build it anyway.’ And a lot of times, we were not even aware that building was occurring on the summit.” In the same interview Case talked about the fact that this wasn’t just about native Hawaiians fighting for their mountain, but indigenous communities everywhere fighting for land, water, and religious rights against encroaching corporate interest. Indeed this protest echos back to our previous piece on Sofia Painiqueo and to current events in Brazil such as the killing of a leader of the Wajãpi village over the Amazon Rainforest.
This is a dangerous trend in recent events: environmental issues continue to be pushed aside while any who stand for their own land are pushed down. Indigenous communities are often at the center of these grabs for greed as they are a long trampled on minority. This protest is not just for one more telescope on one more mountain– its for the right of all Native communities to say enough. This struggle is for recognition, not just as fellow human being who deserve respect for their own religious practices or owners of the mountain, but as protectors of the land and its integrity. Indeed “This is my land to protect” is one of the most powerful and dangerous phrases to say these days.
And yet despite the governor of Hawai’i David Ige declaring the event an emergency, which could lead to the national guard intervening, and several arrests in past weeks, protest leaders have vowed nonviolence. Activist Kaho’okahi Kanuha was quoted during a new conference saying “We are absolutely committed to peace, peaceful protest, nonviolent action. We are not wavering from that. ” And while the vow is of course in line with their principles, it is also an important strategy. When fighting against an foe so much bigger than them, such as the US government, communities such as this one often turn to nonviolence to highlight their resistance without aggression. This amplifies their image as protectors, not insurgents, and allows every kind of person to join such as the elders who have plaid a prominent role in this protest. With nonviolent means another David stands in line to fight their Goliath, and only time will tell if this one will triumph.