HAWAII: Indigenous Protesters Block Construction of Telescope on Sacred Land

By Jennifer Kelly

Over a thousand protestors gathered on Saturday against the construction of a giant telescope known as the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), on the mountain of Mauna Kea, which is sacred to the Hawaiian people. The proposed $1.4 billion TMT would be one of the largest observatories in the world, and the fourteenth built on Mauna Kea alone. Construction was slated to begin a week ago, but demonstrations and blockades have delayed it as well as disrupted the operations of other observatories on the mountain.

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Demonstrations continue against construction of the TMT on sacred land.

After a lengthy legal dispute, the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the multinational government project led by the US in October 2018. This legal decision was proceeded by many protests, some numbering in the thousands, as native Hawaiians organized to defend their land. The United States government has not been swayed by the protests and has continued its plans in the interest of US imperialism over those of the colonized people of Hawaii.

Hawaii was annexed in a coup in 1893, which overthrew its monarchy, engineered by American capitalists who sought to avoid tariffs imposed on sugar. These capitalists would gain control over much of Hawaii’s economy and infrastructure. The islands have been dominated by US imperialism ever since, though the indigenous people have long resisted their oppression.

Reformist spiritual leaders like Auntie Pua Case, who helped initiate the lawsuit against the TMT, have downplayed the violent nature of this history of resistance in order to justify their legalist approach. In one interview, she claimed that the protesters are “standing in the way that our ancestors would expect and command of us, in nonviolence, no resistance, facing our relatives. And so that that in itself is very difficult.”

This claim contradicts historical episodes like the righteous killing of British Colonialist Captain James Cook, who attempted to kidnap Hawaiian chief Kalaniʻōpuʻu on his final visit to the island in 1779. Future chief Kalaimanokahoʻowaha hit Cook over the head with a club as he tried to get away, and villagers proceeded to stab Cook to death.

Today, this rebellious spirit still exists among Hawaiians but is being smothered by reformists like Auntie Pua, who have cooperated with police and the National Guard.

An estimated two thousand protesters have now gathered in a camp along the access road to the construction site, delaying construction by blocking the entrance for construction vehicles and observatory technicians. The struggle against the TMT is part of a wider struggle against US Imperialism in Hawaii.

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Protesters block access road to Mauna Kea

Native people also struggle against high rates of poverty, skyrocketing costs of living and especially rent, land and water use, and continued displacement by tourism. One local activist, Walter Ritte, well known for his protests against the use of Hawaiian land for bombing practice, said, “This mountain represents more than just their building they want to build. This mountain represents the last thing they want to take that we will not give them.”

Another protester said, “The TMT and Mauna Kea is just the focal point. For me it’s [a] galvanizing element. It goes back to the role the foreigners played and continue to play in Hawaii. They capitalize and commercialize our culture. They prostitute the elements that make us Hawaiian. They make it look pretty and make it look alluring in an effort to bring more money into the state.”

The struggle of native Hawaiians against US imperialism is a just struggle that must be taken up in an organized, militant way. Anti-imperialists should stand in solidarity with their struggle and fight against their enemy, the greatest enemy of the people of the world, US imperialism.