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A non-indigenous defense of Mauna Kea

We've heard from multiple members of the lāhui about the importance of stopping the TMT project, but here's why non-Hawaiians should be invested in the Mauna Kea struggle too.

Khara Jabola-Carolus

Above: Indigenous and non-indigenous students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa listen, alongside one another, to a presentation on the TMT project presented by Shelley Muneoka at a campus rally for Mauna Kea in April, 2015. | Will Caron

When I, a non-kānaka maoli daughter, contacted my immigrant friends in Los Angeles and explained the Mauna Kea dispute—the logical argument against the location, not against its scientific value, the University of Hawaiʻi’s decades of mismanagement, the sacred value of the mountain, the loss of agency on the part of Native Hawaiians, United States militarism and fear about the future of Hawaiʻi—they did not need much convincing before they joined a protest of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project at their local library.

Why should immigrants be invested in the struggle against the construction of a telescope on Mauna Kea as part of a movement for indigenous self-determination? After all, we come from families who have been struggling, for generations in some cases, to integrate into American culture, society and government.

Sure, many of us—especially Filipinos and Pacific Islanders—rub shoulders with Native Hawaiians at the unhappy end of Hawaiʻi’s racial and socioeconomic hierarchy. But, unlike Native Hawaiians, our communities are fighting for belonging, security and civil rights—not independence—from the United States. Like a tree that loves the lumberjack, we esteem the country whose political institutions, laws, treaties, programs, grants and loans have been thrust upon our home nations, and which created the very conditions that sent our families spinning out of orbit, forced to leave home in search of a more livable environment. This is the very same system that oppresses Native Hawaiians.

The cost of our inclusion within the United States is that our cultures and histories have been ruthlessly scrubbed away. Without charter schools, immersion programs, and curricula that foster a strong cultural foundation in our youth, our lives have become almost totally unviewable, except through the lens of our former colonizer. Can a Filipino child in Hawaiʻi sing even one song in her native tongue?

As immigrants, and sons and daughters of immigrant women, we are connected to Mauna Kea through the pain of loss that comes with dislocation from our homeland, families and indigenous culture. Filipinos, for example, know what it means to survive war and wage revolutions for independence from American colonialism. We understand that cultural preservation is an issue of justice, and important to our spiritual and political recovery as a formerly colonized people. We know that Mauna Kea is not about religious freedom or the United States Constitution. Mauna Kea explains a larger and more permanent disappearance imposed on Native Hawaiians. A telescope, despite the beautiful contribution to humanity that it may offer, is not worth deepening the experience of violence against Native Hawaiians. Let it be built on another mountain.

This is a moment of awakening to the reality that Hawaiʻi will never be at peace as long as we continue to live within the crime scene of a mighty and still-uncorrected wrong. In facing this injustice, we must be brave enough to name our differences and to strengthen the points where immigrants and Native Hawaiians can ally our struggles.

Like Kahoʻolawe, Mauna Kea is a symbol of how we might remake our world, and of the great loss we face if we do not. Immigrant or indigenous, our generation is being forced out of Hawaiʻi and understands the urgency of a radically different path forward. Let us amplify the honorable voice of protest, or forever wrestle with our silence.

Khara Jabola-Carolus is a law student at the William S. Richardson School of Law enrolled in the Native Hawaiian Law Certificate program and the Legislative Advocacy Coordinator for the Hawai’i Coalition for Immigrant Rights.