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Science, time, and Mauna a Wākea: part two

How science and time are each used as tools to promote Western notions of progress like the TMT, while suppressing indigenous viewpoints and concealing a history of capitalist-colonialist violence.

Editor’s note: The first part of this essay appeared on Wednesday, May 13, 2015; both parts were original published on and are republished with permission from the author.

Science and money do not supersede the sanctity of our mountain. — Dr. Kalani Makekau-Whittaker

Time Matters

In the first half of this essay, I argued that scientific discourses are deployed in multiple ways to justify the inherent capitalist-colonialist violence the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) represents at Mauna a Wākea, and to foreclose the visceral assemblage of settler colonial dispossession and elimination, institutionalized racism, U.S. militarization, empire building and capitalist development.

The material fact is that the TMT is a scientific project. It is backed by scientific institutions. Its purpose is science. But, in order for this scientific project to be constructed, Mauna Kea must be desecrated and destroyed. This is precisely why I, like many other Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, stand against it. We must be vigilant and identify the connections between seemingly beneficial projects of science and a history of capitalist-colonialist violence against indigenous peoples.

Together, science and time are each used as tools to promote the central interests of the TMT project and to detract from its critics’ points of view. To continue to develop this essay’s primary argument, I suggest that discourses of time are instrumental in how TMT-supporters label our resistance as detrimental to advancement, progress and ideas of a “modern future.”

Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada’s analysis of time in his article, published by Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale, is a strident critique of how discourses of time suggest that Kānaka Maoli, through our opposition to TMT, are antiquated, backwards and uncivilized. He argues that “any time Hawaiians—or any other native people, for that matter—come out in force to push for more respect for our culture and language or to protect our places from this kind of destruction, we are dismissed as relics of the past, unable to hack it in the modern world with our antiquated traditions and practices.” As Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, Noenoe Silva and many other Kanaka scholars have argued, our resistance to struggles in the present is inextricably shaped by a rooted connection to our past. This is our mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy). “Our genealogies are a backbone stretching to the very inception of these islands, and when we understand our genealogy, we know our origins, where we have been. We always have our ancestors at our back,” Kuwada argues.

Our ancestors also live in the present. In the introduction to A Nation Rising, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua praises No‘eau Peralto’s essay on Mauna Kea as it “reminds us that our lands are living ancestors.” These comments offer a Kanaka definition of time that is inextricably linked to place and space. This helps to explain why Mauna Kea protectors maintain that their opposition to the TMT is about land, not science. They also provide an understanding of time that greatly differs from western conceptions.

When claims like “Hawaiians need to stop living in the past” are made, discourses of time collide with discourses of science in order to justify the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence against Mauna Kea and Kānaka Maoli. To further understand how science and time are co-constitutive in debates over TMT, I draw from Linda Tuhiwai Smith who argues that “time is associated with social activity, and how other people organized their daily lives fascinated and horrified Western observers. The links between the industrial revolution, the Protestant work ethic, imperialism and science can be discussed in terms of time and the organization of social life.” Within this framework of labor and time, activities such as studying the Christian bible (or even learning English to read it) were associated with the idea of progress (and also salvation). Conversely then, activities like speaking ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language), dancing hula and worshipping deities and sacred places were labeled primitive, immoral, and uncivilized.

Smith connects time and Christianity to science, arguing that “progress could be ‘measured’ in terms of technological advancement and spiritual salvation.” This colonialist and racist logic proposes that to progress (in time) to a modern civilization, we must submit to Christian salvation (through religion) and technological advancement (through science). It is the religious and scientific measuring of progress, in an evolutionary progress narrative, that temporally brackets Indigenous peoples as prior to, or without, history, and always in need of the gifts of progress.

We can see, then, how critics characterize opposition to the TMT and its alleged “advancement” of Mauna Kea as an issue of Kānaka Maoli “wanting to keep Hawai‘i in the Stone Age” or “turn[ing] back toward the dark ages.” This kind of TMT support is peppered by racism and colonialist ideology, concealed by talk of time, history and “progress.”

Time matters in the support for the TMT because it indicates “progress” in history through scientific and technological advancements. And, it is through this racist, colonialist discourse that the protection of Mauna a Wākea from desecration and destruction impedes “progress.” For example, on April 17 in Civil Beat, Kristine Kubat represents a pro-TMT argument by saying, “‘We hear you,’ they say. ‘We feel your passion. But in the end your just cause pales in comparison to the righteousness of our own. Yours is, after all, a religious perspective and, as we all know, humanity advances through its sciences not its religions. Give it up. We are the future; you are the past. In the grand scheme of things, you matter not.’”

Kubat takes this tone to suggest dispossessing and eliminating Hawaiians “matter[s] not” in the grand scheme of scientific discovery and progress, which treats dispossession and elimination of Native peoples—as Lenape scholar Joanne Barker describes in Native Acts—as “regretful yet inconsequential.”

The strong defense of categories like “righteousness,” “humanity” and “science,” to which Kubat draws our attention, is forged in an argument over time and history. This argument explains why, in the words of Noenoe Silva in Aloha Betrayed, “Kānaka Maoli hardly appear in [westernized] history at all,” and how Indigenous peoples are, according to Jodi Byrd, the “unwelcome guest to the [western] future.” Indeed, as Dipesh Chakrabarty points out in Provincializing Europe, Hawaiians are boxed into an “imaginary waiting room of history” until the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence, hidden deep beneath the moniker of “progress,” comes to be seen and accepted as a harbinger of life.

The consequence of this kind of engagement with time is examined by Elizabeth Povinelli in Economies of Abandonment, in which she argues that Indigenous communities are violently bracketed into an authentic pre-colonial past, stuck between that past and a modern future, and outside of historical advancement. Science and time, therefore, reconfigure not simply because of colonialism but also because of racist developmentalism and capitalism.

Time & Capitalism

When we analyze discourses of science and time, we must talk about how capitalism serves colonialism. To put this in context, Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, Shelley Muneoka and Candace Fujikane published comments on April 19 in the Honolulu Star–Advertiser about the TMT and Mauna Kea, offering an analysis of the development of the astronomy industry. They echo J.B. Zinker’s criticisms in An Acre of Glass by suggesting astronomy has an “insatiable desire for ever larger ground-based telescopes.”

The authors continue by saying, “These giant building projects are not only bigger scientific instruments, they are also huge investments with serious money at stake.” The TMT is no different. It requires more and more land and it is dependent upon substantial amounts of money and capital in order to manufacture scientific “progress.” The TMT demonstrates capitalism’s logic to develop through time by developing space. Therefore, to conclude this section of the essay, I make explicit the connections between discourses of time and capitalist-colonialist violence.

On April 23, Lanakila Mangauil testified at the OHA’s board meeting to reconsider its 2009 approval of the TMT project. In reference to western political economic contributions to sustain our collective future by increasing exploitation of natural resources, Mangauil passionately remarked, “What the generation before has called ‘progress,’ I call suicide.”

Here, the capitalist exploitation of ‘āina is directly bridged with violence. Mangauil’s sharp analysis reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s assertion in The Wretched of the Earth that “capitalism objectively colludes with the forces of violence that erupt in colonial territories.” Furthermore, Western Shoshone scholar Ned Blackhawk argues in his book, Violence Over the Land, that highlighting violence done to Indigenous peoples works to expose imperial and colonial projects seeking to acquire land, develop private property and ownership rights, and replace Natives with settlers.

Thus, capitalist-colonialist violence is exemplified by dispossessing lands from Native nations; developing sacred sites used for worship, used for gathering resources, or simply as places of belonging; eliminating Indigenous peoples, including ancestors or relatives; and criminalizing the acts of refusal Native peoples assert over capitalist and colonialist ways of life. Undergirding the racist, colonial violence of the TMT is the capitalist brutalization of Mauna a Wākea, justified through the scientific narrative of time as “progress.”

According to Yellowknives Dene scholar Glen Sean Coulthard, colonial domination is a relationship of power that, through interrelated modes of state, economic, racial and gendered power, produces hierarchical social relations to facilitate the dispossession and elimination of Indigenous peoples. What is both incredibly innovative and useful in his analysis is that capitalism functions as a social relation to further colonialism. For instance, in Red Skin, White Masks, he engages with Karl Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation, which “refers to the violent transformation of noncapitalist forms of life into capitalist ones,” in order to show how capitalist development, accumulation and relations are primarily opened up by violently transforming Indigenous peoples’ land.

Astronomy-industry development demands that the TMT transform Mauna Kea through science in order to transport society into a progressive, modern future. Coulthard maintains that capitalist-colonialist domination is dependent upon changing the “primitive” past into “progressive” present or “modern” future, normalizing capitalist development as inevitable and universally beneficial, and transitioning into more concealed forms of violence. This is all too familiar in how the TMT project conceals capitalist-colonialist violence at Mauna Kea.

The criminalization of Kū Kia‘i Mauna and po‘e aloha ‘āina who, on April 2, refused to let TMT vehicles pass to the summit of Mauna Kea, is an example of this concealed violence. On that day, 31 protectors, including young leaders and elders, were handcuffed, arrested and detained for protecting Mauna a Wākea from desecration and destruction.

Williamson B. Chang, in The Hawaiian Kingdom Blog, argues that the TMT project underwrites its violence against the sacred mountain through liberal progress narratives such as “development,” and by exercising so-called legal (and justified) violence against Kānaka Maoli through criminalization. He says, “The police are the only ones today who can do so-called ‘legal’ violence to Mauna Kea. Similarly, the police of Hawai‘i County and the officers of the DLNR are the only ones who can use the violence of arrest or fine to force down the protectors of Mauna Kea. Protect the mountain and you go to jail. It is legal. It is called law. It is a power possessed only by the sovereign of a nation. There once was a time in Hawai‘i when that monopoly on the use of legal power protected, not defiled, Mauna Kea.”

By exerting violence to harm the mountain and to criminalize Hawaiians, the TMT comes into existence, and reinforces itself through capitalism and colonialism in the name of the astronomy industry’s development; “progress.” In sum, our understanding of the TMT should be critical of the kinds of violence that is enacted through its physical construction, legal defenses, and that are concealed through discourses of science and time.

Kanaka Maoli Futures

It is crucial for me to highlight how the Kū Kia‘i Mauna, po‘e aloha ‘āina, and TMT shutdown movement are informed by the fact that Kānaka Maoli are of our ‘āina. Coulthard helps me to trace this claim. In Red Skin, White Masks, he provides a framework for understanding how the protection of Mauna Kea can be a form of resurgence, forged in the refusal to accept the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence. He allows us to see how protection is a decolonial practice informed by, and not for, land. With these considerations in mind, I conclude this essay with a discussion of decolonization, aloha ‘āina, and Kanaka Maoli futures.

Science and time matter because they are invoked to justify capitalist-colonialist violence against Mauna a Wākea. It is also vital to center them in further discussions about the TMT, for they have, ironically, been neglected in the very debates surrounding an issue that they have been so integral in shaping. Even some astrophysicists, astronomers and other scientific professionals—like Chanda Prescod-Weinstein—urge that astronomy should be decolonized.

The TMT should be identified as a capitalist-colonialist project. Protection of Mauna Kea should be structured as a response to how science and time are being deployed to justify the TMT’s violence. To be clear, I do not oppose science. My opposition is to the violent process by which science is deployed to reinforce capitalism and colonialism; and my opposition to that is firm and unapologetic. This connection must be made in order to shut down the TMT.

While I have made a point that we should consider the nefarious ways that racism, colonialism, militarization, empire and capitalism are central to the TMT’s violence, we must also center Kanaka Maoli futures in such critiques.

Mauna Kea matters; Indigenous peoples’ sacred places matter; the ‘āina matters. Our future as ka Lāhui Hawai‘i is intimately wrapped up in how we care for our ‘āina, our ancestors and our people.

There does exist progress that does not sacrifice the fragile, the precious, or the sacred. Hawaiian epistemologies, or ways of knowing, conceive of progress differently than western ones. In A Nation Rising, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua suggests, “In looking to the past, we inform the decisions and commitments that will shape our futures.” Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio complements her statement in Dismembering Lāhui by asserting, “A proper mo‘olelo [story, history] delivers lessons from the past that ought to guide our present behavior.”

One lesson projected from the past is that we have survived. As much as settler colonization desires genocide, we are not extinct. We are still here; still fighting. Our histories demonstrate “a story of how our people fought this colonial insinuation with complexity and courage,” says Osorio. Progress to us is ea, protecting life, land and sovereignty. Progress should not desecrate or destroy. As Haunani-Kay Trask notes in From a Native Daughter, “No matter how effective colonialism has been in dismembering our culture and our people, it has not managed—yet—to kill all of us, to push all of us out of Hawai‘i, to strangle our love for our people and our language and our land.”

Our future is secured in aloha ‘āina, loving and caring for the land. By considering Hawaiian movements in the 1970s, by Kānaka Maoli like George Helm, to protect Kaho‘olawe from being occupied and repeatedly bombed by the U.S. Navy, Osorio argues, in A Nation Rising, that aloha ‘āina is “the primary symbol of cultural identity among those who participated in political activism. One of the points I hope to make clear is that this concept, although not universally enunciated as aloha ‘āina, is an integral part of Hawaiian consciousness.”

Caring for and loving our ‘āina also means protecting it from continued incursion, such as what is currently taking place at Mauna Kea. “The heightened awareness of Hawaiian values regarding land has resulted in continued challenges to capital developments over Hawaiian sacred sites,” says Osorio. These Hawaiian values refuse the liberal multicultural “goods” that the TMT provides. In Mohawk Interruptus, Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson asks us, “What happens when we refuse what all (presumably) ‘sensible’ people perceive as good things? What does this refusal do to politics, to sense, to reason?” Kanaka Maoli refusal of astronomy-industry development demonstrates aloha ‘āina. In refusing the TMT, we reaffirm aloha ‘āina as part of the cultural politics of resurgence; it is a direct practice of decolonization.

The politics of resurgence are an expression of decolonization that simultaneously reject capitalist-colonialist structures of power and refuse to give in to material violence against Indigenous peoples. Coulthard’s claim that “resurgent politics of recognition are premised on self-actualization, direct action, and the resurgence of cultural practices” is supported by what he calls grounded normativity, or a “place-based foundation of Indigenous decolonial thought…by which I mean the modalities of Indigenous land-connected practices and longstanding experiential knowledge that inform and structure our ethical engagements with the world and our relationships with human and nonhuman others over time.”

As a resurgent political expression grounded in normativity, aloha ‘āina is anti-colonial and anti-capitalist. Protection of Mauna Kea illustrates direct action by refusing the TMT’s violence as well as challenging western, scientific understandings of time and space by centering ‘āina. Coulthard recalls Standing Rock Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr.’s analysis in God is Red, which observes: “Most Western societies, by contrast, tend to derive meaning from the world in historical/developmental terms, thereby placing time as the narrative of central importance.” The capitalist-colonialist relation is for land. Aloha ‘āina’s relation is of the land. Therefore this challenge, informed by Kanaka Maoli histories and of ‘āina, not for it, exists exterior to capitalist-colonialist structures and modes of understanding. We must continue to antagonize from this framework with the help of kapu aloha and our non-Hawaiian allies.

The kapu aloha observed and expressed by the Kū Kia‘i Mauna suggests that protectors of Mauna a Wākea maintain the mountain’s sanctity in humility and nonviolence. In her open letter published in Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua states, “This kapu is grounded in the teachings of our kūpuna and is about carrying ourselves with the highest level of compassion for our beloved ‘āina and for all people we encounter.” The kapu aloha is a Kanaka Maoli articulation to claim life, land and sovereignty.

This said, aloha ‘āina’s capacities of resurgence and decolonization are seriously diminished when kapu aloha is broken or wrongfully directed. For example, on April 24, KITV’s Andrew Pereira published an article admonishing Kanaka Maoli activist Kamahana Kealoha’s public remarks against a pro-TMT petition created by Mailani Neal, a young Hawaiian woman aspiring to be an astronomer. Kealoha’s disparaging comments were sexist and anti-wāhine (women). My goal, in engaging with this example of breaking the kapu aloha, is to intervene into arguments about the TMT by suggesting—as Haunani-Kay Trask, Glen Sean Coulthard, Audra Simpson, and others have—that decolonization requires gendered justice.

Decolonization also requires an understanding of how the kapu aloha might be co-opted by liberal settler colonial ideologies seeking nonviolent negotiations with state agencies, and conciliatory accommodations. The absolute dismissal of angry, resentful, or violent reactions to racial and colonial violence in the name of kapu aloha is wrong. Such reactions can be anti-racist or anti-colonial acts, if properly directed. If Kealoha’s remarks demonstrate that true kapu aloha is anti-sexism, then this practice should also challenge structures of racism and colonialism. The kapu can break down in the rebuking of angry, resentful, or violent reactions to injustices elsewhere, such as the ongoing protests in Baltimore, Maryland, against racist police killings. These are struggles over life, whether that is Mauna Kea as our living ancestor or Freddie Gray, and decolonization of our sacred mountain requires intersectional solidarities.

Similarly, aloha ‘āina needs alliances in the form of radical coalitions to protect Mauna Kea and center Kanaka Maoli struggles. Countless Native nations, communities and organizations have stood up in solidarity with Hawaiians against the TMT, including Lakota Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Idle No More, and The Red Nation. Kānaka Maoli residing on the continent, from Portland, Oregon, to Las Vegas, Nevada, are standing on sidewalks at busy street intersections protesting the TMT. Hawaiians are protesting outside the TMT’s headquarters in Pasadena, California. And many non-Hawaiians are standing up to support our struggle to protect the mountain.

On April 26, a faction of the international network of activists referred to as Anonymous hacked into and shut down both the TMT and Hawai‘i state government websites. According to Nathan Eagle and Anita Hofschneider of Civil Beat, Anonymous took responsibility in a blog post titled “Anonymous with the Hawaiian natives against #TMT,” which asked for a stop to ecocide and Native rights abuses.


In this essay, I have argued that the categories of “science” and “time” are produced by arguments regarding the TMT in a process that justifies the capitalist-colonialist violence done to Mauna a Wākea. Mauna Kea is our ‘āina; it is our sacred, living ancestor. Haunani-Kay Trask’s poem “Still is the Fern” in Night is a Sharkskin Drum reminds us, “In burning snow, slumbering Mauna Kea. Arise and go, sacred, into dawn.” We have an Indigenous responsibility to aloha ‘āina, to kapu aloha, and to protect the mountain.

The TMT is a project premised on institutionalized racism, settler colonialism, militarization, empire, and capitalism. The collusion of astronomy-industry development and “progress” hides and justifies Mauna Kea’s desecration and destruction. The future of Kānaka Maoli and Mauna Kea is entwined with our critical interrogation of these discourses of science and time. This future is only possible because of our past. This essay pales in comparison to my great-great grandfather’s anti-annexation activism in the 1890s, but it is because of his aloha ‘āina that I am able to speak against the TMT today, and to stand with ka Lāhui Hawai‘i in defense of ea.

“We are not American,” Haunani-Kay Trask passionately declared on January 17, 1993 at ‘Iolani Palace to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the U.S.-backed, illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. More than 22 years later, on April 12, 2015 at ‘Iolani Palace, participants at the Kū Kia‘i Mauna rally chanted “We are not American” yet again. And since we are not American, then we must refuse the TMT and resurge against capitalist-colonialist violence to protect Mauna a Wākea in aloha ‘āina as Hawaiians.