Education and the Mountain

SUBHEAD: Is the TMT project is really about astronomy or it being used as a smokescreen for a cash-cow.

By Andy Parx on 14 April 2015 for Parx Daily News  -

Image above: During protest a Goodfellow Brothers machine operator walks away from excavating machines at the "construction" site of the TMT telescope before its funding is even in place. From (

More than forty years ago Kanaka Maoli and those in allegiance began to dream of reclaiming political and cultural sovereignty over Hawaii nei.

In the 1970's after more than a century and a half of an often brutal repression of spirit, culture and language, with a US military overthrow and occupation thrown in, what's been called a "renaissance" emerged in not just direct actions like the reclamation of the bombed-out yet still sacred island of Kaho`olawe, but the resurrection of the language, the culture and very the soul of a great people which had been viciously repressed.

As with black families in the Jim Crowe south, or the native people in British colonial India, parents felt they had to have "the talk" with their children... "give up your dignity, give up your language, don't rebel against the white man, it's a losing battle."

The culture and spiritual identity was literally beaten out of the children. Much like aboriginal children across the globe, they were taken from their homes to indoctrination camps where they were "de-educated" and forced to be white in everything but skin color.

The political arm of the renaissance blossomed into what's been loosely called the "sovereignty" movement and, as scholars documented the illegality and brutality of the overthrow and yes the genocide, kanaka and allied kanaka-at-heart realized that the key was "education."

Surely once the colonizers in America and across the world understood what happened, the wrongs would be righted, although how it should happen and what a resulting model would look like was and still is fodder for extensive debate.

Yet as the years passed it began to seem like despite successes in that effort to educate ourselves and the "outside" world, kanaka lands were still held "in trust" in the hands of the state which, US courts have ruled, "owns" what are now called "ceded lands" even though no such ceding ever took place.

Those lands have continued to be stolen in new and innovative ways as, despite protections built into the State constitution. western money and paradigms are moving to "steal the land one last time, fair and square" via things like the Akaka Bill and the increasingly cash-conscious Hawaii State Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Some of us who were in our 20's then and are now getting used to being called "uncle" have wondered of late what to make of it. Were we wrong? Was "education" always going to be an exercise in futility because there are many who just don't care or don't want to be "educated?"

But on April 4 something extraordinary happened. Following a seven year "legal" process that just ignored the long-standing, oft-stated opposition to development of the place where the kanaka creation story took place, 31 people were arrested for blocking the beginning of earth moving for a new multi-billion-dollar Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

There are 13 other telescopes at the top of the mountain but the 14th desecration of Mauna a Wakea (commonly called Mauna Kea) has since proven to be one slight too many.

As Moloka`i kupuna Walter Ritte has said, people are saying "enough is enough."

Many of those with vested or even casual interest in the TMT have tried to characterize those engaging in the astonishing uprising of not just kanaka and kama`aina but legions of the now apparently "educated" across the US and the world, as being misguided, some going as far as to say it's about "science vs superstition."

They say it's all about astronomy and discovery, some even attempting to twist the story of pre-western-contact voyaging Polynesians using celestial navigation in traveling to Hawaii (something pooh-poohed by the self-same academics just a couple of generations back) to claim we are misguided in protecting the sacred mountain "because Hawaiians were always 'about' science."

But this has nothing to do with "discovery of the beginning of time and space." There are plenty of other mountains in the world for that.

While the precipitating incident has occurred surrounding the occupation and physical degradation and desecration of Mauna a Wakea, this isn't simply about one battle to stop one telescope any more.

It's about how, as Uncle Walter told the TMT corporation, "you got greedy. You had 13 other telescopes but it wasn't enough. Now we want them all gone. And we're not going away"

People will ask if the project is really about astronomy or whether "science," as it is many times, is being used as a smokescreen for a cash-cow that has been projected by some to potentially garner anywhere up to a million dollars a night for its use, were it to be constructed.

Others will argue about the wisdom of TMT's unnecessary "in your face" attempt to bulldoze around some dirt even before funding is in place, years before actual construction is set begin. They will question trying to do so while legal cases are still on appeal.

But this is about the fruits of education that many still dream will lead to demilitarization, deoccupation and decolonization. It may not happen in the lifetimes of those of us who had the vision in the 70's. But the protection action on Mauna a Wakea gives us what a dream always needs to survive... hope.


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