What is the connection between Hawaii Governor David Ige signing a state emergency proclamation, the arrests of over 30 elderly protestors peacefully protecting their sacred mountain, and the University of California, including UC Berkeley? The answer is a $1.4 billion dollar Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT. The TMT is set to be built atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Island of Hawaii. The University of California is a member of the TMT International Observatory LLC, or TIO which endorsed the telescope.
Amidst all the political and social turmoil this country currently faces, including the humanitarian crisis at our borders, injustice for victims of police brutality, and the increasing public displays of bigotry and xenophobia incited by the current occupant of the White House, we need to shine a light on Hawaii right now.
What’s happening on Mauna Kea is more than just the construction of a yet another telescope. This is about a people, the Kanaka Maoli, who still stand by their rights as the indigenous peoples of the occupied Kingdom of Hawaii. This is about settler-colonialism. This is about sovereignty. This is about doing what’s right versus doing what’s wrong.
As a Kanaka Maoli, I must first acknowledge that while I’m living in Berkeley, I’m a settler on Ohlone territory. I’m also a settler who was born and raised on Nisenan Territory, near the village of the Kadema, in what is now known as Sacramento, California.
As a History major and Education minor studying at UC Berkeley, I invoke our school motto, “Fiat Lux,” to shed light on what is happening on Mauna Kea from a historical standpoint. In doing so, I call upon UC Berkeley to desist from its participation in settler-colonial oppression and occupation in building the TMT on stolen, sacred land.
To help contextualize this issue, here’s a brief history on Hawaiian sovereignty, American imperialism, and the illegal annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii by the United States of America:
- 1887: Bayonet Constitution; King Kalakaua was forced at gunpoint to sign a new constitution created by white Hawaiian subjects with ties to the wealthy sugar and pineapple plantations in Hawaii. This constitution was enforced because a reciprocity treaty between the kingdom and the US was about to expire. It limited the native monarchy’s power, disenfranchised Kanaka Maoli, and gave voting rights to wealthy, non-indigenous, non-citizen, white men beginning white supremacy in the Kingdom of Hawaii.
- 1893: Gunboat Diplomacy; Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown this time supported by the US government who wanted exclusive use of Pearl Harbor, which the Hawaiian monarchy never permitted. Over a hundred U.S. sailors and marines landed on Hawaii in a U.S.-supported coup. A provisional government led by men who committed treason was created and the US got control over Pearl Harbor.
- 1897: the Ku’e Petition Movement Against Annexation led by the Kanaka Maoli prevented President Harrison from annexing the Kingdom of Hawaii.
- 1898: McKinley Administration got Congress’s approval to annex the occupied Kingdom of Hawaii, and just in time for the Spanish-American War also being fought in the Philippines.
- 1941: Pearl Harbor was bombed.
- 1959: the occupied Kingdom of Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union.
- 1976: Kanaka Maoli activists protested against the US Navy’s bomb testing on the sacred island of Kaho’olawe and win.
- 1993: Congress signed the Apology Resolution acknowledging the US government’s role in the illegal overthrow and annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii and recognized that the Kanaka Maoli never relinquished their sovereignty.
The historical trends observed in the overthrow and subsequent American occupation of the Kingdom of Hawaii revolve around corporate greed and foreign military presence, while the Kanaka Maoli continue to protect what is sacred and what has been taken from them.
It should also be noted that American military occupation in the Pacific doesn’t just affect the Hawaiian Islands. Other American territories in the Pacific include Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the other “Minor Outlying Islands.” These island territories have also been endangered as American footholds, as demonstrated by the North Korean missile threats to Guam in 2017. These Pacific territories are also impacted by the residual radiation that still permeates from the Cold War nuclear bomb testing sites on the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll.
We also mustn’t forget the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in the Carribean, whose people are also currently protesting against corrupt leadership.
Despite settler-colonialism and occupation, the Hawaiian people have always maintained their well-known, dignified spirit of aloha. Kapu Aloha is the conduct by which the activists on Mauna Kea today and across the state continue to decree and exhibit. It is the call to “Stand in Love” and to resist with peace, in other words, nonviolent civil disobedience. Despite showing the world what Kapu Aloha resistance is, Mauna Kea activists have been faced with arrest by a heavily militarized police force and the threat of the deployment of the National Guard due to Governor Ige’s state emergency proclamation. In essence, the University of California, including Cal, have contributed to this violence through its investment in the TMT.
This is not the first time, even in the recent past, that UC Berkeley has invested in options that have been morally questionable and even outright corrupt. In 2018 UC Berkeley’s parent bank, BNP Paribas, invested $1 million in shares for two private prison facilities contracted by ICE. This was reported after the UC divested $30 million of its shares from companies that profit off of private prisons in 2015.
We’re talking about the investment in the suffering, oppression, and deaths of people. This is not Fiat Lux. More importantly, building the TMT in an occupied country whose people have peacefully and willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect what has always been sacred to them.
The University of California must do better. Cal must do better. Mauna Kea is just one site upon which the TMT partnership said it could build its $1.4 billion telescope. There is only one Mauna Kea for the Kanaka Maoli, the site of our creation story, home to nearly a hundred shrines, and the resting place of our ancestors. Do the right thing, Cal. Stop the desecration of sacred sites and your participation in settler-colonial oppression. Be the light. Where is your aloha?
Bria Puanani Tennyson is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in history and minoring in education.