Native Hawaiians have been fighting against outside influences for sovereignty of their land, preservation of their culture, and respect for their identity since sugar planters and businessmen forced the abdication of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893.

In many ways, the continued resistance to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii is more than a protest against a massive and destructive construction project. It is an extension of that 126 years-long fight for the right to the self-determination of Native Hawaiians, and it is also part of the longer fight for self-determination for indigenous and Native peoples around the world

Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Native Hawaiians have been fighting against outside influences for sovereignty of their land, preservation of their culture, and respect for their identity, since sugar planters and businessmen forced the abdication of Queen Liliʻuokalani from the kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. In many ways, the continued protests against construction of the 30 meter telescope in Hawaii is more than just a protest against a massive construction project, but it’s an extension of that 126 years long fight for the right to sovereignty of native Hawaiians on their land, and the longer fight for self-determination for indigenous and native peoples around the world.

I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. And here to talk about the ongoing protests in Hawaii on Mauna Kea is Pualani Case. Pualani was born and raised on Hawaii Island, and is the lead program coordinator for Mauna Kea Education and Awareness and is a Mauna Kea protector. Thank you so much for joining me from Hawaii, Pua.

PUALANI CASE: Aloha. Thank you for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Aloha. Aloha to you, as well. Now Pua, most people who are aware of the 30 meter telescope–or the TMT as it’s called, that project in Hawaii–have just learned about it through the protests that have been covered in some national media over the past two months or so. But this fight’s been going on against this project for much longer than that. So how long has this project been going on? How long has it been opposed? And how long have you been involved as a protector of Mauna Kea?

PUALANI CASE: The proposal for this project has been going on for at least ten years. And in our response to it, my family and many others have been involved in the attempts to stop this project for that long. So we have been through two contested cases, two Supreme court hearings, one frontline action in 2015 which lasted most of that year, and in our community throughout the entire time. So you could say that we’ve been in this for 10 years, and today makes 55 days in the current stance for our Mauna, for Mauna Kea.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And this is a fight that is against the construction of a massive global telescope. It’s an internationally funded telescope. But what is it that the Mauna protectors are trying to protect in this fight?

PUALANI CASE: You know, that would take a long time to really talk about, so I’m going to summarize that in just a few minutes. I am today sitting at the base of the tallest mountain in the world from the sea floor. It is a place where I look at every day, and what I see is the Wao Akua. The Wao Akua is where we are genealogically descended from if you are Kanaka Maoli. But it’s also a mountain that we call The Unifier. It brings us together to stand for certain things in this time period. There are 13 telescopes already presently on the mountain. What they are attempting to do is build a massive 18 story telescope in a conservation zone that cannot possibly meet all eight criteria to have a construction permit. But yes, they have obtained one.

So at this point in time, we as a native people and our allies, our comrades, our friends, and really people all over the world, we have no choice at this point but to make a stand; one, for our water source; two, for our sacred mountain, for our fragile landscape, for a pristine northern plateau that would be built upon. And more importantly, I think what I could say is that there comes a time when a native people, and local people and allies and friends in the global community have the right to say, “Enough is enough” when you are trying to build something on a sacred mountain that in no way could be built anywhere on the mountain, or anywhere else, because 18 stories is not allowed to be built on our entire Island.

But when you have that begin to happen in this time, a people are rising to say, “No more. You can’t just come in here and get a permit that should never have been granted and begin to construct in a place that we hold as sacred, but more than that, any place in our island home.” So we have no choice to hold. We have no choice to stand. This, yes, is about the mountain. But you are right. In the end, this is about a lot more than that.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I think we need to make it clear that the site that the telescope is proposed to be built on is in–as you identified it–a conservation zone. So we’re talking about the potential destruction of a protected environmental site, the potential contamination of a water source, as you mentioned, the potential … well, not the potential, the certain destruction of pristine land for what supporters of the telescope are saying is the advancement of science.

So Pua, let me ask you: What do you say to people who argue that the protectors are anti-science in trying to stop the construction of this telescope, that stopping the telescope construction will stop the education that is needed about the cosmos, everything that will be learned about the cosmos. Is that a true characterization of this fight? Are the Mauna Kea protectors anti-science?

PUALANI CASE: We are not against science, but I am against science that will destroy a landscape. I’m against science that is creating the need for us to make a stand for the protection of our mountain. I’m against science that, in some way, devastatingly impacts a native peoples’ continuation, our continuation of our life ways, that impacts us in a way that will change our lives forever if built. I’m against that. And if that is science–which I don’t think it is, but if it is–then yes, I’m against that. Because that’s what it’s creating here. It’s creating the need for us to put ourselves in harm’s way.

Very soon, because of construction attempts, we will need to be sitting in that access road to stop the construction equipment from going up the mountain. Because you know what? That’s all we have. We have one road that leads up to a sacred mountain that we are descended from. We have one way to protect our Mauna because we have exhausted all others. And if in the name of science, five countries, corporations, universities, private businesses, feel that it’s worth it to possibly cause harm to a people, and indeed cause destruction to their sacred landscape, then I question science. Yes, indeed I do.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And it is so clear. I think you just clearly outlined the true nature of the struggle in Hawaii, that it’s not an issue of spirituality against science and education. It really is a fight, a battle for the continuation of the existence of a people, its traditions, the traditions of people, the life ways of a people, the very existence of a people in the face of capitalism. Capitalism, disguising itself–

PUALANI CASE: Well, it does surely … I’m sorry.


PUALANI CASE: It surely does mean spirit. It means there’s dances, chants. It means traditions that we have held dear. It means ancestral knowledge that is still being passed down to us in the ways that we know and recognize that come from our ancestors. It is all of that. It is our right to practice on our Mauna, which at this time we’re not being able to because the road is closed and we have below that closed road. So we are here, again, foremost to stop the building of the 30 meter telescope on our mountain. And again, it is not about science versus culture. It is about an 18 story building that we are supposed to just simply allow to be built there.


PUALANI CASE: And we can no longer do that. And I want to really emphasize that that is our reason for being here. Yes, there are other issues. Yes, there are many things in Hawaii that we will need to stand for. But at the present moment, we have been called to an access road across the street of a parking lot in the middle of a lava field to make a stand. And we are teachers, we are professors, we are cultural practitioners, if you want to call us that. We come from all walks of life, and we are from all over the world. And we are led by the native people because we are talking about our native connection to our native landscape and we are making this stand together. Because if not for the most sacred, then for what? And if not now, then when?

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And you are actually sharing this knowledge. You are educating. You’re not just out there in an act of protest and protecting Mauna, you’re also educating people who are involved in this action where are you are.

PUALANI CASE: Yes, we do. We have protocol every day, three times a day, which is the teaching and learning how to anchor ourselves, how to connect ourselves, how to deepen that alliance that we have with our mountain. So yes, we do traditional protocol and ceremony, because we are in a ceremonial stance immersed in Kapu Aloha, our sacred conduct on a sacred mountain.

And we also have established our own university here called the University of Pu’uhuluhulu. And we have classes here for those who come and have made the commitment to protect Mauna a Wakea. We are not here protesting. We never have been. We are here protecting and standing for our Mauna, Mauna a Wakea. And in that stance we also offer everyone who comes here the ability and the opportunity and the privilege to deepen their own knowledge and understanding of why we must do what we are doing, and the things that we have in place from our cultural ways that enable us to do that.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thank you, thank you for the correction on not using the term protest, and calling what you are doing, what it is, protecting your land. Let me ask you this last question, Pua: Can it be said that the struggle to protect Mauna Kea is linked to a larger global struggle of indigenous, and native, and first nations people, in Standing Rock, in Canada, in Brazil, in the Amazon, around the world, who are doing exactly what you’re doing in Hawaii, to protect not just the land, but water, the air, the environment as a whole. And ultimately, are you ultimately protecting humanity? What are your thoughts on that?

PUALANI CASE: You know, at the end of every protocol, three times a day … I’m going to sum it up by saying this: We cannot do this alone. We are what we call Kakou Apau, “We are everyone.” So we have a chant that we do at the end of protocol to commit to what we need to do and to remember who has to do it. So we honor first the the native people of this place who have risen to stand. And we are joined here by our Pacific Island cousins. They’re our relatives, they are standing for their own Pacific nations and their life ways. And we are joined here by those who are standing for their own mountains, their own rivers, their own lands, their waters, their oceans, and their life ways. And for some reason, they have found their way to us. Perhaps because we have at some time stood on their front lines, and now they are here to stand on ours.

They are those who perhaps are not any of the others, but they are our beloved friends. They are our allies, our comrades, our alliances. They are our accomplices. And all together we are here on this planet, in this world, in our own designated land bases, and here on Mauna Kea to do one thing: To love our lands as no other and to be the pillars that we need to be, joining one another from the four cardinal points. We descend from mighty brave warriors who are still here amongst us to protect us, safeguard us, guide us, protect us, and correct us. And we are all together rising like a mighty wave.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Pualani Case, I thank you so much for spending time to talk with us today. And we will be watching the developments on Mauna Kea as they continue to progress. Aloha to you.

PUALANI CASE: Aloha to you too from Pu’uhuluhulu, the base of Mauna a Wakea. And aloha to everyone around the world who continues to support us, native ways, and native peoples.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: If you like what you see here on The Real News Network, subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date on our daily content. And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.

Jacqueline Luqman

Jacqueline Luqman is a host and producer for TRNN. With more than 20 years as an activist in Washington, DC, Jacqueline focuses on examining the impact of current events and politics on Black, POC, and other marginalized communities in the US and around the world, providing a specific race and class analysis at the root of these issues. She is Editor-In-Chief and a co-host of the social media program Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation with her husband, and is active in the faith-focused progressive/left activist community.