Settler-Colonial laws ignore sacred ground & so the fight begins


Justice for Mauna Kea means taking the fight to them to protect sacred spaces

Anne Keala Kelly

Five weeks ago, the Hawaii State Supreme Court voted to validate permits for construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Plaintiffs requested reconsideration of the decision, but were turned down by the court last Thursday. A nine year-long legal challenge appears to be over.

Hawaiians are, understandably, disappointed. And more than ever, we are questioning the efficacy of asking a system premised on stealing justice from us to give some of that justice back. How do we contend with the fact that we are conditioned to submit to settler-colonial laws while simultaneously attempting to protect sacred spaces when these matters are diametrically opposed? These aren’t easy things to mull. Neither is what to do about the court’s ruling. Because as the Indigenous People who hold that mauna sacred, no matter what that system says or does to us, we cannot allow them to put shovels in the ground.

Now, we are forced to consider other paths to protecting the mauna, alternatives for how to proceed. Anger and frustration about the state always ending up on the sunny side of the legal street it paved should be shed right now. In place of that we need the courage and will to exert political agency beyond the state, starting with the Kapu Aloha thing to do.

For everyone’s sake, we must kindly, directly urge Gordon Moore and the TMT Corp to take the telescope to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. Spain has established its own astronomy industry there, having long ago erased the Indigenous People of that place during their colonial heyday. No one will protest against it there. And it will still be powerful enough to reach back far enough in time to talk-story with God Almighty. They’ll just have the conversation in Español instead of English.

And if being polite doesn’t work, we move onto the next option, something our Maori cousins used recently to stop Brazil’s oil giant, Petrobras, from exploration off Aotearoa’s East Coast. It’s called “brand assault.” It involves, as the name implies, damaging corporate and industry brands.

Before going into what some of that might look like, it’s worth pointing out to Hawaii taxpayers that attempts to build the TMT will cost much more than the $1.4 billion we keep hearing. That project will bleed money, just like the Honolulu rail, only worse. The TMT Corp won’t be digging any ordinary hole in that mountain. Their hole will be, in astronomy’s vernacular, a black hole.


The most obvious expense will be a militarized police force sent to arrest hundreds, maybe thousands of Hawaiians spread out over many months, possibly years. Then there’s the cost to process and incarcerate a steady flow of Hawaiians who will make every inch of that project a miserable venture by blocking it physically, even if we have to do so at the pointy end of a gun.

Don’t expect the TMT’s funding entities to lose sleep over that expense, though, because it won’t be their money making that one-way trip into the aforementioned hole. The state will continue to invoice taxpayers for those costs, even while selling them a lie about how that money-sucking hole in the mauna is good for the economy. Truth is, many millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent just to secure those permits to build.

But let’s get back to the practice of brand assault. There are a number of places where this fits nicely, but I’ll just focus on two, beginning with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It will be the brand assault heard ‘round the world. Like the billionaire version of the Big Bang, or the cautionary tale of what happened when billionaire, Gordon Moore, wanted his own Mount Rushmore. But instead of the slave masters and Indian haters carved into the sacred Black Hills like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Gordon Moore’s Hawaiian hating version is the TMT carved into the sacred Mauna Kea.

For the duration, Hawaiians and our Indigenous allies will be at every conference and professional event anyone related to Gordon Moore’s foundation attends, preceded by multi-lingual press releases, internet blasts on social media, and more. We are already at the United Nations and every Indigenous Peoples and Environmental conference out there. Whenever we and our supporters across the globe speak to, and are interviewed about destruction of Indigenous world, colonization, and threats to the environment, the first thing we will do is call out Gordon Moore as the hypocrite he is. The mission statement of his foundation claims to foster “environmental conservation.” Apparently, Gordon Moore’s idea of what to do with a conservation district that contains a fresh water aquifer is to build a toxic telescope on top of it.

The second site of confrontation is the precious tourism industry. People wept over lost revenues from Tutu Pele’s recent work. And tour companies charging $200 and up for a ride to the summit whined when Hawaiians protested in 2015. Imagine if a few of us actually decided to intentionally damage the industry. How long would it take to end all tours to the summit? A full-blown brand assault on the “Aloha State” fantasy would cost millions, maybe even billions. And all we’d do is tell the truth about our experience, about what the state and the University of Hawaii and Gordon Moore and the TMT Corp are doing to the Hawaiian people’s most sacred site.

Then again, the state might assault its tourism brand for us, when countless images of Native Hawaiians being hauled off to jail dominate local, national, and international news.

No one wants to do any of what I’m describing, by the way. We’d much rather say “adios” and “vaya con dios” with choke amounts of aloha! And, yet, here I am, already going for it in this commentary. And I will Face Book, Tweet, email and text this as soon as it shows up online.

The state’s court kicked the Hawaiian case to the curb, but that only signifies an end to the state sanctioned approach. Now we must take the fight to them.

Anne Keala Kellyis a Native Hawaiian filmmaker, journalist, and activist living on the Big Island of Hawaii. Her work critiques settler-colonialism in Hawaii, with a focus on militarism, environmental destruction, and the desecration of Hawaiian sacred sites.