Native islanders continue decades-long mission to retain identity

By Isaac Gleitz

More than 100 people gathered at the base of Mauna Kea in Hawaii on July 17 to protest plans for the construction of a telescope, reports Honolulu Civil Beat, news site that coversHawaiian public affairs.

The government spent over $10 million in protest response, according to local news source Hawaii News Now. By the end of the protest, according to The New York Times, 38 native elders were arrested for blocking the access road to the peak.

Mauna Kea was chosen as the telescope site for its low humidity and high elevation, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an online publisher for science research. The telescope, 30 meters in diameter, is funded by academic institutions in the U.S., Japan, China, India and Canada, reports TMT International Observatory, a website for the partnership.

AAAS finds that natives object to construction because the mountain is sacred land, historically reserved for priests. Natives say it’s where the sky god Wakea met with the earth goddess Papahānaumokuākea.Sarah Mordan-McCombs, head of the natural sciences department and professor of biology, spent her childhood in Oahu. She said Hawaiians don’t oppose science — just the proposed telescope location.

“Saying, ‘It’s just a mountain,’ is like saying, ‘your essence... is rooted in nothing,” McCombs said.

McCombs said that land is integral to Hawaiian culture, and Mauna Kea is the key symbol of their people.

Mccombs said most people view Hawaii as a vacation spot and can go there without thought of the past. Yet the culture is rich, and the roots of oppression go deep.

There’s a “chronic lack of equality,” McCombs said. She said that when Europeans landed in Hawaii, they treated the natives as savages and decimated traditional culture.

Rev. Hannah Adams Ingram, Franklin College’s chaplain, said the elders who blocked the road inspire her. They put their bodies on the line — something most wouldn’t do.

Issues are easy to understand through our lens, Ingram said. Native Hawaiians value land, while Christians value worship structures. She added that we often dismiss unfamiliar religions as folklore.

Ingram said protests are revealing. Whenauthority figures spend money, it can meanthat they are nervous.

Nicole Dular, professor of philosophy at Franklin spoke of a way to bridge our separation from the situation. She said we should consider a relevant analogy. If the proposed site for the telescope was The Vatican, she concluded, people would get upset. Dular said a central factor of justice iswho’s benefiting.

“You want to make sure the benefits andthe burdens end up being equally distributed across social groups,” Dular said.

Well, that’s not the case here. Hawaiian natives are the only ones who would suffer from telescope construction; they’recornered.

Surely, we can put the telescope somewhere else.

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