Mauna Kea: The “Sacred” and The Destruction of Hawaii’s Next Generation

Op-Ed from Williamson Chang, Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Richardson School of Law.

1. Stop Immediate Construction

At the Thursday, April 16, hearing of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, Chairman Randy Moore began the proceedings by assuring all that “this is just the beginning of the conversation.” Yet, the moratorium ended Monday, April 20.

There can be no “conversation” in good faith while Mauna Kea is being desecrated. There will only be great anger, militancy, and struggle. You cannot have a conversation in good faith while a cancer on the body of the people begins to grow and spread. The University of Hawaii issued the permit for construction. Of course, they could end all of this by canceling that permit.

However, if there is to be a conversation as promised. The Board of Regents must use their power over the permitting process to delay any building and leveling. The Board of Regents should instruct the President to modify the permit to hold construction. Anyone who has built a house knows that they can ask the contractor to pause—whether for reconsideration or design changes .Without a moratorium, there will only be great anger, militancy, and struggle. You cannot have a conversation in good faith with one who still injects a cancer on your body After all, it will take nine years to fully complete construction. What are a few weeks or months? The Board of Regents should instruct the President to modify the permit and to hold construction. Anyone who has built a house knows that they can ask the contractor to pause—whether it be for reconsideration or design changes.

The worse that can happen to the University is a suit by the builders for breach of contract. There is a defense to such a suit by the builders—it is the defense of “unforeseen circumstances”—a doctrine used everywhere. Certainly, it is an unforeseen consequence that the world would rise up in opposition to the construction of the TMT. Certainly, it is unforeseen that there would be blockades, continuing demonstrations and the need for a “conversation” as admitted by the Chairman of the Board of Regents. All the power rests with the University of Hawaii.

Moreover, there is an existing appeal in the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals. And, if that appeal fails there will be another appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court on the grounds of the inadequacy of the EIS. The Mauna Kea protectors who brought suit asked for a stay in their appeal. They have a right to a stay during the pendency of an appeal. Construction would be futile if the Intermediate Court of Appeals or the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the University EIS invalid. The University of Hawaii, as issuing the permit, as a party in interest, has the power to request such stays in the Appellate Courts of Hawaii. The University must ask for a stay while the Courts are still undecided.

The Board, many of whom are new appointees, do not know the history or the facts. That was admitted Thursday when Chairman Moore first sought to present video, various scientists and speakers to educate the new Board members. How can construction proceed if the Board, as constituted, does not know what on what grounds its predecessors approved construction? It would be a breach of fiduciary duty for each new Regent to act in ignorance.

TMT would never be built on other sacred sites: not on the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, Angor Wat, Gettysburg, Arlington, or even the Arizona Memorial? No one would think of putting a pair of glasses on the eyes of God. Why Mauna Kea?

2. What is “sacred?”

First, when we say: “Mauna Kea” is sacred, W do not mean use “sacred” the way most people use that term. We mean “sacred” not just in the sense of “to worship.” We use “sacred” in the sense of “precious” and things, and lives, things and persons “so important that nothing else counts”—we apply it to those things and people that we care so much about that we would do anything, even flout and break the law, to preserve their existence.

The child of a parent, especially a young child is “sacred” in this sense. So are parents to their children. So are grandparents. Even the family pet is “sacred.” If your house was burning down would you risk your life to go into the burning house to rescue your children, your mother, your grandparents, even your beloved dog or cat?

Would you go even if forbidden by first responders, firemen or policemen? Yes, many of us would go without hesitation—without thinking of the consequences. Would you give a kidney to save or extend the life of your child, your brother, your uncle? Would you spend all of your money to save a loved one from cancer? From Lou Gehrig’s disease? Or spare a loved one from a life in prison without parole? Yes, we all would.

What we are now seeing is the empathy of the entire world, many who do not even know Mauna Kea. Why? Because they empathize with what they see as the most basic human instinct, the world knows what it means to sacrifice, even life, even imprisonment, even a violation of the law to protect that which is sacred. People everywhere gravitate to sincerity and the universal power of that human emotion. Sacred is not a place. It is a relationship, a deep visceral relationship: beyond reason, beyond law, beyond rationality. We love and defend Mauna Kea because it reminds us what makes us human.

3. The Plight of the Next Generation

Second, the Mauna Kea movement is a movement that has grown because of young people—the next generation of Hawaii—the generation we call “millennials”. Our young people live in a wholly confusing world—a world of cognitive dissonance. Every day, our students must live this contradiction—this cognitive dissonance. A false sovereign that purports to arrest and desecrate prevents Hawaiians and their supporters from running into a burning house to save their sacred Mauna Kea.

In the University, our students are learning and hearing that the United States never acquired Hawaii. The State has no jurisdiction. It has no sovereignty. Yet, it uses that baseless sovereignty to destroy the most sacred of our Ohana. The State has, by its so-called sovereignty—“the monopoly on the power to do legitimate violence”—the violence to arrest and the power to desecrate the sky-father, Mauna Kea.

The young in Hawaii are a generation who face a future with no clear roads to survival in Hawaii. They will be houseless even perhaps houseless. They see their Hawaii being attacked and destroyed. The see Hawaii’s waters taken, its plants doused with foreign chemicals, its agricultural lands disappearing in the name of gentlemen farmers, its open lands used for artillery practice, and its shoreline becoming high-end condominiums that only rich foreigners can afford.

They see the future as uncertain, if not hopeless. They see that they cannot raise a family in Hawaii. They have no safety net. Social Security will run out of money. They must provide for their own retirement. There are no places to rent. They will be underemployed and working three jobs. The promises of the past—of doing well in school and entering a profession such as law or medicine do not even guarantee entry into the middle class-which only means the right to buy and own a home in Hawaii. This is their Hawaii. The TMT is the last straw. It is their battle for their future.

4. The University: By What Right Do You Build?

In 1893, 1900 and 1959, new governments took over Hawaii—new governments with new oligarchies and new rules. These were new rules that had the power to interfere with every Hawaiian emotion and instinct—instincts derived over time from our kupuna and Mauna Kea.

In 1898 the United States, by Joint Resolution took the nation of Hawaii. The Joint resolution was impotent. It was an act of Congress, not a treaty. It could no more take Hawaii by a law then Hawaii by a law could take America by a Hawaiian law [See link at the end of this article for an extensive presentation on the power of the Joint Resolution]

The University claims Mauna Kea by lease—a lease derived from the Joint Resolution. Yet, the University cannot prove its chain of title from the Joint Resolution. The University has no power over Mauna Kea. By the rule of law, UH cannot build, it cannot give permits, it cannot arrest us.

5. The University: A Place of Hawaiian Learning

The University is, by its own mission statement, a place of Hawaiian learning. The University if required to be a place of Hawaiian learning. The University is on Crown and Government lands—it has, by state obligation, a trust responsibility to the Hawaiian people. What lesson are they teaching our students today? Every student is required to take one course which teaches the Hawaiian outlook—on what?—on how to destroy the past, the culture and the environment?

What is the educational value of a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea for Hawaiian students? Will young Hawaiian eyes view the distant universe? How many Hawaiians are being selected and cultivated as astronomers? We are creating an instrument on sacred grounds for other peoples and countries? Where is the billion dollar educational commitment to Hawaiians?

Why not build in Hawaii, with 1.4 billion dollars, a university like that of the University of Rockefeller in New York, where the best and the brightest of Hawaiian students will be mentored by Nobel Laureates in biomedical sciences, theoretical physics, information technology, climate change and commercial arbitration—fields which can create new industries for Hawaii with Hawaiians at the helm?

6. To Destroy a People

Naturally, we are angry. Yet, we cannot take out our anger on the police, on the State or the large business interests. Our anger has but one place to go—it is first expressed by violence against those who cannot fight back—our families, spouses and children.

Most of all our anger is taken out on ourselves. That anger manifests itself as self-destruction—as jail—[in Arizona], depression and massive poor heath manifested as diabetes or cancer. Anger turned inward drives into a self-destructive fury—resulting in mental illness, homelessness and hopelessness. The building on Mauna Kea is perpetuating the most despicable crime of all—that of compelling a people to destroy ourselves.

Photo by Will Caron

Read Next

Speech: Kaleikoa Kaʻeo on the TMT