A response to your “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism”
A response to the Oct. 21, 2014 New York Times article:
October 29, 2014
Dear George Johnson,
I’m a board director of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. Your “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism” (Oct. 20, 2014) weighs in on a critical debate in our community and cites a statement from our website. I’m writing because I can help you understand what you saw when you saw protests against the groundbreaking of the Thirty-Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea on Hawai'i island.
You did not see environmental activists opportunistically pushing a political agenda in the guise of “a few traditionally dressed natives calling for the return of sacred lands[.]” We can ask the question, what conditions make it possible for you to reduce a tremendous response on the part of Kanaka ʻŌiwi and their allies to “a few traditionally dressed natives”? What is not “convenient” for Hawaiians and non-natives alike has been the ongoing failures of the state of Hawai`i to step up to its public trust duties to protect these lands, which include Mauna Kea’s summit. As you note (sort of), people have “lingering hostility” against the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. Since then, the feds, then the state, have held lands specifically set aside by and for Hawaiians “in trust” on the condition that they protect and use them for the benefit of Hawaiians and all the people of Hawai`i.
For decades, we’ve seen the state allow more telescope construction, parking lots, and invasive species on the mountain, while failing to protect ahu (traditional altars), sacred waters, and historic properties. We’ve watched the state sign $1 leases with private telescope operators who, in turn, have leased their observatories for $100,000 a night. These lands and resources are not the state’s to sully or misuse. They are legacies of a Hawaiian Kingdom’s good-governance, which have been through a settler colonial history that we have a chance of getting right with. So, when we say the state threatens to break the public trust in Hawai`i, we mean the state threatens the promise of restoring Hawaiian lands to Hawaiian governance and mending colonial fractures across our communities.
You also did not see Hawaiians turning toward the “dark ages”, but to a wealth of traditional knowledges that include astronomy, navigation, and geography. Nor did you see Hawaiians dogmatically clinging to “Indian creationism” against the reasoned progress of scientific inquiry. You saw people insisting on a sacredness and kuleana to these lands that cannot be addressed only as a mitigation measure in a plan to build more telescopes. Kuleana in this sense is a deep spiritual responsibility that must be upheld for the survival and resurgence of a people.
Your attempt to equate technology as equivalent to Galileian or Copernican curiosity, and suggestion that they were all examples of the triumph of secular thinking over the sacred, lacks… truth. Early scientists were wholly captivated by the sacredness of God’s universe and were trying to understand humanity’s place in it. The promises associated with these extremely expensive telescopes have been, over and over again, is that they will bring much-needed economic relief to Hawai'i island.
Indigenous peoples’ actual, meaningful, and historied presence on lands with scientific value are not merely permitted by your colleagues’ “act of contrition” - or even federal protections for Native graves. For you, this shared world of multiple meanings is hidden in plain sight and even a thirty-meter telescope will not help you see this.
Me ke aloha,
Bianca Isaki, Board Secretary, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance