Chapter 6: Protecting Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Sunrise - Hawaii
“Mauna Kea Sunrise – Hawaii” by Anish Patel Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A. Warm up

Think about the questions below to prepare you for the topic. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. Are there special lands and waterways where you live? What are they called? Where are they?
  2. Have you heard of the word ¨Indigenous¨ before? What do you think it means?
  3. Who are the Indigenous people of the lands you live on?

B. Vocabulary Preview

Search for definitions and/or translations of the words. Review the new terms with your instructor and classmates.

  • sacred (adjective)
  • ecosystem (noun)
  • demonstrators (noun)
  • elders (noun)
  • protest (noun and verb)
  • truce (noun)
  • ancestral (adjective)

C. Read all about it!

Protecting Mauna Kea

On the Big Island of Hawai’i, there is a sacred mountain called Mauna Kea. The mountain is a cultural treasure to the Native Hawaiians, the indigenous people of Hawai’i. Astronomers planned to build a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and had gotten permission from the state and from the University of Hawai’i who leased the land to do so. This newest telescope would be in addition to several others that have been built in that area. The first was built in 1968. There are now 13 telescopes on the mountain. The Thirty Meter Telescope would be the biggest and most advanced ever made, reaching eighteen stories in height, but Native Hawaiians are calling for the development to stop.

The Native Hawaiian people have serious concerns about the irresponsible measures being used in the construction on sacred land and say this is a human rights issue. Mauna Kea is a unique ecosystem with sacred waters. It is also a burial site for Native Hawaiian ancestors.

During the groundbreaking ceremony of the construction for the newest telescope, in July of 2019, demonstrators gathered to block the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Elders, young people, family, friends banded together peacefully to stop construction trucks from bringing building materials up the Native Hawaiian sacred mountain. They stood and sat in the roadway, using their bodies as protest. They prayed, sang traditional songs, shared food, and guarded the mountain together, building support from other communities supporting Indigenous rights around the world. Elders were arrested first, they bravely insisted on being on the front line. Then others took their place to continue blocking the road. There were hundreds and hundreds of protesters. News about the protests spread on social media with the hashtag: “We are Mauna Kea” around the world. Celebrities started coming to support the action. The construction was stopped temporarily with a truce agreement.

The native people of Hawai’i’ will continue to stand together as an example for fellow Indigenous communities around the world to support their voices in caring for ancestral lands.

D. Discussion

Talk to your partner(s) about the following questions. Consider choosing roles for the discussion:

  • note-taker (write down key ideas that come up)
  • time-keeper (make sure you are on track with time)
  • facilitator (make sure everyone gets a chance to share)
  • speaker (share the key ideas from the discussion with the larger class)
  1. What is the significance of Mauna Kea to Native Hawaiians?
  2. How many telescopes have astronomers built on Mauna Kea so far? What is special about the newest telescope?
  3. What concerns do the Indigenous people of Hawai’i have about the Thirty Meter Telescope?
  4. What actions did demonstrators take together in protest of the construction of the newest telescope?
  5. What questions do you have about the issue?

E. Topics for Writing

Choose a topic to write about. Be sure to practice the five steps in “Getting Ready to Write” to get started with the topic(s) you choose.

  1. Imagine you are writing to someone who has not heard about the movement in Mauna Kea. Explain the issue and the reasons why Native Hawaiian people protested the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
  2. The action to protect Mauna Kea required many people to be united and organized. Write about the key actions the Native Hawaiian people took to stop the development of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Why do you think these actions were important?
  3. Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians. Write about a place that is sacred or special to your community. Tell why it is important to you and/or your culture.
  4. Search for information about actions to protect Indigenous lands and waters in your area. Who are the Indigenous people in the area? What land or waterway are they protecting? Which communities are supporting this cause? Why? What has been the outcome of the action?

F. Project!

Native Hawaiians are the Indigenous people of the state of Hawai’i. What ancestral lands do you live on? Who are the Indigenous people of your area? If you are not sure, use one of these online map resources below to find out. Please note that the maps below may not reflect all the Indigenous peoples of a land or area. In fact, you may consider add talking about what information is missing in these tools and an exploration of why.

Make a presentation about the information you found to your classmates and instructor.

G. Additional Resources