We write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the National Council of the American Studies Association, the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. cultures and histories, to support an international divestment movement to halt the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is sacred to Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians). As one of the principal sources of water on Hawaiʻi Island and as wao akua (place of the gods), Mauna Kea is a piko (spiritual and genealogical center) of Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and that which sustains life for all living beings on Hawaiʻi Island.

On October 30th, 2018, the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court, following a contested case hearing, granted a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to the University of Hawaiʻi. The TMT is a 184-foot tall observatory to be built on Mauna Kea and, if constructed, would be the largest structure on Hawaiʻi Island and the fourteenth telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea. The TMT CDUP application that requires the transportation of chemical waste up and down Mauna Kea and ignores the hundreds of cultural sites on Mauna Kea. Thus, the construction of the TMT stands in stark violation of Hawaiʻi State administrative rules and laws. Moreover, as noted in a federal environmental impact statement for the Keck Telescope, another albeit smaller observatory on Mauna Kea, "future activities on the summit of Mauna Kea would continue the substantial adverse impact on cultural resources."

For as long as there has been development on Mauna a Wākea, hui (groups) of Kānaka Maoli have asserted their genealogical connection to Mauna Kea beginning with the construction of the first telescopes on the summit in 1968 (Casumbal-Salazar, 2014). While previous battles were fought often in the courts (Puhipau and Landler, 2005), the construction of the TMT, as the largest telescope ever to be built at the time of writing, brought international attention to the struggle of Kānaka Maoli and their allies to protect Mauna Kea. After intervening in a 2014 groundbreaking ceremony for the TMT, Kānaka Maoli kiaʻi and their allies organized a blockade against the construction of the TMT, leading to mass arrests of Kānaka Maoli by the State of Hawaiʻi. At the time of writing, 57 kiaʻi in total have been arrested for protecting Mauna Kea. In recent years, a series of statements were passed by graduate students and faculty at the University of Hawaiʻi, the University of California, and the University of Victoria against the construction of TMT.

As these statements have emphasized, TMT and the logics of settler colonial science are setting a particular agenda for Kānaka Maoli, where imagining a future rooted in Indigenous resurgence is foreclosed in the interest of linear settler colonial progress. By prioritizing the discovery of “new worlds” and “scientific knowledge” instead of respecting Kānaka Maoli genealogical ties to Mauna Kea, TMT investors invalidate Kānaka Maoli as caretakers of the land (Casumbal-Salazar, 2017, 2). Therefore, universities like the University of Hawai’i, UC system, and Caltech funding TMT for “knowledge” continue colonial legacies of transforming Native people into irrational and non-modern subjects "opposed" to science and Native lands into spaces of economic development. In this way, knowledge is premised upon colonial violence, extraction and profit, rather than respecting Indigenous relationalities with land and water. If we are truly to respect kiaʻi (guardians of lands and water) and co-create new futures, we must also consider academia’s complicity in invalidating and disrespecting Indigenous ways of knowing and living, as evidenced by its investments in the TMT project. We can instead support sustainable models of Indigenous stewardship in places like Hawai’i, Marianas, Marshall Islands, Canada, Mexico, and other settler states.

President: Roderick A. Ferguson, University of Illinois, Chicago
President Elect: Scott Kurashige, University of Washington, Bothell
Past President: Kandice Chuh, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Executive Director: John F. Stephens
Councilor: Soyica Diggs Colbert, Georgetown University
Councilor: Eng-Beng Lim, Dartmouth College
Councilor: Deborah Vargas, Rutgers University

Posted for ASA Office in Press Releases
Post date: April 6, 2019

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