- A Fictive Kinship:Making "Modernity," "Ancient Hawaiians," and the Telescopes on Mauna Kea
The University of Hawaii continues to believe that Mauna Kea is a precious resource where science and culture can synergistically coexist, now and into the future, and remains strongly in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope.—DAN MEISENZAHL, QUOTED IN THE HONOLULU CIVIL BEAT
Unfortunately there's this whole colonialism thing going on, and so, you have to, somehow, get past that. It's kind of easy for us [astronomers] to get past that because I don't feel like a colonial person. … I feel like I'm one of the slaves. … From the astronomy perspective it's less of a big leap to get over that.—PAUL COLEMAN, INTERVIEW BY AUTHOR, MAY 8, 2013
It has nothing to do with astronomy. You could build anything up there. The problem is that you want to build anything up there.—ABRAHAM KAMAKAWIWO'OLE, QUOTED IN MAUNA KEA: TEMPLE UNDER SIEGE
WHAT CAN MAUNA KEA TEACH US about settler colonialism in Hawai'i? This article analyzes the politics and poetics of the struggle over Mauna a Wākea and the Thirty Meter Telescope (or TMT)—a $1.4 billion observatory boasting to be the next "world's largest telescope," proposed for construction on the mountain considered sacred to Kanaka 'Ōiwi (Native Hawaiians), that, if built, would become the summit's fourteenth.1 It would stand eighteen stories tall, displace roughly ten acres of undisturbed land on the mountain's northern plateau, and dig one hundred feet below the earth's surface, possibly more. While many Kanaka 'Ōiwi argue the TMT would desecrate one of the most sacred sites in the islands—a place revered as a house of worship, an ancestor, and an elder sibling in the mo'okū'auhau (or genealogical succession) of all Hawaiians—advocates of big science justify the transgression by lauding the project's pledge to create jobs, stimulate the economy, and fund educational opportunities in STEM. Others repeat the promise of new discoveries that will explain the origins of our universe: a scientific ambition thought to generate myriad benefits for all of humanity. Yet, as TMT advocates [End Page 1] emphasize the project's urgency, they also insist that the Western imperative of "modern astronomy" to explore space is analogous to "ancient Hawaiian" sea voyaging in the Pacific. The discursive strategy consigns indigeneity to obsolescence. While Western science is conflated with modernity and settler culture is imagined as the measure of humanity, Kānaka 'Ōiwi who oppose the TMT are rendered selfish, regressive, and unreasonable. Likewise, TMT proponents argue that exploration of new frontiers and discovery of distant worlds is a universal human aspiration. I argue that the ideologies of science and multiculturalism in which these assumptions are embedded function to delimit what constitutes rationality and, thus, the category of the human. I explain how, within the hierarchies of human difference these discourses conjure, Kanaka 'Ōiwi appear as a foil to the scientific settler state's legitimacy as sovereign and desire to become native. I will also show how the struggle to protect Mauna a Wākea is emblematic of over a century of struggle against U.S. settler colonialism, its logic of elimination, and practices of replacement.2
In examining this controversy, I might have challenged the allocation of public and private resources channeled into big science projects while poverty persists, health care and education remain inaccessible to many, and the state's dependency on tourism and militarism has produced enormous wealth disparities, widespread homelessness, and Kanaka emigration. Instead, however, my focus here is directed toward ideologies of discovery, belonging, possession, and knowledge. I am concerned with ways in which the rhetoric of big science, as taken up by the state and advocates of astronomy expansion, works to expel Kanaka 'Ōiwi from modernity as a path to settler selfhood. Within the official narrative practices that dimly repeat the ambiguous categories and cultural imperatives to "discover new worlds," advance "scientific knowledge," and "coexist on the mountain," particularly when combined with the state's legal apparatus, Kanaka 'Ōiwi are ruled ineligible as caretakers of land and, thus, are denied a meaningful...