Mauna Kea, Being a Hawaiian Ally, and Teaching Kids to be Allies

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This is a post about what it means to be an ally. It attempts to explain the situation that is currently happening on Mauna Kea with the Hawaiians. It also talks about how to teach your kids to be allies and how to involve them, including your kids who have disabilities.

What and Where is Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the tall mountain that, Hawaiian or not, literally shapes the background of your life if you live in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

It soars behind the town, snow-capped in winter and shades of brown in the summer, a constant reminder to us all of its grandeur and beauty.

Mauna Kea soaring behind the town of Hilo, Hawaii
Mauna Kea soaring behind the town of Hilo, Hawaii

If you are Hawaiian, however, Mauna Kea is more than awe-inspiring mountain of grandeur and beauty: it is a holy and spiritual place.

The History of Mauna Kea

The current controversy on Mauna Kea  is  about the knotting of strands of the sacred, of abuse and of justice. mismanagement of the land and the observatories on Mauna Kea is appalling, as that video so clearly details.

One thing that I wanted to explain a little here is the piece in the video about Mauna Kea being on ceded lands.

Hawai’i: An Independent Nation

Hawai’i was an independent nation until Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown in 1893 (read more here).

All crown lands became ceded land over time, held first by the US government, then by the State (after Hawai’i because a US state in 1959. The federal act authorizing the transfer required that the lands be held in trust and that revenue from the land be used for five purposes:

  1. Support of public education
  2. Betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920
  3. Development of farm and home ownership
  4. Public improvements
  5. Provision of lands for public use

(Statehood Act 1959)

The lands that were leased (- for $1 a year, I hope you caught that in the video) were ceded. They are to be used for only those 5 purposes.

The fact that they are ceded also speaks to the long history of injustices against the Hawaiians, of cultural suppression, cultural rape and of abuse.

You see, if you read any of the history of Hawai’i, it’s very clear that Hawai’i should not even be a state. The kingdom was taken over by the planter’s association, and the only reason it was able to do that was because the native Hawaiian population was so decimated from the diseases the westerners brought.

Hawaiians have experienced the loss of their land, then the loss of their language and culture by western integration. The ban of Hawaiian language in school, for example,  was only lifted in 1986. I repeat: 1986. In my lifetime.

Mauna Kea on Ceded Lands

Mauna Kea, sacred site for Hawaiians, is on ceded land.

That is land that right here, right now, must be used for one of the five purposes listed above. It is land that comes directly from the Hawaiian monarchy.

The government authorizing the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on sacred lands is like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Generations worth of injustices, abuses and suppression have layered into an intolerable position for Hawaiians. They will accept no more, can tolerate no more. They need Mauna Kea free.

Ku Kia’i Mauna Kea: The Protectors of the White Mountain

In July 2019, a band of Hawaiian kupuna (elders) and protectors blocked the access road. By blocking the access road, the contractors hired to build TMT are unable to go up, so the TMT cannot be constructed.

Mauna Kea being an ally to Hawaiians - image of Mauna Kea and the access road blocked

Thousands of people have traveled from all over the world to guard the access way and protect Mauna Kea.

Japanese woman holding flag at Mauna Keajason mamoa on mauna keahands held in the muana kea ku kia'i mauna!

When I first went up, I was filled with desire to help in any way I could, but I was hesitant.

Hawaiian flags at Mauna Kea blockadeI was hesitant because since I’m white, I didn’t know if I would be welcome or wanted; I didn’t know if my presence would help or hinder. White people are, after all, a fundamental part of the layering of injustices and oppression of the Hawaiian people.

Sure, I could say something to myself like, “it wasn’t me.” Sure, that would be true, because it wasn’t me, myself or I that overthrew Queen Liliuokalani, and it wasn’t me that added clauses after the Great Mahele that further suppressed Hawaiians of their lands. It wasn’t me that bought resorts and built and diverted wealth, wasn’t me that said that Hawaiian sacred spaces weren’t important and go ahead, build on them.

None of that was me personally, none of that was my direct family – most of my family was not even in America then.

But the point is, this happened. These things happened, and while I am not directly responsible for them, I am part of the problem if I don’t rise up now to try and rectify some of this.

I joined a group of Deaf Protectors

As I stood there with the sun beating on us, the wind in our hair and Mauna Kea in front of us, it occurred to me how alike the disability rights movement this is, and how alike it must be to be an ally with the disability community.

That is, so many non-disabled people are not directly responsible for so much of the oppression and injustice that we face in the disability community, but if you don’t rise up and help rectify what is going – if you don’t help us fight – then you are part of the problem.

The discomfort that the non-disabled must feel as they are around us also occurred to me. We look, talk, think, move, speak and/or emote in ways that are our own; this can and does often cause discomfort for others outside of our community.

Non-disabled people want to lead us, be our spokes people. They want to showcase highlights of who we are, use us for inspiration. We look great as we gaze bravely off into some unknown expanse.

I thought how alike all of this is with Hawaiians: like the disability community, they have a lot of non-Hawaiians who want to speak for them. They have aspects of their culture highlighted, passed around; they also look great as they gaze bravely off into some unknown expanse.

It’s uncomfortable to be surrounded by difference, or to show up and be an ally, hold space for people who have been oppressed by people who look like me (that is, white people). It’s really, really uncomfortable. It’s a hell of a lot easier to stay at home and watch a rerun of something soothing on Netflix. But staying at home with Netflix won’t help us move forward as a collective whole. It won’t.

What I Learned in Being a Hawaiian Ally:

I learned that, just as I said in How to Be an Ally for People with Disabilities, I need to listen, just listen.

It’s not about me.

It might be uncomfortable, but it’s okay to be uncomfortable: discomfort is like an unused muscle. The longer I stay with it, the easier it gets

If we do not help now, we are part of the problem. Maybe we didn’t create the issues directly, but if we don’t help resolve them, we may as well have created them.

Listen. Follow.

I learned that following and amplifying have so much value.

That is, follow the lead of the kupuna (Hawaiian elders) in this and the Kia’i leaders. Do my part to amplify what they put out.

I learned that simply holding space is powerful.

Right now, the Kia’i literally need living, breathing bodies on the Mauna to help secure the access road and to demonstrate the numbers of those who strive to protect the mountain. Going up there and literally just standing there is useful, because it’s what they have asked of their allies.

Giving supplies, money – those are of course also necessary (there are more links at the end of this post).

I learned it’s so important to teach my kids

We have had long conversations about what is going on with TMT, about Hawaiian history, about justice, civil rights.

We talk and I ask my kids so, so many questions to make sure they understand the why’s and how’s and wherefore’s of being an ally here. What caring in action looks like, feels like.

Moxie, my daughter with Down syndrome, does not understand as much as my sons. It’s hard for her to think in abstract terms.

She brings her dolls and plays while the boys absorb the offering to the kupuna.

I have learned that it can work, I have learned that I just need to find ways to include us all as we reach forward and strive to be allies.

I’ve learned I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to be perfect

we can all be Hawaiian ally - image of a woman with a beautiful arrangement in her hair, staring off

Speaking from the heart is more important than perfection or knowing it all. I can do that, I can give that, all the while continuing to learn and remembering how little I really know.

Lastly, I have learned how important it is to take it home

lessons learned on being a Hawaiian ally from a disability ally

I can share what I learn, I can amplify what is happening on the Mauna.

I can take that and help disseminate it through all the means available to me, reaching my own native communities. I can talk to other white people about what is happening, explain it to them in ways they might understand.

All of this counts.

With aloha in my heart and action in my feet, it all counts.

on being a Hawaiian ally, image of two children running by the Mauna Kea access road

Give to The Kia’i & Learn More:

Then There Were NoneThen There Were None

The Hawaiian Monarchy Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen

Read More on Being an Ally

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One Comment

  1. Meriah:

    The planters’ situation has happened a lot on so many Melanesian and Polynesian islands; especially the ones that had been ceded to the US; Australia; New Zealand; United Kingdom; France.

    And the Micronesians which are close to Hawai’i in culture.

    In indigenous Australia too, there are lots of points about the land being unceded.

    “Aloha in your heart and action in your feet”; Meriah! And in Moxie and Micah and Mack’s.

    There were lots of Protector groups, weren’t there? I think many of us might belong to several.

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