UH Hilo and TMT: Part 2
Community voices express their opposition to “desecration”
News Writer Valentina Martinez
Photographer Zach Gorski
The complexity of debating TMT presents itself in many forms. Situations that may threaten indigenous identity should be approached from several angles; such differing views are more than just yes or no. For some, the proposed building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea has brought the Hawaiian culture into unity for defending their land as a sort of cultural revitalization. However, when victims of a controversy get restless, they may think and react differently.
Hilo community member and activist Palikapu Dedman has recently been under fire within the community and law enforcement after placing iwi (bones) of a relative on Mauna Kea, as the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported recently. In September 2015, Dedman originally placed the bones on an ahu (altar) in the conservation area, which is also known as a burial site to Hawaiians. He explained that when he recently went back to visit them, they were gone.
“I had more remains of the original and didn’t realize I had more... so I just took up what was left,” Dedman said. In his own way of explaining why he brought his relative’s bones up to the mauna, he said, “For hundreds of years Hawaiians have been having burials up there, there wasn’t anything wrong… I didn’t think mine was any different or more original… I felt great about putting my family up there where a lot of other people have put their ancestors… I just did a natural Hawaiian thing.”
Palikapu expressed frustration over why Hawaiian traditions are frowned upon in the public eye. “We are the original people, we should do original things and not be questioned by foreign minds and mentalities and then have to answer to their questions about who we are.”
Dedman went a step further talking about tradition being lost in the Hawaiian community, “You’ve got Hawaiians now that agree with TMT and think it’s a good thing… the mind has been genetically modified where tradition isn’t something that’s supported. Here it’s so fragmented that when you practice it people question you, even your own Hawaiians [ask] ‘what are you doing?’ We as Hawaiians battle among ourselves.” Putting the final seal on his statement for his actions, he concluded, ”If you don’t have traditions you don’t really have purpose.”
Former UH Hilo professor and cultural practitioner Manulani Aluli-Meyer shed light on her more philosophical perspective by first dismissing the simple “for” and “against” arguments on the matter.
“We are for the care of land; the pro and con thing is a false polemic. They keep putting us into this con category.”
Aluli-Meyer advocates “Kapu Aloha,” a major conception behind the TMT movement, explaining, “Kapu in this sense means reverence. When you have reverence for the idea of compassion it just amplifies throughout the world… It is the energetic field under our movement.. this is David and Goliath -we know that, and our stone of choice is aloha…It will wear down, tear down, and inevitably boot out its transgressor.”
Aluli-Meyer compares Kapu Aloha to Gandhi’s practice of ahimsa, a philosophy of nonviolence translated as ‘noninjury’ in Sanskrit according to Britannica. From Aluli-Meyer’s perspective, Kapu Aloha is not against the science or development behind TMT, “All I’m talking about is care for land...Our focus is aloha ‘aina, we have to stand for something or we will stand for nothing.”
Aluli-Meyer likewise posed the question, “Is anyone talking about the better pictures you can get from sending satellites out? Super clear pictures. Develop that technology and leave our sacred pristine areas alone.” She repeated that the only power the world needs is Aloha, and philosophically broke down the role of conflict as being a midway to consciousness. “We want to get out of conflict... to create a moment of clarity. The purpose of conflict is unity.”
A specialist in indigenous epistemology, Aluli-Meyer commented on Dedman’s actions,
“...Karma is coming. His actions were not done in a way that would be beneficial to a wider understanding. I can only say that I concur with the practitioners that his actions were not pono and they were self-serving... He is his own entity and every culture has them… I can’t speak for him or guess what he’s thinking.”
On a brighter note, she spoke of the dozens of national speeches she has given annually, “We all do the same things differently. We have the same heart... This is how I articulate my end of the bargain.”
Emma Koa a Hawaiian Studies major, reflected on her experiences protesting on Mauna Kea. In voicing opposition to TMT, she pointed out one of the more evoking messages she gained from the experience: the power of community.
“Finally... Hawaiians were all on the same page… Everyone knew that the goal was the most important thing and how we got there didn’t matter - everyone just helped each other.”
The sense of unity on Mauna Kea has stuck with Koa, as she looked back on aunties always having extra blankets and people serving gallons of chillies to feed everyone. “It was ridiculous the outpour of love we got from the community - donations not just monetary, but blankets, food, we had people donate huge propane space heaters to keep the tents warm. It was really nice to have everyone come together and just live like a family on the mauna.”
Koa also spoke of some scarier times when rumors surfaced about National Guard night raids, and the insecurity of trying to sleep knowing someone might come barging in to make arrests. She said that although sometimes there were shady and aggressive incidents with the police, ultimately she did not witness actual brutality.
Koa thinks that although everyone gathered to fight for their cultural rights, “I think the decimation of our culture was when it became [a] shame to be a Hawaiian. Finally people were proud to be Hawaiian. You were proud to be part of this movement, proud to say, “Yes I am Hawaiian and I stand against the building and further desecration of my land.””
Koa noted how some of the extreme actions committed by protesters were unproductive - including the actions of Palikapu Dedman. “I don’t believe that they were part of the protectors. I really think he [Dedman] just did it to get some attention back up there, because I really can’t understand for the life of me why else he would do that.”
Overall, Koa sees major potential from all of the local energy behind the movement. “People forget that we never wanted to become a state...This resurgence really brought back knowledge and awareness that Hawaii didn’t want this and it opened up that door. After Mauna Kea we felt that we were in a position to make moves again,” Koa said The latest hearings for re-permitting of the TMT land use permit are currently underway. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that in the event the permit does not go through, the TMT board has been looking at Mt. Saraswati in the Himalayas - named after a Hindu goddess of learning - for a potential alternative to Mauna Kea.