Presley Keʻalaanuhea Ah Mook Sang, a Hawaiian language instructor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said she first came up with the idea to start a community-led school or “teach-in” after witnessing the crowd swell in that first week from hundreds of protesters to thousands.
…The classes at the community-run Puuhonua o Puuhuluhulu University focus on topics including indigenous rights, history and a variety of other subjects taught through a Hawaiian perspective.
….The school quickly grew to a daily schedule of four one-hour blocks with five concurrent classes.
…”The morning is more indigenous peoples and native rights and towards afternoon is more Mauna-focused,” Ah Mook Sang said.
…Since 1968, the University of Hawaii has been leasing the land at the summit of Mauna Kea. The area is on “crown lands,” land that belonged to the Hawaiian kingdom before it was overthrown in 1893 and is now managed by the state with the intended purpose of benefiting Hawaiians. The crown lands are still debated, as many Hawaiian groups believe they were illegally stolen. The university has been accused several times over the years of mismanaging the land, including in the ‘90s when the Sierra Club filed a complaint about the trash from the observatories.
Puniwai said teaching at Puuhuluhulu is a way to show she doesn’t condone her employer’s actions and to show her support for the protest.
…As for Ah Mook Sang, she’s hoping to keep the spirit of Puuhuluhulu alive and maybe see it expand to the other islands, where there’s already interest in forming branches of the community-led school.
The demonstration started 18 days ago by various groups who believe that Maunakea is sacred and say construction atop the mountain will further desecrate the site. On Tuesday, the governor rescinded an emergency proclamation at Maunakea and the state issued a two-year extension to Sept. 26, 2021 on the deadline to initiate construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope project atop the mountain.
Hawaiians’ protests have attracted the support of many across academe, who see the TMT — in the words of geneticist Keolu Fox of UC San Diego and physicist Chandra Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire — as colonial science.
“Far from some replay of an ancient clash between tradition and modernity, this is a battle between the old ways of doing science, which rely on forceful extraction (whether of natural resources or data), and a new scientific method, which privileges the dignity and humanity of indigenous peoples, including Hawaiians and the black diaspora,” they wrote in The Nation. “It is a clash between colonial science — the one which, under the guise of progress, has all too often helped justify conquest and human rights violations — and a science that respects indigenous autonomy.”
Hulali Kau, a writer and advocate working in Native Hawaiian and environmental law, said, “To anyone that continues to try to frame TMT as a science versus culture argument, I would say that this struggle over the future of Mauna Kea is actually about how we manage resources and align our laws and values of Hawaii to connect a past where the state has subjected its indigenous people to continued mismanagement of it lands with its uncertain future.”
Among many concerns, including the university’s past management of the observation space, Kau said she worries that the TMT will include two 5,000 gallon tanks installed two stories below ground level for chemical and human waste.
Mauna Kea, a conservation district, is home to the largest aquifer in Hawaii, she said. “There are still questions as to the environmental consequences.”
Kau noted that the university was previously embroiled in an indigenous space dispute, when it attempted to patent three strains of taro, or “kalo,” a popular food source. It finally dropped the patents several years later, in 2006.
The conflict over TMT has also made it onto the national political stage, with presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeting their support for protesters.
Sanders, though, subsequently deleted his tweet.
Buente said in his estimation, TMT protesters have upped their game since the opposition began.
“The core movement has always been there, but they’ve learned a lot since 2015 on how to effectively use social media,” Buente said.
“By acting in kapu aloha, the message will survive in our current attention economy where people have so many movement options in front of them.”