YPDA stands with Mauna Kea protectors, calls for UH to abandon TMT

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YPDA Urges UH to Live Up to its Mission as a “Hawaiian Place of Learning”

Students, faculty and community members call on the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents & President David Lassner to abandon the Thirty Meter Telescope.

On December 5, 2018, a coalition of students, faculty members and community supporters held a press conference outside Hawaiʻi Hall, the Manoa Campus administrative building, to demand the school end all current and future contracts with the Thirty Meter Telescope corporation, and oppose new proposed rules governing who can and cannot access the sacred mountain—rules aimed at restricting the ability of protectors to physically block development of the massive telescope, but which would also have lasting negative impacts on cultural practitioners’ ability to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to engage in customary practices on the summit.

The board members of the Young Progressives Demanding Action voted overwhelmingly in November of 2018 to support the student and faculty-led coalition of protectors in their efforts to hold UH accountable to its purported mission as a “Hawaiian Place of Learning” by divesting from this project. The board authorized the creation of a letter of support addressed to the Board of Regents and President Lassner, which will be included in the packet of documents the protectors deliver to the administration along with their demands. Below is the letter in its entirety:

November 29, 2018

To: The University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents & President David Lassner

YPDA Urges UH to Live Up to its Mission as a “Hawaiian Place of Learning”

Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA), a community advocacy organization founded by University of Hawaiʻi (UH), Chaminade and Hawaiʻi Pacific University students, represents more than 1,000 active and engaged community advocates and citizen activists living, attending school and working throughout Hawaiʻi. The majority of our members are under 30, and many are students or alumni within the University of Hawaiʻi system.

YPDA is a Registered Independent Organization with UH Mānoa and actively supports the University of Hawaiʻi’s supposed mission as a “Hawaiian place of learning.” UH toutes this claim on its website, saying that it strives “to become a model indigenous-serving institution.” However, we find this claim to be deeply problematic, in particular with regards to the administration’s and Board of Regents’ (BOR) stance regarding the proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna a Wākea.

We question what it means to be a “Hawaiian place of learning” when the wisdom, truth and beliefs of the university’s indigenous kumu and haumana, who have repeatedly condemned this project, are routinely belittled, ignored and deemed unworthy compared to the dominant Western, liberal philosophy that is so clearly prioritized over the very indigenous worldview that this institution claims to represent.

As members of the Millennial and Gen Z generation, we have been raised in a global and interconnected world; smaller than ever, and with more opportunities to express ourselves than ever. And yet this world seems more isolating and overloaded as well. We have come to understand that, while Western “Enlightenment” knowledge and systems such as the Scientific Method can be irreplaceable tools in solving the breadth of challenges we, as a species and as a global community, face, this knowledge system is far from the be-all and end-all. Indeed, it is susceptible to the same hubris that any other knowledge system is prone to produce, and perhaps more so due to its dominance within the Academy. Indigenous knowledge, based on an interconnectedness with and respect for place, natural resources, flora and fauna, and community—above material gain or intellectual prowess—has much to teach us all. But it can, perhaps, be especially enlightening to those who have dedicated their lives to the Western knowledge system and, while developing expertise, may have also narrowed the lens through which they see the world.

Indigenous knowledge produced the ahupuaʻa system, a technology that allowed almost a million people to thrive in these islands with plenty to go around and no serious adverse effects on the environment. Indigenous knowledge produced the best wayfinders the world has ever seen, still to this day; people capable of navigating the great expanse of the Pacific with nothing but the stars, the sun, the wind and the waves. Much has been made of this by TMT supporters who argue that, as a people with a heritage so rich in brilliant knowledge-seekers, Hawaiians should embrace the pursuit of knowledge inherent within the construction of an intersystem telescope, even if it means sacrificing a place of worship. In fact, Mauna a Wākea is the nexus of Hawaiian spirituality and the source of indigenous knowledge. This presumption--that Hawaiians should embrace the TMT because of their brilliant ancestors--misses the entire point that there are multiple, equally-valid forms and expressions of knowledge.

When indigenous scholars, activists, learners and practitioners repeatedly tell the University and the TMT Corporation that the telescope project, while representing Western knowledge systems, does not represent the indigenous one that their ancestors practiced and mastered, who are you to say to them that they are wrong? The arrogance of that supposition is something that our members will not sit by and observe. We will challenge that supposition because, at our core, we believe that all humans are worthy; that all humans deserve a voice and a seat at the table; and that humanity is always more important that progress, especially when that definition of “progress” is up for serious and valid contention.

We don’t have a problem with telescopes or Western science, and neither do the Kiaʻi who will continue to put their bodies in front of your construction equipment. We have a problem with the assumption that this Western knowledge base is somehow more important than the indigenous one espoused by your own indigenous faculty and students. We have a problem with the dismissal of their complaints and manaʻo and with the ignorance with which otherwise very intelligent, non-indigenous scholars have approached the situation. The frame through which you are viewing the situation is flawed. You will never understand the indigenous view point as long as you refuse to acknowledge that there are other, equally valid systems of knowledge and views of the world.

If you truly care about being a “Hawaiian place of learning,” you will acknowledge that, while the Academy and its Western knowledge system is important, it is far from the only valid view point. If the mission of this institution truly matters to you, you will listen to the clear and articulate expression of indigenous knowledge that your own faculty and students have already expressed, and will continue to express in whatever form they feel is necessary in the coming months and years, and you will cease construction of the TMT as long as Hawaiians, in their own land, oppose it. Anything short of this means failure in your mission “to become a model indigenous-serving institution,” and we will do our part to support the students and faculty that you forsake in pursuit of Western “knowledge.”

We therefore call upon you to:

1. Terminate any and all agreements for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna a Wākea; and to
2. Reject the current draft of Chapter 20-26, Hawai‘i Administrative Rules, entitled "Public and Commercial Activities on Mauna Kea Lands."

Ku Kiaʻi Mauna

Will Caron
Co-Chair
On behalf of the Young Progressives Demanding Action board and members