Ka Lei o ka Lanakila: Grasping Victory at Maunakea

by Uahikea Maile

[A conclusion for the blog series, “States of Emergency/Emergence: Learning from Maunakea.” Headline image and others are photos taken by Uahikea Maile]

Auē e nā aliʻi ē o ke au i hala

E nānā mai iā mākou, nā pulapula o nei au e holo nei

E ala mai kākou, e nā kini, nā mamo o ka ʻāina aloha

Alohe wale ia ʻāina, ko kākou kahua.

Auē ka ʻiliʻili ē i ka hoʻopuehu ʻia nei.

E paepae hou ʻia ka pōhaku i paʻa maila ke kahua hale hou

No kākou, e nā pua, e hoʻoulu ai.

E ala e ka ʻĪ, ka Mahi, ka Palena

I mua a loaʻa ka lei o ka lanakila.

Oh chiefs of the past

Look upon us, the descendants of this time

Let us rise up, the multitudes, the precious children of the beloved land

Love this land, our foundation.

Woe to the stones that have been scattered every which way

Let the rocks be restacked so that a new foundation can be made firm

For us, the flowers, to sprout and spread.

Arise great ʻĪ clan, Mahi clan, Palena clan

Forward and grasp the lei of victory.[1]

‘Āina rumbled next to me, waking me up in a fluster of alarm and urgency. A longtime hoa pili of mine from Kaʻū on Hawaiʻi island, ʻĀina Akamu and I were asleep on the morning of July 17, 2019, squished together in the back of his SUV parked at Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu at the base of Maunakea. It was our second night there. After the cattle guard eightand kūpuna staved off Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) construction crews two mornings early on July 15,[2] those of us that arrived and stayed were determined to do what was necessary to protect Maunakea.

Hundreds of kiaʻi awoke, and then thousands more. What took place that day, one year ago on July 17, will sit and stir in us forever. We expelled the police and state. We stopped TMT. We defended the mauna. However turbulent and bitter, it was a taste of victory.

To conclude States of Emergency/Emergence: Learning from Maunakea, looking back on this year of unrest and success, it is prudent to highlight that the lei of lanakila is within our grasp. This isn’t a year in review, nor a comprehensive tracking of where we’re at now. This is a reflection in the here and now on what inspired the series, a rumination on the then and there already in reach.

Kiaʻi assemble at the kupuna tent in the early morning on July 17.

It must have been 5:30am, when ʻĀina got up and so did I, something was up at the Kupuna tent, where Kanaka Maoli elders and kia‘i formed a blockade at the entrance of Mauna Kea Access Road. The day before, on July 16, we received word that police from Honolulu and Maui were flying to Hawai‘i island with lots of vehicles and equipment, and later that afternoon I saw a fleet of them drive by the Pu‘uhonua, the place of refuge established at Pu‘uhuluhulu across the highway from the access road’s entrance. One van, two vans, five, and then ten passed me. We knew police were mobilizing to disband our stand and escort construction crews to TMT’s build site at the northern plateau of Maunakea.

‘Āina and I brushed our teeth quickly and rushed to the kupuna tent. There must have been 500 kia‘i already present. Police from the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, Hawaiʻi County, Sheriffs, and Attorney General’s Office emerged behind the kupuna tent, lurking around as their shadows stretched on the ground in clear morning sun. But, when police began moving in, grey clouds thickened, and quickly blanketed the blockade, perhaps in protection for the long day ahead. The mauna and its elements were responding, animate as always.

Police forces gather behind the kupuna tent on July 17.

A nimble dance between kia‘i and police unfolded. Some of the leadership of the Pu‘uhonua, Kaho‘okahi Kanuha and Andre Perez from what I could see, began negotiating with police. Hours went by. Meanwhile, Pua Case, another leader of the Pu‘uhonua and this movement, spoke on a megaphone, in front of the kupuna tent, and shared with us that the kupuna collectively determined kia‘i should stand silently on the shoulder of the access road, while they would sit steadfast and face police and TMT crews. It was challenging to imagine—we didn’t want them to be in harm’s way—but we respected their agency, their determination. Eventually, negotiations stopped. Police were there to do a job. Officer Lino Kamakau, head of the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement at that time, stepped in front of the tent to inform kūpuna that they would be arrested for remaining in the access road. Choking down tears, Kamakau said this assignment was difficult as a Kanaka Maoli himself. His tears dried and we watched police detain 38 people, arresting 33 kūpuna, some whom were 90 years old and in wheel chairs. We cried, quietly, so that the kūpuna being arrested could be heard chanting, singing, and weeping. It doesn’t make it easier when your relatives, your own ‘ohana, are the ones arresting you, your kūpuna and elders. I vividly recall the wailing that came when a Sheriff spoke over the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) to tell us in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, our own mother tongue, that if we interrupted the police operation we would be arrested. Liberal multiculturalism is on full display in the settler-state of Hawai‘i’s policing of Kānaka Maoli.

You can give us badges and dress us up like cops, but we will never bleed blue. At Maunakea and throughout Hawai‘i, police and prison abolition matter, too.

Kaleikoa Kaʻeo talks to reporters about the negotiations taking place between the kupuna, kiaʻi, and police.

Arrests were slow, some kūpuna were carried from the tent into paddy wagons, and then the fleet of police from Honolulu and Maui rolled in. Cops in riot gear with riot batons, mace, tear gas, and semi-automatic guns secured the access road. We were pushed further onto the shoulder. But abrupt deployment and forceful presence of the police backup, combined with kūpuna continuing to be detained, motivated a group of kia‘i to form a human blockade in front of the kupuna tent. Finally, no more of our people would be taken from the mauna.

Arms linked, this blockade was constituted mainly by wāhine, or women. It is known now as the wahine line, or mana wāhine line to describe their power and fierceness. Police could no longer arrest kūpuna and struggled to proceed with the operation, being challenged not only by the kupuna but also wāhine and kupuna wahine. Noticeably shook, police reopened negotiations. Even though elders were taken, they were only cited at a nearby mobile station and allowed to return to the access road. ‘Āina and I were tasked with creating a second kupuna tent for those arrested. We looked at the time; it was 2:00pm. It had been eight hours, and we were winning.

Kahoʻokahi Kanuha talks to the human blockade that formed in front of the kupuna tent.

Kānaka Maoli across the archipelago were watching and reacted. On O‘ahu island, a convoy led by Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a māhū Kanaka Maoli educator, practitioner, and activist, assembled others and together slowed traffic on a busy Honolulu highway in solidarity with kia‘i on Maunakea. Wong-Kalu and the convoy caused such a fright for the state’s central hub of economic activity that State of Hawaii leaders called off the police operation at the base of Maunakea. The settler-state, at that moment, was confronted with the reality that Kānaka Maoli would do whatever is necessary to protect Maunakea and each other. Back on the mauna, the winds picked up and people heard of the convoy in Honolulu. We began shouting in joy, feeling energized from the kāko‘o and support. The wahine line chanted “mana wahine” and “mana māhū” to celebrate the fact that Kanaka Maoli women, queers, and māhū defeated the police, state, and TMT. These were the hands outstretched that seized and clutched victory. We must remember this and honor their labors; it’s how we got free that day.

When police started to retreat, some kia‘i thanked them: “Mahalo!” ‘Āina and I did not. Instead, we sang and praised the mamo and pua that made our lei of lanakila, at Maunakea and across the islands, those who grasped our freedom and sensed liberation for Maunakea and the lāhui Hawai‘i.

Ka lei o ka lanakila.

The victory felt undercut later that evening when State of Hawaii Governor David Ige signed an emergency proclamation. Back in ‘Āina’s SUV, exuberant yet exhausted, I read the news on my phone that Governor Ige signed an emergency proclamation to criminalize kia‘i protecting Maunakea from TMT. The executive order targeted us, Kānaka Maoli, as a kind of natural disaster that required forcible removal, not just by police but also by the US National Guard. Constructing a state of emergency in Hawai‘i, the governor’s proclamation and order suspended regulatory measures so that police and national guard were authorized to evacuate the kupuna and kia‘i from the blockade in the access road and Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu.

In the coming days, Ige added to his rationale for removal, claiming that we at the Pu‘uhonua were drinking alcohol, smoking illegal drugs, and generally unsanitary. The settler-state pulled out all the stops. While some believed what Ige was putting in their pipe to smoke, the ploy was countered immediately. A lawsuit filed by Kumu Paul Neves against Ige and his emergency proclamation forced the governor to rescind it. Again, Kānaka Maoli emerged victorious, even amidst the racist, colonial vitriol.

Ahiahi nō at Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu.

The concluding commentary I write here is less about the state of emergency, declared by Governor Ige, which Sarah Wiebe and I initially analyzed and encouraged conversation on in the series. We see and understand states of emergency to be precarious extensions of juridical power, masquerading authoritarianism as democracy, in the face of dissent and uprising. Indeed, the State of Hawaii’s emergency declarations to secure astronomy industry development, or regarding public health mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, are crucial to interrogate. Likewise, the states of emergencies declared across the US and Canada, to explicitly criminalize Black opposition to the ongoing police murders of Black men, Black women, and Black trans people, should be viewed akin to those at Maunakea. Doing so reveals how interconnected our struggles are against settler-nations that have been animated through dispossession, conquest, slavery, and anti-Indigenous and anti-Black violence. In the struggle to defend our sacred mountain against the forces of what Tiffany Lethabo King calls conquistador humanism,[3] which activate police and vigilante violence against Black people as well as Kānaka Maoli and Maunakea, we must banish anti-Black racism, along with sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia, or our victories will be stained and cease to be.

We must imagine what victory looks like in order to fully grasp what it feels like at Maunakea and throughout Hawaiʻi.

The victories at the mauna are not without a tremendous toll. Kia‘i have sacrificed much, and continue to do so. Kānaka Maoli are working, with stay-at-home orders and physically distancing mandates, to stop TMT, even as we are still dealing with associated traumas, and physical and mental health issues, from the many (potential) standoffs with the state, police, and TMT. Working through these is also a victory. The lāhui and struggle need each and every one of us, with what we can offer where we’re at.

We have proven, acknowledging the unnecessary risks and costs, that TMT isn’t as strong as we are. Indian, Japanese, and Canadian investors in the observatory are buckling under our pressure, and from the follies and failures of Governor Ige and the State of Hawaii. It is only a matter of time before they fall and divest. TMT has yet to be built, and they are hemorraging by the day. Together, we have rallied and stopped a multinational corporation from building a $2.4 billion telescope observatory on Maunakea. Be sure, they aren’t done trying. But, our aloha ‘āina—an enduring aloha of ‘āina, for each other, for Maunakea and Haleakalā and Hūnānāniho and Kahuku and Hakipu‘u—is stronger than capital and its conquest. This is how we visualize victory, how we grasp it, ka lei o ka lanakila.

[1] “Ke Au Hawaiʻi” is a mele (song) and oli (chant) crafted by Kumu Lale Kimura. The translation is a mixing of Kumu Lale Kimura’s interpretation with some of my own for the purpose of this particular piece. Any mistake in interpretation of the original mele and oli is thus my own.

[2] The cattle guard eight locked down to a grate near the entrance to Mauna Kea Access Road in the cold for hours on July 15, 2019. They effectively stopped TMT construction crews from ascending the mauna that day, and they inspired what was to come in the movement to continue stopping TMT. I aloha and mahalo Walter Ritte, Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, ʻĪmaikalani Winchester, Heoli Osorio, Malia Hulleman, Mahiai Dochin, and Kamuela Pāka for their strength, courage, and aloha ʻāina.

[3] Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

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