From Mauna Kea to Okinawa, ‘U.S. imperialism harms our lands, waters and bodies’

Indigenous Hawai’ians block the Mauna Kea Access Road.
At least 33 were arrested July 17.

On July 17, at least 33 Indigenous Hawai’ian elders and others were arrested while defending the Mauna Kea volcano from construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. Gov. David Ige then declared a State of Emergency to ramp up repression against the land defenders. 

Struggle-La Lucha is publishing this letter from Hawai’ian activists with roots in Okinawa, another Pacific island chain which has been subject to U.S. military occupation and capitalist “development” projects that undermine Indigenous sovereignty and destroy the environment. We will have more coverage of the growing struggle at Mauna Kea coming soon.

An open letter to Governor David Ige

We write to you as fellow Uchinanchu (Okinawans), born and raised in Hawaiʻi. Yesterday, we watched video footage from Mauna Kea Access Road, where a line of kūpuna sat ready to face law enforcement in order to protect Mauna a Wākea from destructive and irresponsible corporate development. They sat in near-freezing temperatures, covered in blankets, singing songs of resistance and aloha.

As we watched those kūpuna, we were reminded of our trip to our own ancestral homeland—your ancestral homeland. In 2017, we traveled to Okinawa with members of Women’s Voices Women Speak, as Hawaiʻi’s delegation to the International Women’s Network Against Militarism. As part of this gathering, we visited the frontlines of the ongoing movement to stop the expansion of a U.S. military base in a region called Henoko. There, we saw our elders putting their bodies on the line to stop the construction of an airfield on the vibrant reef ecosystem of Oura Bay. Just like the kūpuna at Mauna Kea, they sat together facing down law enforcement to protect what we hold sacred–the lands and waters that sustain us all. Through it all, they shared food, laughter and song, and reminded us of the joy we can find in righteous resistance to oppression and desecration.

Our movement in Hawaiʻi is fueled by a fierce and steadfast commitment to aloha ʻāina. In Okinawa, the uniting principle is nuchi du takara, all life is precious. As Uchinanchu, we share with Kānaka Maoli the struggle against U.S. imperialism and the harm that it brings to our lands, waters and bodies. But the difference is that many Okinawans have come to call Hawaiʻi home and now live on lands that were stolen from Kānaka ʻŌiwi, who, despite prolonged occupation, have never relinquished their sovereignty. Because of that, we have a kuleana to serve as allies and accomplices in the struggle toward the collective liberation of the lāhui Hawaiʻi. We are filled with sadness and anger, because while our Uchinanchu elders are on the frontlines fighting against the violence of U.S. colonialism in the land of our ancestors, you are imposing that same violence on Kānaka Maoli.

Capitalism, militarism and colonialism catch Indigenous people in tangled webs and force us to move through the world in complicated ways. We do not always have a choice in this—we are thrust into diaspora, separated from our sacred places and our histories, we become settlers on other peoples’ lands. But you have a choice now. As governor of the occupying State of Hawaiʻi, you are uniquely positioned to stop this.

In this critical moment, you can enact the same colonial violence that your own ancestors survived and continue to fight against. You can hide behind the threat of tear gas, sound cannons and the National Guard. Hewa. Or, you can heed the call of our elders — both Uchinanchu and Kanaka Maoli. You can say no to the corporate interests driving irresponsible development without the consent of the people. You can say no to the imperialist will to “know” the universe even as we exploit the only planet we have. You can say no to the simplistic and insulting narratives that frame this conflict as one between science and tradition. You can say no to the blatant violation of Native Hawaiian cultural, religious and political rights. You can say no to the endless commodification, desecration and destruction of ʻāina, from ocean to sacred summit. Our planet is suffering, and we feel it in our everyday lives in Hawaiʻi. Now is the time to turn to the wisdom of our ancestors — not persecute it.

Today, we are watching as kūpuna again stand as the first line of defense. As Uchinanchu, we stand in solidarity with them, and with all kiaʻi mauna. We say no to the TMT.

Tina Grandinetti
Ph.D. Candidate
School of Global, Urban and Social Studies
RMIT University

Lisa Grandinetti
Union Organizer
UNITE HERE! Local 5

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Resources from United American Indians of New England to aid the Mauna Kea struggle:

Words of the day:

kia’i –used to refer to the Mauna Kea protectors 

kūpuna — the elders.

Call Gov. David Ige at (808) 586-0034 or (808) 586-2211. Remember the time difference.

You do not need a script. Just say as much as you can of this: 

  • I’m outraged that elders are being arrested. 
  • I oppose the TMT telescope being built on Mauna Kea. 
  • I support Native Hawaiian people who are defending their own land. 

Where to donate:

Aloha ‘Āina Support Fund 

Hawai’i Community Bail Fund

HULI: To support the encampment with supplies