Silence is complicity: The connection between Williams and Mauna Kea

Franklin De

In the brief time that I have been studying away at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, I have come into contact with Williams in each of my classes more often than I expected. While I wish to be writing to you to say it’s the pleasant memories of community that I have found here, like those I had at Williams, or that spending time outdoors in O’ahu has refreshed me as do the Berkshires in the early fall, I am unfortunately writing to say Williams has made itself present rather obtusely and in a less-than-positive way.  

In every class, I have been reminded of the devastation caused to the people of Hawai’i by missionaries who led the colonization of the islands and began a trend of human and cultural genocide on the islands. These same missionaries are the ones whom the Haystack monument “honors” and who are the namesake of Mission Park back at Williams. In other classes, my readings have offhandedly referred to the genocide of the Pequot people that occurred near Mystic Seaport and to the New England intellectuals who justified their deaths for a more “civilized” settlement. And while these are events and movements that Williams had an immense stake in historically, we go about our days on campus largely not thinking about them — for some, they are largely unknown.  

While here, I have gotten to spend time supporting students and community members who are currently committed to protecting Mauna Kea by preventing the building of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) on the sacred mountain. For them, the struggle represents another layer of (neo)colonialism and of the invalidation and patronization of indigenous spirituality and genealogies. TMT ultimately is a breaking point, and it is an amalgamation of all the ways in which the US occupation of the Hawaiian Islands has led to genocide and land appropriation. Yet the protectors act only out of kindness and resistance by encouraging the sharing of their culture and sharing it in the open (which was once outlawed by the US) even when they are threatened by the national guard and see their elders being arrested. They do so with “protocols” — collective prayers that are rooted in the preservation of Hawaiian culture, history, language and tradition through chants and hula — that occur three times a day both here at UH Mānoa and on the Mauna. 

But this is where these stories further converge. The University of Hawai’i owns the lease to the land that is being contested for the building of TMT. Therefore, students have been occupying Bachman Hall, where the administrative offices for the campus are located, since our first day of classes on August 26th. This has received little to no press coverage and so the students rely on social media (their page on Instagram is @kiaikekahaukani) to organize and share updates. While things have been real on the Mauna for almost 60 days, we received an update this weekend that law enforcement will likely be dispatched to forcibly remove the protectors. They have been demonstrating peacefully under a code of conduct called Kapu Aloha, which is about acting with kindness and empathy even in trying situations.  

We have a commitment to prevent this struggle from becoming another indigenous struggle — justified in its claims to land — that is erased because we are too afraid to confront history. To allow police violence to occur to people whom have already experienced so much degradation at the hands of missionaries we have facilitated throughout history would be, put nicely, an immense failure on behalf of the College and of all its stakeholders who have a mouthpiece. 

I am asking Williams to show that it has grappled with its history with the Kānaka Maoli on more than an intellectual, surface level and make the first of many necessary moves to repair its fraught and exploitative relationship to indigenous land and people. This should be in the form of a message in support of the students and community members of UH Mānoa, who are dedicating their time to protecting the Mauna by encouraging President Lassner to publicly reject the building of TMT. This message should articulate the College’s own belief that building TMT is directly at odds with the humanity and political autonomy of the Hawaiian people.  

Why is this necessary? Simply, Williams owes this debt. Furthermore, as a “premiere” institution in the realm of education and diversity, Williams has a significant onus to make a statement that is committed to these values. This message would encourage other institutions to do the same — to begin applying our critiques of racial capitalism that we speak so beautifully on in classes — and will empower UH and Lassner to side with the native Hawaiians and not with corporate interests under the guise of scientific advancement. 

As Williams students, we have a responsibility to the indigenous people whose lands we use for our own benefit and simply as people to encourage President Maud Mandel to make an urgent statement, before more people are arrested, before more students miss class again, before Mauna Kea is handed over to corporations and before this, too, is history.  

Franklin De La Cruz ’21 is an American Studies major from Cape Coral, Fla.