We stand with Mauna Kea: An open letter to Suzanne D. Case

The following letter is written by Williams College students, Kānaka Maoli and allies alike, standing in solidarity with Kiaʻi Mauna for the protection of Mauna a Wākea. Therein, we have set a list of demands for Williams Alumna, Suzanne D. Case. As Chairperson of Hawaiʻiʻs Board of Land and Natural Resources, she has been a key backer of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea. At the time of publishing, this letter has 614 signatories. 

Dear Suzanne D. Case, 

We, members of Williams College, stand united through our firm commitment to the lives, lands, and rights of Kānaka Maoli. We come to you as family. We come in kapu aloha. We come with the responsibility and privilege to care for you and all those within Hawaiʻiʻs expanding genealogy. With the support of faculty, staff, and our college communities, we rise in strong opposition to your actions as Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR). By enabling the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope, you perpetuate a history of capitalist-colonialist violence and systemic racism against Kānaka Maoli. We come to you as peers from universities that have granted you the very authority and administrative power you wield in office today. We condemn your actions as an Alumna of Williams College and demand your immediate resignation as Chair of BLNR. We trust that you are listening to our voices: 

Māloʻoloʻo ka ʻāina

E akahele i ka pāwela

Nakaka ka pōhaku māwae

Waiwai ka leo hone a ka hoʻokipa

Eia ka wai lā e ola

E inu, e inu a kena 

The land is dry

Beware lest you be scorched

The fissured stone is cracked open from heat

The voice of welcome is invaluable

Here is the water to live, to thrive

Drink, drink deeply until fulfilled 

Mauna Kea stands as one of the many piko, or socioecological sources of life, in which Kānaka Maoli sovereignty is rooted. For the past 2,000 years, Kānaka Maoli have striven to protect the ancestral, ecological, and spiritual landscapes embodied by Mauna Kea. Overcoming State & BLNR tactics which seek to criminalize and dehumanize Kiaʻi Mauna, Kānaka Maoli are steadfast in their decision to protect Mauna Kea. 

The well-being of Mauna Kea is incommensurable with the desires of any racist, private corporation. The well-being of Mauna Kea is incommensurable with any monetary amount. 

The well-being of Mauna Kea is incommensurable with anything other than what is self-determined by the Kānaka Maoli community. Kānaka Maoli ways of knowing are necessary for the social and ecological well-being of Hawaiʻi, yet these voices continue to be devalued, misrepresented, and dismissed. 

Last fall, Williams Magazine published The New Shape of Hawaiʻi, an article in which you mourn the impacts of volcanic activity upon Hawaiʻi’s communities and ecosystems. Mobilizing Hawaiian language, chant, and spirituality throughout the article, you conclude that “it is painful to lose these places we love and have worked so hard to protect.” Simultaneously, under your leadership, the BLNR overturned the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s revocation of the TMT project and granted a new conservation-use permit for its construction on Mauna Kea. Here, it is clear that your use of Hawaiian language and spirituality is only relevant when it does not conflict with capital interest. By backing the TMT, you have prioritized the interests of a private, foreign corporation over the rights of Kānaka Maoli and the socio-environmental health of Hawaiʻi. Echoing the words of University of Hawai’i students to UH President David Lassner, “Your record of abuse through the misappropriation of Hawaiian national and cultural identity shows a clear pattern of erasure whereby all legitimate concerns from the Hawaiian and protector communities are ignored or wrongly characterized as insane and criminal.” We find these crude appropriations condemnable. 

As members of Williams College, it is our responsibility to hold those bound to our institution accountable for their actions. When students, alumni, faculty, and/or staff misuse privilege and power in the name of academia, the resulting violence cannot be detached from the academic institution. The ongoing struggle at Mauna Kea is directly situated in the context of settler-colonial exploitation of indigenous lands. Your family, like many other large landowning families and realestate developers in Hawai’i, holds disproportionate power over land usage, environmental regulations, and politics. This context, coupled with the authority granted to you through your institutional connections, enable you to make decisions of this magnitude. 

We are calling upon you as students, faculty, and members of Williams College. We are holding you accountable for abusing administrative power. We refuse complicity in the exploitation of Kānaka Maoli lands, the destruction of sacred grounds, and the arrests of Kia’i Mauna. We condemn your use of a Williams College degree which is intended “to help open minds and deepen human empathy” (Williams College Mission Statement). As members of Williams College, we demand that you take the following steps in the name of accountability: 

  1. Your revocation of the conservation-use permits and the subsequent termination of the Thirty-Meter Telescope Project on Mauna Kea 
  2. Ensuring the health and safety of all Kiaʻi Mauna in the face of physical force, chemical agents, and all forms of violence 
  3. A renewed commitment to the Kiaʻi Mauna community and Kānaka Maoli sovereignty 
  4. Your immediate resignation as Chairperson of BLNR to provide the opportunity to an individual who will better serve and respect the needs of Hawaiʻi 

We have deep gratitude that you, Suzanne D. Case, have been in ceremony with us. Before we depart, we leave you with this gift: voices of aloha ʻāina. Please, drink deeply. These are pressing matters, may our voices be heard. We close our ceremony with this prayer: 

E hō mai ka ʻike mai luna mai ē

O nā mea huna noʻeau o nā mele ē

E hō mai, e hō mai, e hō mai ē 

Bring forth understanding from above

The hidden wisdom of the songs

Bring forth understanding 

We are the ancestors of tomorrow.

What kind of kupuna will you be?

In the face of injustice,

We will not stand idle.

The world is watching. 

Kū Kiaʻi Mauna, Members of Williams College 

J. D. Nālamakūikapō Ahsing ’21

darien k n manning ’20

Wylie Thornquist ’20

Eli Cytrynbaum ’20 

Chants by: Edith Kanakaʻole Vance Kaleohano Kahahawai Farrant 

LINK: https://tinyurl.com/ y5xtlnfo

Editor’s note: This letter first appeared as a petition emailed to the student body on Oct. 21.