The fight for Mauna Kea will continue: Settler solidarity around racism and capital is boring, old news at Williams

Franklin De

There has been a lot of debate about the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in the Record. For an argument which should be self-evident, it sure seems to require a lot of defending on behalf of professors, alums and even government officials in a student newspaper. As a humble student, I will remind you all of what is at stake with the less self-evident and apparently debatable argument for respecting Indigenous people. 

Our argument in favor of protecting sacred land is not necessarily unfamiliar. It is an argument resisting the settler state, racial capital and state-sanctioned violence. The argument for TMT is also eerily familiar: it is one in defense of the perpetuation of the settler state, the acquisition of capital at the expense of racially minoritized subjects and the use of state-sanctioned violence in response to nonviolence as threatened by Ige. 

Suzanne Case wrote in the Record to provide “nuance” on the discussion, but instead provided decontextualized points to dismiss the very people making an argument based on nuance. Her “basic facts” without context are quite literally the definition of “misinformation and polemics.” I regret that any person of Indigenous genealogy or otherwise displaced and genocided peoples had to read something so determined to prime readers and gaslight through the implicit denial of violent histories of genocide and dispossession. 

The facts and nuance from only the lens of TMT will be thirty meters, it is a behemoth which will be 18 stories high and 20 feet underground — its total footprint would be 5 acres. While haole assessments may not say it threatens the ecosystems, several Kānaka assessments (those who know the land intimately) do believe it is a threat to the area’s water and ecology. This will be the biggest of the 13, as Case mentions, but doesn’t mention the continued resistance in the last decade to the billion-dollar TMT project and resistance to the ones before it. TMT, even if not the first (or likely last), is an “enough is enough” moment. Their message is a clear continuation of the same ask for respect. Each of the things discerned by Case could use more parsing out for readers who are unfamiliar with the politics/histories of the illegally occupied territory of Hawai’i, yet, I digress — as my piece is not the one that promised nuance. 

As for the professors defending Case, consider the weight of their “stake” in the struggle. Their work is merely that of solidarity work with the settler state, and as the existing structure, it literally needs no defense. Their only stake as they identified is as scientists (read: Western science) — which privileges whiteness by design, hence why TMT literally requires the detonation of sacred, ancestral lands already producing scientific knowledge. Instead of validating Indigenous knowledge and building community through science where knowledge is reciprocal, they have predetermined that their allegiance is with knowledge systems which historically require the elimination of people of color physically and intellectually. 

The parties writing (or silently being complicit) in support of TMT are often acting from comfortable, salaried positions of privilege. They are not immediately affected by the brutal realities of both poverty and racism the way many of the Kia’i are. While it is possible for them to hear us, it is difficult for them to listen, when their class privilege and settler logic only knows how to question the claims of poor (by invasion) Indigenous people while protecting itself discursively through platitudes. Let’s be clear: Higher education is a business. Its political commitments are with capital. The business model of Williams is hiding in plain sight: “we will continue to actively capitalize on diversity while not creating meaningful intersectional spaces that validate the asks of people who have been disposed of their lands and exploited because we tolerate people of color only as marketable commodities and amenities.” 

So, while I could continue to make the case for respecting Indigenous people, that ship has sailed. The reality is that those who disagree (or remain complicit in silence) will not be remembered well by history. For the time being, I am resigning myself to allowing Williams to continue its tradition of exploiting and capitalizing on the intellectual property of students and faculty of color who work tirelessly to create the “diversity” we were promised but gaslighted when professors and administrators within the institution consistently remain apolitical or espouse their coded transphobia, classism and racism creating an environment that is the opposite of conducive to learning for many at the College. Another contribution currently seems futile, for it does nothing but allow the institution to appropriate the labor of student activists, publicly disparage us in response, and later co-opt it for a “Resistance” retrospective thirty years from now.  

All good people have an unwavering commitment to the struggle for Black and Indigenous liberation in a nation (and institution) built by their blood — even when it challenges what we are comfortable with or think we understand. We are in solidarity with those who deserve it. We are compelled to follow the voices of those who are most vulnerable, having more to lose, as opposed to those who are looking for something to gain. As long as the Kia’i at the Mauna continue to protect it in nonviolence, I will continue to direct my labor and energies to them, as opposed to giving this place more Claiming Williams fodder. 

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