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  • By Johanna Salinas

'Keep off our sacred lands'

Guam's cultural advocates build solidarity with Hawaii activists who are protesting a proposed project in Mauka Kea

As climate change and pollution deteriorates our Earth, many are looking to the stars for new possibilities for tomorrow. The Thirty Meter Telescope plans to sit on top of Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano in Hawaii, perfect for its clear skies and dry weather. Yet Mauna Kea is a sacred space for natives to honor their ancestors, with many Kanaka Maoli blocking construction to the TMT in protest. Support for Kanaka Maoli pours from all corners of the world, including from Guam’s group Prutehi Litekyan, which organized a wave to of solidarity on July 22 in Tamuning.

Chamoru activists hold protest rally in Tamuning

As a University of Hawaii alumnus, Dr. Kenneth Gofigan Kuper felt a responsibility to attend the activity. “It’s a glimpse of what can be when people come together to stop the desecration of their land,” said Gofigan Kuper, a Chamoru professor.

“There’s something powerful in that. It’s good to build these networks of solidarity, that we support their cause and they can support our cause. Overall, it’s important to tell the world that we care what goes on in the rest of the world. It challenges the idea that we’re isolated in Guam, but we know what’s going on in the rest of the world and we pay attention to these issues.”

Else Demeulenaere, ecologist at the University of Guam, sees the situation in Mauna Kea as a foreshadow of what can happen to the ancient Chamoru village of Litekyan. “We’re facing similar issues of sacred lands at stake for indigenous peoples to have access to the mountain in Hawaii and then here in Prutehi Litekyan,” she said.

“Showing solidarity with them is important. All islands are connected by the ocean.”

Demeulenaere believes scientists should be considerate of native community’s input. “Even in Guam the people spoke out against taking Litekyan and still the voices aren’t being heard,” she said. “It’s important to always get consent from the people first, even if it’s putting plants in place in a sacred mountain. Check with the community rather than facing all these protests.”

Another UH Alum Elyssa Santos is proud to show her support for Kanaka Maoli. "This demonstration of solidarity is critical because of the many parallels between Guam and Hawaii in terms of our histories of colonial occupation,” said Santos. “It’s important that we help them in their fight to protect what is sacred to them because we're fighting a similar fight on Guåhan."

As a Guam history professor, Santos knows the importance of also having Chamoru youth be aware and involved in native causes. "My younger cousins attended with me because they love Litekyan and can’t imagine that being restricted to them or stripped away. We've been learning about the Mauna together and reflecting, putting ourselves in the shoes of Kanaka Maoli who likewise don't want to lose a place so valuable to them,” she said.

“They initiated conversation in our family and their parents have been so supportive, even buying new art supplies for sign making. They are ages 10, 11 and 12 yet they know they have a responsibility to learn about issues beyond their homelands. As Chamorus and Chamoru-Palauans, this solidarity movement means a lot to them because it exposes them to Pacific solidarity and teaches them that there is a global indigenous community that they can pull strength from as they grapple with issues on our island."

Chamoru culture activist Moneka De Oro, also felt a deep connection to the Kanaka Maoli’s protest. “For Chamorus and Hawaiians, we experience similar level of oppression and we are in the same fight against colonialization and against the abuse of our lands, especially in ways that don’t serve our communities such as militarization and the building of the TMT,” said De Oro.

“Our lands are sacred, and we don’t have the sovereignty to protect our lands in the ways we need to or to use the lands in the ways we need to. It’s important to us as Pacific islanders and future ancestors to ensure we do what we can that our lands and our ways are kept alive.”

As a lover of the natural world, De Oro is disheartened by the battle between natives and scientists. “Indigenous people are the original scientist. Just because we didn’t use the scientific method doesn’t mean we weren’t masters of observers or masters of our resources, the land and the sea,” De Oro said. “Just the fact we navigated the vast ocean only using the stars, the wind, and the messages of the sea animals to guide us doesn’t mean we have the level of thinking as scientists, like biologists, or all the other ‘ists’ out there.”

De Oro said the islanders’ traditional ways as knowledge systems have kept island communities thriving for thousands of years.

“Science is relatively a new field in the vast spectrum of human history, and it hasn’t done much to further protect our resources, further protect human rights,” she said. “The way it’s being framed where its indigenous people versus science is definitely missing the point and it’s just used to further divide and distract people from the indigenous right being violated by the building of this telescope.”


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