Column: Kia‘i of Maunakea engage in justifiable nonviolent activism
I was disappointed by Brien Hallett’s article for validating the false and dangerous trope that Kanaka ʻOiwi protectors of Maunakea are “unlawful” (“Blocking Mauna Kea access road unlawful act, not a demonstration,” Aug. 25).
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As a former program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai‘i, an international Quaker peace organization, and a student and practitioner of nonviolent activism, I was disappointed by Brien Hallett’s article for validating the false and dangerous trope that Kanaka ʻOiwi protectors of Maunakea are “unlawful” (“Blocking Mauna Kea access road unlawful act, not a demonstration,” Aug. 25). This discourse of criminalization encourages the state to use violence.
Under kapu aloha, the kia‘i of Maunakea have practiced the highest level of personal and collective self-discipline and care. The pu‘uhonua is a law-full space grounded in Native Hawaiian values. This is precisely the kind of nonviolent principle for which we honor Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other U.S. civil rights leaders.
Splitting semantic hairs on the differences between “protesting” and “demonstrating,” or legitimate and illegitimate applications of civil disobedience, misses the point. The strategic and spiritual aim of nonviolent activism is to jam the gears of an unjust and violent system to prevent harm and create the space for positive change.
The construction machinery that pose a direct physical threat to Maunakea would use the access road to desecrate a place Native Hawaiians consider sacred. This threat of violence was made possible by an entire assemblage of laws, institutions, economic forces, government officials, police, military, and a history of dispossession and mismanagement. All of this brings us to the point, where blocking the construction equipment with their bodies is a last line of defense to prevent a harm. It also creates a focal point for Native Hawaiians to coalesce, strengthen relationships, learn and become active. This is not about traffic laws.
Contrary to some statements made, the Maunakea protectors have allowed observatory personnel to pass. On the other hand, the state has allowed only one car per day up for cultural practices. The pu‘uhonua and cultural protocol on the access road is the exercise of cultural rights in the face of the state’s virtually-complete denial of access. This, I believe, is more consistent with the great nonviolent struggles of the past than ineffectually holding signs on the side of the road while the machines of destruction roll by.
I prefer the term civil resistance to civil disobedience to describe what the kia‘i are doing on Maunakea. Nonviolent civil resistance is an affirmative act of preventing criminal or unlawful activity. The kia‘i of Maunakea are upholding a duty to protect sacred Hawaiian places and fragile ecosystems. After decades of mismanagement, the University of Hawaii and the state government are derelict in their duties and in the eyes of many, have forfeited their authority to manage the mountain.
The Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu is much more than a protest; it is a space of emergence of new possibilities governed by kapu aloha. The protectors of Maunakea are modeling a more compassionate and just society that could be, what Dr. King called, the “beloved community.” In light of the horrifying increase in hate crimes and mass murders by white nationalist terror groups, rather than criminalizing the protectors, we should support and learn from their remarkable example of peacemaking in action.
Kyle Kajihiro is former program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai‘i.