Science, Time, and Mauna a Wākea: The Thirty-Meter Telescope’s Capitalist-Colonialist Violence, Part II

by David Maile


The first part of this essay appeared on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 on

Time Matters

In the previous section, I argued that scientific discourses are deployed in multiple ways to, on one hand, justify the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence at Mauna a Wākea and, on the other hand, to foreclose the visceral assemblage of settler colonial dispossession and elimination, (institutionalized) racism, U.S. militarization, empire building, and capitalist development.

The material fact is that TMT is a scientific project. It is backed by scientific institutions. Its purpose is science. But, in order for this scientific project to be constructed, Mauna Kea must be desecrated and destroyed. This is precisely why I, like many other Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, stand against the TMT. This is also why we must be vigilant about identifying how seemingly beneficial projects of science actually require capitalist-colonialist violence. Thus, Makekau-Whittaker’s testimony that “science and money do not supersede the sanctity of our mountain” still holds relevance and critical insights here.

Together, science and time are wed to the central interests of the TMT project through money, development, and capitalism. To continue to develop this essay’s primary argument, I suggest that discourses of time are instrumental for how critics label our resistance to TMT as detrimental to advancement, progress, and a modern future.

Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada’s analysis of time, in his article published by Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale, is a strident critique of how discourses of time suggest that Kānaka Maoli, through our opposition to TMT, are antiquated, backwards, and uncivilized. He argues that “any time Hawaiians—or any other native people, for that matter—come out in force to push for more respect for our culture and language or to protect our places from this kind of destruction, we are dismissed as relics of the past, unable to hack it in the modern world with our antiquated traditions and practices.” As Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, Noenoe Silva, and other Kanaka scholars have argued, our resistance to struggles in the present is inextricably shaped by a rooted connection to our past. This is our mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy). “Our genealogies are a backbone stretching to the very inception of these islands, and when we understand our genealogy, we know our origins, where we have been. We always have our ancestors at our back,” Kuwada argues. Our ancestors also live in the present. In the introduction to A Nation Rising, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua praises No‘eau Peralto’s essay on Mauna Kea as it “reminds us that our lands are living ancestors.” These comments offer a Kanaka definition of time that is intextricably linked to place and space. This helps to explain why Mauna Kea protectors maintain that their opposition to the TMT is about land, not science. They also provide an understanding of time that greatly differs from western, scientific conceptions.

When claims like “Hawaiians need to stop living in the past” are made, discourses of time collide with discourses of science in order to justify the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence against Mauna Kea and Kānaka Maoli. To further understand how science and time are co-constitutive in debates over TMT, I draw from Linda Tuhiwai Smith who argues that “time is associated with social activity, and how other people organized their daily lives fascinated and horrified Western observers. The links between the industrial revolution, the Protestant work ethic, imperialism and science can be discussed in terms of time and the organization of social life.” Within this framework of labor and time, activities like studying the Christian bible (or even learning English to read it) were associated with the idea of progress (and also salvation). Conversely then, activities like speaking ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language), dancing hula, and worshipping deities and sacred places were labeled primitive, immoral, and uncivilized. Smith connects time and Christianity to science, arguing that “progress could be ‘measured’ in terms of technological advancement and spiritual salvation.” This racist, colonialist logic proposes that to progress (in time) to a modern civilization, we must submit to Christian salvation (through religion) and technological advancement (through science). It is the religious and scientific measuring of progress, in an evolutionary progress narrative, that temporally brackets Indigenous peoples as prior to or without history, always in need of the gifts of progress. We can see then how critics characterize opposition to the TMT and its alleged “advancement” of Mauna Kea as an issue of Kānaka Maoli “wanting to keep Hawai‘i in the Stone Age” or “turn[ing] back toward the dark ages.” This kind of TMT support is peppered by racism and colonialism, concealed by talk of time, history, and “progress.”

In sum, time matters in the support for the TMT because it indicates “progress” in history through scientific and technological advancements. And, it is through this racist, colonialist discourse that the protection of Mauna a Wākea from desecration and destruction impedes “progress.” For example, on April 17 in Civil Beat, Kristine Kubat represents an argument supportive of TMT by saying, “We hear you, they say. We feel your passion. But in the end your just cause pales in comparison to the righteousness of our own. Yours is, after all, a religious perspective and, as we all know, humanity advances through its sciences not its religions. Give it up. We are the future; you are the past. In the grand scheme of things, you matter not.”

Kubat features this sarcastic tone to suggest dispossessing and eliminating Hawaiians “matter[s] not” in the grand scheme of scientific discovery and progress, which treats Native peoples—as Lenape scholar Joanne Barker describes in Native Acts—as “always regretful yet inconsequential.”

The strong defense of categories like “righteousness” and “humanity” and “science,” which Kubat draws our attention to, is forged in an argument about time and history. This argument explains why, in the words of Noenoe Silva in Aloha Betrayed, “Kānaka Maoli hardly appear in [westernized] history at all” and how Indigenous peoples are, according to Jodi Byrd, the “unwelcome guest to the [western] future.” Indeed, as Dipesh Chakrabarty points out in Provincializing Europe, Hawaiians are boxed into an “imaginary waiting room of history” until the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence hidden deep beneath the moniker of “progress” comes to be seen and accepted as a harbinger of life in the future. The consequence of this kind of engagement with time is examined by Elizabeth Povinelli in Economies of Abandonment, where she argues that Indigenous communities are violently bracketed to an authentic pre-colonial past, stuck between an authentic past and modern future, and outside of historical advancement. Science and time, therefore, reconfigure not simply because of colonialism but also (racist) developmentalism within capitalism.

Time & Capitalism

When we analyze discourses of science and time, we must talk about how capitalism serves colonialism. To put this in context, Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, Shelley Muneoka, and Candace Fujikane published comments on April 19 in the Honolulu StarAdvertiser about the TMT at Mauna Kea, offering an analysis of astronomy-industry development. They echo J.B. Zinker’s criticisms in An Acre of Glass by suggesting astronomy has an “insatiable desire for ever larger ground-based telescopes.” The authors continue by saying, “These giant building projects are not only bigger scientific instruments, they are also huge investments with serious money at stake.” The TMT is no different. It requires more and more (sacred) land. It is dependent upon substantial amounts of money and capital in order to manufacture scientific “progress.” The TMT demonstrates capitalism’s logic to develop through time by developing space. Therefore, to conclude this section of the essay, I make explicit the connections between discourses of time and capitalist-colonialist violence.

On April 23, Lanakila Mangauil testified at the OHA’s board meeting to reconsider its 2009 approval of the TMT project. In reference to western political economic contributions to sustain our collective future by increasing exploitation of natural resources, Mangauil passionately remarked, “What the generation before has called ‘progress,’ I call suicide.” Here, the capitalist exploitation of ‘āina is directly bridged to violence. Mangauil’s sharp analysis reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s assertion in The Wretched of the Earth that “capitalism objectively colludes with the forces of violence that erupt in colonial territories.” Furthermore, Western Shoshone scholar Ned Blackhawk argues in his book Violence Over the Land that highlighting violence done to Indigenous peoples works to expose imperial and colonial projects seeking to acquire land, develop private property and ownership rights, and replace Natives with settlers. Thus, capitalist-colonialist violence is exemplified by dispossessing lands from Native nations; developing sacred sites used for worship, gathering materials, or simply belonging; eliminating Indigenous peoples including non-human ancestors or relatives; and criminalizing the refusals of capitalism and colonialism asserted by Native peoples. Undergirding the racist, colonial violence of TMT is the capitalist brutalization of Mauna a Wākea justified through the scientific narrative of time as “progress.”

According to Yellowknives Dene scholar Glen Sean Coulthard, colonial domination is a relationship of power that, through interrelated modes of state, economic, racial, and gendered power, produces hierarchical social relations to facilitate the dispossession and elimination of Indigenous peoples. What is both incredibly innovative and useful from his analysis is that capitalism functions as a social relation to further colonialism. For instance, in Red Skin, White Masks, he engages with Karl Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation, which “refers to the violent transformation of noncapitalist forms of life into capitalist ones,” in order to show how capitalist development, accumulation, and relations are primarily opened up by violently transforming Indigenous peoples’ land. Astronomy-industry development demands that TMT transform Mauna Kea through science in order to transport society into a progressive, modern future. Coulthard maintains that capitalist-colonialist domination is dependent upon changing the “primitive” past into “progressive” present or “modern” future, normalizing capitalist development as inevitable and universally beneficially, and transitioning into more concealed forms of violence. This is all too familiar in how the TMT project conceals capitalist-colonialist violence at Mauna Kea.

The criminalization of Kū Kia‘i Mauna and po‘e aloha ‘āina who, on April 2, refused to let TMT vehicles pass to the summit of Mauna Kea, is an example of this concealed violence. On that day, 31 protectors, including young leaders and elders, were handcuffed, arrested, and detained for protecting Mauna a Wākea from desecration and destruction. Williamson B. Chang, in The Hawaiian Kingdom Blog, argues that the TMT project underwrites its violence against the sacred mountain through liberal progress narratives like “development” and by exercising so-called legal (and justified) violence against Kānaka Maoli through criminalization. He says, “The police are the only ones today who can do so-called ‘legal’ violence to Mauna Kea. Similarly, the police of Hawai‘i County and the officers of DLNR are the only ones who can use the violence of arrest and jail or fine to force down the protectors of Mauna Kea. Protect the mountain and you go to jail. It is legal. It is called law. It is a power possessed only by the sovereign of a nation. There once was a time in Hawaii when that monopoly on the use of legal power protected not defiled Mauna Kea.”

By exerting violence to, on one hand, harm the mountain and, on the other hand, criminalize Hawaiians, the TMT comes into existence and reinforces itself through capitalism and colonialism in the name of astronomy-industry development’s “progress.” In sum, our understanding of TMT should be critical of the kinds of violence that is enacted through its physical construction, legal defenses, and discourses of science and time.

Kanaka Maoli Futures

It is crucial for me to highlight how the Kū Kia‘i Mauna, po‘e aloha ‘āina, and TMT shutdown movement are informed by the fact that Kanaka Maoli are of our ‘āina. Coulthard helps me to trace this claim. In Red Skin, White Masks, he provides a framework for understanding how protection of Mauna Kea can be a form of resurgance forged in the refusal of the TMT’s capitalist-colonialist violence. He allows us to see how protection is a decolonial practice informed by and not for land. With these considerations in mind, I conclude this essay with a discussion of decolonization, aloha ‘āina, and Kanaka Maoli futures.

Science and time matter because they are invoked to justify capitalist-colonialist violence against Mauna a Wākea. It is also vital to center them in further discussions about the TMT, for they have, ironically, been neglected in the very debates surrounding this issue that they have been so integral in shaping. Even some astrophysicists, astronomers, and other scientific professionals—like Chanda Prescod-Weinstein—urge that astronomy should be decolonized.

The TMT should be identified as a capitalist-colonialist project. Protection of Mauna Kea should be structured as a response to how science and time are being deployed to justify TMT’s violence. To be clear, I do not absolutely oppose science or time. But what I hope this essay animates is that TMT is attempting to desecrate and destroy Mauna Kea because of science and time. My opposition to that violent process is firm and unapologetic. This connection must be made in order to shut TMT down.

While I have made a point that we should consider the nefarious ways that racism, colonialism, militarization, empire, and capitalism are central to TMT’s violence, we must also center Kanaka Maoli futures in such critiques.

Mauna Kea matters. Indigenous peoples’ sacred places matter. The ‘āina matters. And, our future as ka Lāhui Hawai‘i is intimately wrapped up in how we care for our ‘āina, our ancestors, and our people.

There is progress that does not sacrifice the fragile, the precious, or the sacred. Hawaiian epistemologies, or ways of knowing, conceive of progress differently than western, scientific notions. In A Nation Rising, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua suggests, “In looking to the past, we inform the decisions and commitments that will shape our futures.” Jon Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio complements her statement in Dismembering Lāhui by asserting, “A proper mo‘olelo [story, history] delivers lessons from the past that ought to guide our present behavior.” One lesson projected from the past is that we have survived. As much as settler colonization desires genocide, we are not extinct. We are still here, still fighting. Our histories demonstrate “a story of how our people fought this colonial insinuation with complexity and courage,” says Osorio. Progress to us is ea, protecting life, land, and sovereignty. Progress should not desecrate or destroy. As Haunani-Kay Trask in From a Native Daughter notes, “No matter how effective colonialism has been in dismembering our culture and our people, it has not managed—yet—to kill all of us, to push all of us out of Hawai‘i, to strangle our love for our people and our language and our land.”

TMTShutDown_DM Piece
“Kaho‘olawe unexploded ordinances” Photo credit: Instagram @samkapoi


Our future is secured in aloha ‘āina, loving and caring for the land. By considering Hawaiian movements in the 1970s by Kānaka Maoli like George Helm to protect Kaho‘olawe from being occupied and repeatedly bombed by the U.S. Navy, Osorio argues in A Nation Rising that aloha ‘āina is “the primary symbol of cultural identity among those who participated in political activism. One of the points I hope to make clear is that this concept, although not universally enunciated as aloha ‘āina, is an integral part of Hawaiian consciousness.” Caring for and loving our ‘āina also means protecting it from continued incursion, such as what is currently taking place at Mauna Kea. “The heightened awareness of Hawaiian values regarding land has resulted in continued challenges to capital developments over Hawaiian sacred sites,” says Osorio. These Hawaiian values refuse the liberal multicultural “goods” that the TMT provides. In Mohawk Interruptus, Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson asks us, “What happens when we refuse what all (presumably) ‘sensible’ people perceive as good things? What does this refusal do to politics, to sense, to reason?” Kanaka Maoli refusal of astronomy-industry development demonstrates aloha ‘āina. In refusing TMT, we reaffirm aloha ‘āina as a cultural politics of resurgence; it is a direct practice of decolonization.

The politics of resurgence is an expression of decolonization that simultaneously rejects capitalist-colonialist structures of power and refuses to give in to material violence against Indigenous peoples. Coulthard’s claim that a “resurgent politics of recognition [is] premised on self-actualization, direct action, and the resurgence of cultural practices” is supported by what he calls grounded normativity, or a “place-based foundation of Indigenous decolonial thought…by which I mean the modalities of Indigenous land-connected practices and longstanding experiential knowledge that inform and structure our ethical engagements with the world and our relationships with human and nonhuman others over time.” As a resurgent political expression in grounded normativity, aloha ‘āina is anti-colonial and anti-capitalist. Protection of Mauna Kea illustrates direct action by refusing TMT’s violence as well as challenging western, scientific understandings of time and space by centering ‘āina. Coulthard recalls Standing Rock Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr.’s analysis in God is Red to observe, “Most Western societies, by contrast, tend to derive meaning from the world in historical/developmental terms, thereby placing time as the narrative of central importance.” The capitalist-colonialist relation is for land. Aloha ‘āina’s relation is of the land. Therefore, this challenge, informed by Kanaka Maoli histories and of the ‘āina, not for it, exists exterior to capitalist-colonialist structures and modes of understanding. We must continue to antagonize from this framework with the help of a kapu aloha and our allies.

The kapu aloha observed and expressed by the Kū Kia‘i Mauna suggests that protectors of Mauna a Wākea maintain the mountain’s sanctity in humility and nonviolence. In her open letter published in Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua states, “This kapu is grounded in the teachings of our kūpuna and is about carrying ourselves with the highest level of compassion for our beloved ‘āina and for all people we encounter.” The kapu aloha is a Kanaka Maoli articulation to claim life, land, and sovereignty. This said, aloha ‘āina’s capacities of resurgence and decolonization are seriously diminished when kapu aloha is broken or wrongfully directed. For example, on April 24, KITV’s Andrew Pereira published an article admonishing Kanaka Maoli activist Kamahana Kealoha’s public remarks against a pro-TMT petition created by Mailani Neal, a young Hawaiian woman aspiring to be an astronomer. Kealoha’s disparaging comments were sexist and anti-wāhine (women). My goal, in engaging with this example of breaking the kapu aloha, is to intervene into arguments about the TMT by suggesting—like Haunani-Kay Trask, Glen Sean Coulthard, Audra Simpson, and others have—decolonization requires gendered justice.

Decolonization also requires an understanding of how the kapu aloha might be co-opted by liberal settler colonial ideologies seeking nonviolence, negotiations with state agencies, and conciliatory accommodations. The absolute dismissal of angry, resentful, or violent reactions to racial and colonial violence in the name of kapu aloha is wrong. Such reactions can be anti-racist or anti-colonial acts, if properly directed. If Kealoha’s remarks demonstrate kapu aloha is against sexism then this practice should also challenge structures of racism and colonialism. The kapu can break down in the rebuking of angry, resentful, or violent reactions to injustices elsewhere like the recent protests occurring in Baltimore, Maryland against racist police killings. These are struggles over life whether that is Mauna Kea as our living ancestor or Freddie Gray, and decolonization of our sacred mountain requires intersectional solidarities.

Similarly, aloha ‘āina needs alliances in the form of radical coalitions to protect Mauna Kea and center Kanaka Maoli struggles. Countless Native nations, communities and organizations have stood up in solidarity with Hawaiians against TMT, such as Lakota Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Idle No More, and The Red Nation. Kānaka Maoli residing on the continent, from Portland, Oregon to Las Vegas, Nevada, are standing on sidewalks at busy street intersections protesting the TMT. Hawaiians are protesting outside the TMT’s headquarters in Pasadena, California. Even non-Native peoples are accomplices in our struggle to protect the mountain. On April 26, a faction of the international network of activists referred to as Anonymous hacked into and shut down both the TMT and Hawai‘i state government websites. According to Nathan Eagle and Anita Hofschneider in Civil Beat, Anonymous took responsibility in a blog post titled “Anonymous with the Hawaiian natives against #TMT,” which asked for a stop to ecocide and Native rights abuses.


In this essay, I have argued that the categories of “science” and “time” are produced by arguments regarding the TMT in a process that justifies the capitalist-colonialist violence done to Mauna a Wākea. Mauna Kea is our ‘āina. It is our sacred, living ancestor. Haunani-Kay Trask’s poem “Still is the Fern” in Night is a Sharkskin Drum reminds us, “In burning snow, slumbering Mauna Kea. Arise and go, sacred, into dawn.” We have an Indigenous responsibility to aloha ‘āina, to kapu aloha, and to protect the mountain. The TMT is a project premised on (institutionalized) racism, settler colonialism, militarization, empire, and capitalism. The collusion of astronomy-industry development and “progress” hides and justifies Mauna Kea’s desecration and destruction. The future of Kānaka Maoli and Mauna Kea is entwined with our critical interrogation of these discourses of science and time. This future is only possible because of our past. This essay pales in comparison to my great-great grandfather’s anti-annexation activism in the 1890s, but it is because of his aloha ‘āina that I am able to speak against TMT, to stand with ka Lāhui Hawai‘i, and to protect ea.

“We are not American,” Haunani-Kay Trask passionately declared on January 17, 1993 at ‘Iolani Palace to protest the one-hundred year anniversay of the U.S.-backed illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. More than 22 years later on April 12, 2015 at ‘Iolani Palace, participants at the Kū Kia‘i Mauna rally chanted “we are not American” yet again. And since we are not American, then we must refuse TMT and resurge against capitalist-colonialist violence to protect Mauna a Wākea in aloha ‘āina as Hawaiians.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s