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“We’re Not Anti-Science, We’re Anti-Another-Telescope”: Kanaka Maoli and Astronomy on Mauna a Wākea

Friday, September 7, 2018 at 11:15am to 1:10pm

Caldwell Hall, 400

How does the western cultural imperative to build ever-bigger  telescopes in Hawaiʻi produce conditions that affirm or challenge settler colonialism? Throughout 2015, thousands journeyed to Mauna a Wākea and dozens were arrested in mass protests of the next “world’s largest telescope.” To Kānaka Maoli, the mountain is a sacred place, an  ancestor, and a symbol of Native values of land and water protection, ceremony, and the onto-genealogical love Hawaiians call aloha ʻāina. Yet, in their search for the origins of the universe, astronomers contend the summit is “the best place on earth” to build the Thirty Meter Telescope. While astronomers are imagined as stewards of the land, Kānaka Maoli are criminalized as violent and irrational. I analyze how scientific, legal, and state discourses function to contain Kanaka subjectivities, recasting Hawaiians as foils to modernity and foreclosing other possibilities of being. I argue western law, science, and capitalism cohere around the TMT to manage Kanaka indigeneity and obscure historically situated claims to land and sovereignty. Within territorial, statist, and capitalist assemblages, commitments to astronomy expansion reveal the value of the TMT to the settler state as a fetish of objectivity, industry, and rational authority. The struggle for Mauna a Wākea, however, is more than a contest over land management,  scientific knowledge, or a multicultural “co-existence.” Such contests are among the ways in which the settler state reproduces itself. For Kānaka Maoli, the mountain embodies a continuum of self-definition and belonging that has sustained us for generations past, and to come.

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program


diversity, aip, cashum, casc


Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Urszula Piasta-Mansfield

Contact Phone



Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar

Speaker Affiliation

Assistant Professor, Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity, Ithaca College

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