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Indigenous Affairs are Student Affairs: In Solidarity with the Kia'i of Mauna Kea

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Asian Pacific Islanders Indigenous Peoples
September 19, 2019

We, the Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Community (IPKC) and the Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community (APIKC) stand in firm support of the kiaʻi (protectors) of Mauna Kea. We have witnessed with admiration, pride, and aloha as our relations, the kiaʻi of Mauna Kea, have mobilized—to defend from harm—one of the most sacred places in Hawaiian cosmology, Mauna Kea. The mountain, a majestic location at the heart of Hawai‘i island, is revered as the birthplace of the Hawaiian people. In contrast, this site is perceived by scientists as the ideal future home for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project.

This post attends to two critical tasks: 1) Offer an Indigenous critique on this issue and how the colonization of place intersects with the field of student affairs, broadly, and connects to the professional competency area of social justice and inclusion, specifically and 2) share ways you—individually or as a representative of your institution—can support kiaʻi (protectors) of Mauna Kea and Native Hawaiian students.

Hold Institutions Accountable

Indigenous movements are taking place worldwide, and like many social and political movements, we know that there is a direct and tangible impact on our students and their communities. But this issue is one in which our field of higher education is especially implicated. Firstly, the TMT project is mainly held by two U.S. institutions of higher education and astronomical research departments in India, China and Japan. It is also supported by a long list of higher education institutions in the United States.

We extend an invitation to all of our colleagues in higher education institutions across the continent, to actively engage with and hold their institutions accountable, particularly those at the following institutions which are listed as partners of the TMT project (source: https://www.tmt.org/page/partners):

  • Boston University
  • Carnegie Institution for Science
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Cornell University
  • Fisk University
  • Georgia State University
  • Harvard University
  • Indiana University
  • Iowa State University
  • John Hopkins University
  • Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium
  • Leibniz-Institut für Sonnenphysik
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Montana State University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
  • New Mexico State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
  • Princeton University
  • Rutgers University
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
  • Stanford University
  • Stony Brook University
  • Texas A&M University
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Universidad de Chile
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • University of California at Santa Cruz
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Florida
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Toledo
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Yale University

If you see your institution on this list, we ask that you join us in calling, writing letters, and working alongside Indigenous students, faculty, and staff to call attention to the harm that TMT will cause upon the land and its peoples -- both the communities in Hawai’i and the greater diaspora.

Supporting Indigenous Students, Faculty, and Staff

Aside from their ongoing direct action and peaceful protest of the TMT, the protectors have  established Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu, an actual place of Hawaiian learning. This collaborative effort of scholars, activists, lawyers, and researchers offers daily classes and workshops on Hawaiian history, politics, science, and ethics - one of the finest examples of experiential learning grounded in indigenous epistemology available. Our colleagues at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) have stepped in to support these efforts, finding ways for students to gain credit for their time on the mauna. In this and many other ways, we emphasize another way that Student Affairs can be involved with Mauna Kea. As institutions prepare for the academic year, we want to emphasize how important this and other indigenous movements are for the well-being of indigenous populations. Many of you are in a position to support Indigenous students, faculty, and staff  who are grappling with the ongoing confrontation on Mauna Kea:

  • Check in intentionally with indigenous students, faculty, and staff - particularly Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) students, faculty, and staff,
  • Ask them to share their connection to the Mauna and if there is anyway you can support them, especially Kānaka who are away from Hawai’i,
  • Learn the songs of the movement and sponsors spaces for singing (i.e. Ku Ha’aheo),
  • Use your positionality in your institutions to stand with Kānaka Maoli and bring these issues to the table, create conversations with folx in power to raise awareness and solidarity, etc.,
  • Promote and follow social media accounts and news outlets and share information widely

The protectors of Mauna Kea have centered their movement on the notion of kapu aloha, that is, to be informed by compassion, empathy, kindness, and love. Guided by their example, let us take advantage of the opportunity this movement provides us. Let us acknowledge the indigenous land upon which our communities reside, specifically to acknowledge that all institutions of higher education rests upon indigenous lands (Lipe, 2018). Let us think carefully and critically about the ways we may be perpetuating violence upon these communities; and resolve to transform our institutions into spaces that support decolonization, self-determination, and liberation of all indigenous communities.

Here are additional other ways to learn and support:

The struggle to protect Mauna Kea will be ongoing. While this post may not be exhaustive of all available knowledge, we hope that this post has provided helpful information for you to learn the ways in which you can support Indigenous communities.

In solidarity,

The Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Community and the Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community


Lipe, K. (2018). Toward equity and equality: Transforming universities into indigenous places of learning. In Minthron, R. S. & Shotton, H. J. (Eds) Reclaiming Indigenous Research in Higher Education (pp. 162-177). Rutgers Press: New Brunswick, NJ.