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    Indigenous peoples in USA are mainly Native American peoples or Alaska Native peoples. In May 2016, 567 tribal entities were federally recognized, and most of these have recognized national homelands.
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The Indigenous World 2022: Hawai’i


Ka Pae Aina (the Hawai’ian Archipelago) is made up of 137 islands, reefs and ledges stretching 2,451 kilometres southeast / northwest in the Pacific Ocean and covering a total of 16,640 square kilometres.

The Kanaka Maoli, the Indigenous Peoples of Ka Pae Aina or Hawai’i, make up around 20% of the total population of 1.2 million.

In 1893, the Government of Hawai’i, led by Queen Lili’uokalani, was illegally overthrown and a provisional government established without the consent of the Kanaka Maoli and in violation of international treaties and law. It was officially annexed by the United States and became the Territory of Hawaii in 1898. Hawaii acquired statehood in 1959 and became a part of the United States of America. The Kanaka Maoli continue to fight for self-determination and self-government and continue to suffer from past injustices and ongoing violations of their rights. Some members are involved in the Hawai’ian sovereignty movement, which considers the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1893 illegal, along with the subsequent annexation of Hawai’i by the United States. Among other things, the movement seeks free association with and/or independence from the United States.

There have been formal requests for reparations from the United States for the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893 and for what has been described as a prolonged military occupation, starting with the 1898 annexation. The so-called “Apology Resolution” passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993 is cited as a major boost by the Hawai’ian sovereignty movement.

The United States announced in 2010 that it would endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a moral guide after voting against it in 2007. The United States has not ratified ILO Convention No. 169. Indigenous people who are born within the United States of America are generally U.S. citizens; however they are also citizens of their own nations. The UNDRIP guides the actions and aspirations of Hawai’i's Indigenous Peoples, as do local declarations such as the Palapala Paoakalani.

Conflict over the TMT atop Mauna Kea continues

Construction of the Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT) on the top of Mauna Kea (at 4,050 metres), a dormant volcano already home to 21 telescopes, including the Canada-France-Hawaii Observatory, began in 2014. Protests forced the closure of the construction site the following year although legal challenges by opponents of the TMT proved unsuccessful. Construction was scheduled to resume in the summer of 2019 but the access road to the summit was completely blocked by Indigenous activists.[1]

The conflict continued in 2021 and Uahikea Maile, a University of Toronto political scientist who is a Kanaka Maoli, stated that:

We Kanaka Maoli have decided in our thousands to no longer respect a political and legal process that systematically ignores our voice. (…) The TMT is different from Mauna Kea's existing 21 telescopes because it would be located on a plateau that is currently completely undeveloped. In addition to the sacred nature of the entire summit, this plateau is a valuable ecosystem that must be preserved.[2]

The protest against this new telescope has redoubled in intensity since 2019. Kanaka Maoli Indigenous activists want all telescopes removed from the archipelago’s mountains, which they consider to be sacred. Canada is involved in the project, having pledged CAD 250 million for the Thirty-Metre Telescope.

Four of the nine directorships on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) Council of Representatives were up for election on 3 November 2020. The TMT remained a critical talking point, with many of the candidates campaigning on the basis of their opposition to the TMT. Following the election results, these candidates have continued to call for the dismantling of the original Mauna Kea telescopes. Uahikea Maile, a Kanaka Maoli Professor of Indigenous Politics at the University of Toronto, has stated that: “The only people who should be able to decide what gets built on public land are the Kanaka Maoli. I agree that they should stay until the end of their useful life but then they should not be renewed.” [3]

Progress in decommissioning

On 3 June 2021, the OHA decided to dismantle the Caltech Submillimetre Observatory, the first of five observatories on the summit to be decommissioned in exchange for the planned construction of the TMT at Mauna Kea. It ceased operations in 2015.[4],[5]

On 7 August 2021, four native Hawaiian elders arrested in 2019 while protesting the construction of the giant telescope on Hawaii's highest peak were found not guilty of obstructing the mountain’s access road.[6]

On 21 September 2021, the University of Hawaii and the California Institute of Technology jointly decided to decommission a second telescope, the UH Hoku Kea teaching telescope.[7] A much smaller teaching telescope is likely to be installed at the Hale Pohaku site at the base of the summit.[8]

The death of Haunani-Kay Trask

2021 also saw the passing of Haunani-Kay Trask, who was an activist best known for promoting the rights of native Hawaiians, the Kanaka Maoli, and Hawaiian sovereignty. She passed away at the age of 71. Trask began her teaching career in 1981 when she started as an assistant lecturer at Manoa University. She was the first Indigenous woman to be hired as a lecturer at this university. She worked in the Department of American Studies, with expertise in feminist theory and Native Studies.[9] [10] She created a significant opening for thousands of Hawaiian scholars and also helped build bridges with allies outside the state so that the island's plight could be heard on the international stage. For many, she was also a voice for the oppressed. She was remarkable for the stance she took against American imperialism and the island’s colonisation.

Trask denounced the harmful effects of America’s military occupation of the territory and the impact of tourism on the Indigenous people. She also rallied against a certain concept of tourism that could be perceived as a form of colonial oppression.[11] Upon Trask's passing, Maile Arvin, a native Hawaiian, noted that “through her work, she was able to demonstrate to other nations that native Hawaiians can create a different future for themselves”.[12] According to Senator Mazie Hirono: “Haunani-Kay was an outspoken and inspiring educator and ardent advocate who played an undeniable role in highlighting the most painful parts of Hawaii's past, inspiring countless people with the same demands.” 12

Patrick Kulesza is the Executive chairman/director of GITPA, Groupe International de Travail pour les Peuples Autochtones - France (www.gitpa.org). 


This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here


Notes and references 

[1] See Indigenous World 2020.

[2] Perreault, Mathieu. 2020. "Doit-On Enlever Les Télescopes D’Hawaii ? - La Presse+". La Presse+. https://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/54d7c36c-69ac-4251-9323-5af9e0b1b99a__7C___0.html.

[3] Idem

[4] Brestovansky, Michael. 2021. "Board Oks Decommissioning Plan For Caltech Observatory". The Hawaii Tribune-Herald. https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/2021/06/03/hawaii-news/board-oks-decommissioning-plan-for-caltech-observatory/.

[5] 2021-09-08-HA-DEA-Caltech-Submillimeter-Observatory-Decommissioning. 2021. Ebook. Hāmākua, Hawaiʻi: STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES. http://oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/Doc_Library/2021-09-08-HA-DEA-Caltech-Submillimeter-Observatory-Decommissioning.pdf.

[6] News, ABC. 2021. "Not Guilty Verdict For Hawaiian Elders Protesting Telescope". ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/guilty-verdict-hawaiian-elders-protesting-telescope-79327157.

[7] News, UH. 2021. "Public Input Requested On Hōkū Keʻa Telescope Decommissioning Process | University Of Hawaiʻi System News". University Of Hawaiʻi System News. https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2021/09/09/public-input-hoku-kea-telescope-decommissioning/.

[8] "Hōkū Ke‘A Decommissioning Project". 2021. Hōkū Ke‘A Decommissioning Project. https://hokukea.konveio.com/.

[9] Yam, Kimmy, “Haunani-Kay Trask, renowned scholar who fought for Hawaiian sovereignty, dies at 71”, NBC News, 8 July 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/haunani-kay-trask-renowned-scholar-who-fought-hawaiian-sovereignty-dies-n1273364 accessed 21/10/21 

[10] Williams, Annabelle. 2022. "Haunani-Kay Trask, Champion Of Native Rights In Hawaii, Dies At 71". Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/haunani-kay-trask-dead.html.

[11] Idem

[12] Idem



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