Decades ago, my uncle Keola Beamer wrote my favorite lines to his song “The Beauty of Mauna Kea.”

The song provided comfort when I was away in college and deeply missing home. When I reached the phrase, “now to any land you roam, she will be with you, if you love her like I do,” my gut would tremor, my eyes would tear up, and I would feel the connection with my home and our precious Mauna Kea.

This love my uncle sang of was active, visceral, and endless. It is an articulation of a deep and profound realization of thanks for the beauty and majesty of a mountain and the life she has provided for hundreds of generations.

My grandmother Nona Beamer discusses in her album “The Golden Lehua Tree,” how Mauna Kea was like “a Kahu,” a family guardian, and a “strong reminder to us to stand firm in our beliefs,” — “like a kupuna a Hawaiian elder who was a part of our family.”

Lone demonstrator holds a Hawaiian flag near the summit of Mauna Kea as hundreds of protestors lined the road down at the visitor's center. 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A lone demonstrator holds a Hawaiian flag near the summit of Mauna Kea as hundreds of protestors lined the road down at the visitor’s center in June.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I recall these passages to convey the deep feelings of aloha and kinship many kanaka have with Mauna Kea. It is my honest attempt to express the intergenerational aloha and relationships we have and continue to hold with Mauna Kea.

From this perspective, it is difficult for me to see Mauna Kea as anything less than “kapu” or what we call in English — sacred. She is the embodiment and the genesis for the love and stories of my family, she has formed the very soil and coalesced the fresh waters that feed us. She is the place we laid my kupuna to rest. She is what the Bible refers to as “holy ground.” She is majestic, she is precious. It is difficult to express in English because the richer Hawaiian term “kapu” does not have a full translation in the English language.

Our ancestors intimately understood and deified natural systems because they gave us life. In our time of climate crisis, our world would benefit from reckoning with our relationships with ecosystems. Mauna Kea deserves to be cared for with the reverence a person of Jewish faith has for Mount Sinai, or a conservationist would have for the Swiss Alps, or simply put like my grandmother had for Mauna Kea.

After 50 years of utter mismanagement by the University of Hawaii, the same system that many of us love and cherish — we demand better leadership. The singular focus to expand one industry and perspective on Mauna Kea has hurt us all. At present the density and sprawl of the existing 13 astronomy facilities on Mauna Kea (some of which are unused) is unacceptable.

We need to rethink the composition, structure and requirements of the entire Board of Regents.

Unkept promises to begin decommission before building the TMT are salt in the wounds. Consider that even former Hawaii County Mayor Herbert Matayoshi (1974-1984) wanted a cap of six telescopes. There are 13 telescope facilities now, with TMT proposed to be 18 stories tall and positioned on one of the few remaining un-developed plateaus. It cannot be the 14th.

UH leadership has failed. Leadership has failed our Kiaʻi by being complicit in arresting kupuna and forcing people to sacrifice so much to conduct non-violent direct action for justice. They have failed TMT by applying for a permit without the “free, prior and informed consent” of Hawaiians. They have failed Mauna Kea because for 50 years they could have truly shared the mountain.

What if they had established programs to reforest and steward Mauna Kea? What if they learned from generations of cultural practitioners? What if they empowered Hawaiian leadership of Mauna Kea? Or what if they had balanced seats for Hawaiian educators on the board to complement those who represent other interests?

At this point, we need to rethink the composition, structure and requirements of the entire Board of Regents. We need future university leadership to never bring our islands into such a quagmire. We need balanced leadership.

Given the last 50 days — the Puʻuhonua, the outpouring of courage and aloha, the police and National Guard — I am certain our Hawaii will never be the same. It’s impossible to go back to a time where there was no development on Mauna Kea, and equally impossible to persist in marginalizing community voices through dismissal, intimidation, or coercion.

We have reached a tipping point, a rare moment that comes perhaps once every few generations. We see clearly our past for its glory and failures while we stand shoulder to shoulder with fearlessness and a strong political will to bring about systemic change.

It is a time for leadership and follow-ship with courage and humility. It is a time of inclusion and ally-ship. It is a time for Kapu Aloha and Aloha Aina. Our time is now.

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About the Author

  • Kamana Beamer
    Kamanamaikalani Beamer is an associate professor at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies in the Hui ‘Āina Momona Program at the University of Hawaii Manoa with a joint appointment in the Richardson School of Law and the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge. In 2013 he was confirmed to a four-year appointment on Hawaii’s State Commission on Water Resource Management and was reconfirmed in 2017 for an additional four-year term.