Sacred land protector – Pua Case

“Aloha mai kakou, If you would just take a moment to pause from your busy day and think about the most sacred place that you are connected to, the place that brings you peace and accepts your prayers, very likely the place where your grandparents and their parents once prayed, the place you would safeguard with all of your might, with all that you are and all that you have. If you said the holy name of that place out loud, would it be the name of a church or a temple or chapel you hold dear? Say it, utter its name out loud as I do….my church, my temple, my mountain, Mauna a Wakea, Mauna Kea.” Pua Case 2017

Just hours before I was forced to leave Hawaii, my home for 36 years, I was greatly honoured to be blessed in a ceremony by Native Hawaiian kapuna Pua Case – caretaker for the sacred rain rock Manaua and the original protector of Mauna Kea. From 2016 I had done my best to support the growing movement by writing grants for the Mauna Kea Education and Awareness organisation. These grants funded multiple outreach activities around Hawaii plus Pua’s attendance at the World Indigenous Conference in Canada, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe Fire Water Ceremony in California and the Manawa Whenua, Indigenous Research Conference in New Zealand where she was invited as a Keynote Speaker. It was a great honour to assist this cause and to work alongside the revered Pua Case.

Pua gives me a send off gift at circus camp the day I was deported

At 13,796 feet above sea level Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the tallest mountain in the world from the sea floor and is home to Sky Father Wakea. A $2.1 billion thirty meter telescope (TMT) has received permits for construction on the Northern Plateau of Mauna Kea, where there are already thirteen telescopes. This newest and biggest telescope would permanently scar this sacred mountain. Pua Case and her ohana (family) filed a motion to intervene in the construction of the telescope after her daughter Kapulei shared a message with her mother on behalf of the deity Mo’oinanea who described ways in which building the telescope would be permanently detrimental to Mauna Kea and Hawaiian culture.

Initially, Pua Case was terrified at the notion of standing alone in front of a justice system that has historically upheld injustices against Native Hawaiians and all who stand for their rights, lands, and native traditions. Pua was also afraid of confronting the dominant culture, which has been taught that speaking with the spirit world is no longer an active part of everyday life. Ultimately, Pua accepted her kuleana (responsibility) and carried out the request of Mo’oinanea. The motion to intervene in the telescope’s construction was remarkable, since Pua Case and her ohana filed on behalf of the water deity Mo’oinanea. Unfortunately, Mo’oinanea had her motion rejected by the court.

Construction was blocked for the first time in 2015, when scores of protesters prevented work vehicles from traveling up the access road and the state Supreme Court later invalidated the project’s work permit.Opposition to the telescope on Mauna Kea has brought the spirit world back into the public eye of Hawai’i for the first time in centuries, sparking a rise in conscious awareness of the sacred connection between humans and their ancestral landscape. Native Hawaiian tradition teaches a responsibility and reverence to all things, all beings. Pua Case emphasises that people are not crazy when they receive messages from spirits explaining that deities exist as protectors, and teachers who remind us we are all naturally gifted.

Pua Case and her ohana are still in the appeals process of stopping the telescope from being built, but Pua says that the verdict will be insignificant in comparison to the spiritual awakening now occurring in Hawai’i and beyond with indigenous people rising to protect their sacred places. People of all backgrounds are uniting to stand in defence of Mother Earth in this time of great change and danger to our planetary home. Pua Case puts her faith in the collective consciousness of future generations. She sees young people upholding tradition, and prepared to protect the sacred. Inspired by the sacrifices of land defenders everywhere.

Despite her fears, Pua is carried forward by the strength of her daughters and the prayer of her ohana and has found courage to continue trying to stop the telescope, and protect Mauna Kea at all costs. She has not been angry for a moment saying, “There is no time for judgement and self-defeating habits. Rage, depression, and despair only serve to hold the people down. Now is the time to rise and take responsibility for the love of Mother Earth.”

Pua with her Ohana

“Yes, it is I, an educator, a cultural practitioner, a chanter, a dancer, a teacher, a mother, a petitioner. I have come forward to speak of this mountain, this place I hold dear, this place I sing of and sing to because it is sacred. As a Hawaiian raised by my elders, I know intimately of the relationship our kupuna (elders) had with the land and the natural elements. I still sing those songs and say those prayers as I place my hands upon the earth or hold them to the heavens. Our ancestors have placed their faith in us that we will carry forth their mission to walk with careful steps on this land, in trust that we will not obstruct, destroy, or desecrate that which they held as most sacred. Our ancestors never destroyed to advance, never constructed in a manner that would irreparably harm their island home or its inhabitants. They were a people who protected the balance, the alignment, the interdependence, and the energy in all things. They knew on the deepest of levels how connected all life is, not just to here, but to everywhere and everything. In us, that memory still lives.”

Pua reminds us all that this is a time when we must be sure, we must be clear, we must be brave and we must be proud. “I am asking you, my people, my public, to imagine over eighteen stories of concrete in the construction of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope and the excavation of over five acres of the sacred landscape of Mauna Kea that still moves and shakes and is still alive. Just imagine what it takes to build something of that size, what will be carried up to the top of the mountain, and what will be left there when all is done. We will never be able to undo such a desecration once it is done. If you believe that something that immense will not create repercussions, I ask you to think again.”

The protectors blocking the access road – 2019

Through public speeches, T.V. interviews and in her sacred Facebook posts she has inspired people to action across the world. “There are native people everywhere at this very moment fighting to protect their mountain tops, their rivers, and their forests because they know the proposed impacts will be dire. Let’s do something, let’s become more aware, more knowledgeable, let’s raise our level of consciousness, and be steadfast once again. Let’s do what is right for our lands, our people, and our children. Let’s do what is right and say, No! Not this time! We have made too many concessions, too many compromises, this time we must stand and speak up. Our mountain is still sacred.”

Pua’s oldest daughter Hawane Rios, an activist musician, declares she is determined to stand strong like a mountain and block the bulldozers with her body, if construction of the telescope begins on Mauna Kea. She talks and dances in her mothers footsteps as support for the movement grows on the island, nationally and internationally.

As the activism reached a peak in 2019 with protectors gathered on Mauna Kea Access Road to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope long time activists Walter Ritte and Kaleikoa Kaeo joined others who chained themselves to a cattle grate to form a human barricade. On July 15, 2019, 38 kupuna (elders) sat in protect and blocked TMT construction vehicles. They were arrested, taken into custody and charged with obstruction. On August 7th 2021 the first eight were found not guilty by a District Judge in Hilo.

                                It has been a year since protesters gathered on Mauna Kea Access Road to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Above, supporters tend to Walter Ritte, left, and Kaleikoa Kaeo, who joined others who chained themselves to a cattle grate to form a human barricade.
                                Kupuna formed a human barricade on July 15, 2019, along Mauna Kea Access Road to stop construction vehicles.

In July 2020, one year after protesters stopped the Thirty Meter Telescope for a second time, a top TMT official claimed that the project’s commitment to Hawaii remains as strong as ever but that construction will be delayed at least through the winter and maybe longer. While the degree of largely Native Hawaiian opposition is now obvious how any future demonstrations might be handled by government officials is still a contentious unknown issue. Meanwhile, Pua Case with the kia‘i or “protectors” of the mountain continue to vow that they will block any attempt to restart construction and there is no doubt about the seriousness of their commitment.

POST SCRIPT: In 2019 Dena and I met Pua and her daughters at the British Museum where she offered prayers and staged a presentation for an Easter Island Moai that islanders want to be returned. Her work for protecting sacred land and artefacts transcends borders.

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

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