From the Archives: We are Mauna Kea: The Continual Protest for Maintaining Sacred Land by Anjeanette LeBoeuf


Moderator’s Note: The blog was originally posted November 21, 2015. The movement for the sacred land is still relevant and active.

It seems like there is a perpetual debate over acquiring land for progress and growth versus the protection of land that has ties to religion, customs, and cultures. The history of America is littered with stories and events that deal with acquisition of land. The sake of growth, expansion, and progress takes precedence in the history of America. Our country’s geography is a road map of acquired land and the pushing aside sacrality.

Our country has treated sacred land in a variety of ways. Religious sites have found their way, at times, to the front lines of protest and change. Religions across the globe carry some sort of Mother Earth element. Hinduism has the goddess Pṛthivī, the Greeks worshiped Gaia and Hestia, and the Hopis called her Tuuwaqatsi. Papahānaumoku is Mother Earth to Hawaiians. She is the life-giving force and the ancestor to all human beings. Honoring the earth becomes honoring our mother.


The respect of the land is strengthened with the addition of the embodiment of a sacred mother. The designation of sacred land does imply that there are areas which are not innately holy. These areas have become the vast spreads of human civilizations. For the majority of continental United States, land has been zoned, acquired, and built on. On the island of Hawaii, there has been an ongoing push and pull between expansion, science, and sacred land. The protection and more importantly the preservation of the Hawaiian culture, religion, and land has been constant ever since the first foreign explorer came to her shore.

Over 200 days, active protesters have been living on the sacred mountain/dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It is the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Mauna Kea is considered to be the holiest and sacred places for Hawaiians; traditional beliefs held that only the most sacred of Ali’I, honorable rulers, were allowed to ascend Mauna Kea. Ancient Hawaiian lived and thrived at the base of the mountain. When Europeans and their livestock were introduced to the island, things started to shift. Due to its high elevation and three section climate, it has been deemed the best sites for astronomical observation. This new designation is what has tipped the balance from sacred mountain to scientific gold mind.

An access road was established to gain entrance to the mountain top in 1963. That year also saw the first telescope. To date there are 13 telescopes funded by 11 countries atop of Mauna Kea. The Mauna Kea Observatories have studied everything from visible lay, radio rays, and weather patterns. In 1968, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources gave a 65-year lease for all land within a 2.5-mile radius of the telescopes to the University of Hawaii. The growth of scientific research has been met with protests and a call of action to preservation the sacrality of Mauna Kea.

temple protest

Since its statehood, native Hawaiians have struggled to maintain their autonomy, their culture, their sacredness. An approved plan for a new Thirty Meter Telescope has been opposed by native Hawaiians and activists since its inception. During its proposed ground breaking in October of 2014, protesters blocked the road and construction was halted. The We Are Mauna Kea, Protect Mauna Kea, and Defenders of Mauna a Wakea movements were born.


The participants have called themselves protectors. They are protecting the sacredness of Mauna Kea, Aloha ‘Aina – the love of the land. But it has also taken on an added significance. It has also become an outcry for the protection of culture, of hawaiianess, and of community. It has become not just the preservation of the sacred mountain but also of the entire Hawaiian state.


The protests successfully gained awareness forcing the State of Hawaii and the University to hold inquiries. For over 200 days, protectors have lived on the mountain. The opposition has arrested multiple protesters in multiple instances. We Are Mauna Kea Protests were initiated all across the Hawaiian Islands. Protesters staged rallies at the TMT headquarters in Pasadena. They have petitioned the university and the Hawaiian state. The rallies and protests have also connected with other indigenous people and their continual struggles with protecting their lands and their cultures.

indigenous people

Social Media has been crucial in the continual support and awareness of Mauna Kea. Protesters started to post pictures of We are Mauna Kea on their bodies to spread the awareness; awareness that the construction and appropriation of Mauna Kea also means the appropriation of Hawaiianness, even the very bodies to which one resides in.

we are mauna kea - Copy

It is about having culture, tradition, and sacredness being sacrificed for technology, knowledge, and progress. Protect Mauna Kea regularly posts the progress, the protests, and the arrests. The Facebook group, Defenders of Mauna Kea regularly hold rallies, events, and workshops. A recent post states,

Stand in UNITY ALL INDIGENOUS PEOPLE! Things are happening to all of our Sacred Places and it is time to LOKAHI!!!!!!! TOGETHER WE RISE!!!!!!! Come raise your voices, your intentions, your vibrations, prayers this day as ONE! We are ALL in this TOGETHER!!!!! Tribes of Hawai’i, Tribes of the Americas, Tribes of Canada, Tribes of Alaska, Tribes of Asia, Tribes of the World KU KIA’I MAUNA!!!!!! (To stand Strong like a Mountain) Together we are not defeated

Currently the protests are still going on. The protests have brought awareness that more consideration needs to be given to sacred land, to the consideration that progress and technology might not be the best for the land and her people. It might be 2015 but we are still struggling to find a balance between progress and sanctity; honoring mother earth and moving towards the future.

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is currently experiencing a Midwest Summer. Anjeanette is currently the World Religions Professor at Saint Louis University. She continues to be the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. She has also recently helped to set up and is the current Chair of the Disabilities Studies Unit for the Western Region. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. One of the main themes in Anjeanette’s work is seeking out representations of women and queer people in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is still exploring St. Louis and finding treasures beyond measure.

Categories: Activism, Feminist Ethics, Indigenous Spirituality, land

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