OPEN LETTER: The Sacred Ground of Mauna Kea and the Rights of the Kanaka Maoli Must be Honoured

July 23, 2019   

The Honorable David Y. Ige

The Right Honorable Justin Trudeau

OPEN LETTER: The Sacred Ground of Mauna Kea and the Rights of the Kanaka Maoli Must be Honoured

Dear Governor David Ige and Prime Minister Trudeau,

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) stands in solidarity with the Kanaka Maoli relatives and the people of Hawaii fighting to protect the sacred Mauna Kea from the intrusion of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a project that has received $234 million in funding from the Canadian government and support from various Canadian universities.

First Nations in Canada share with the Kanaka Maoli Peoples a history of invasion, colonization, and marginalization. It is with our shared deep spiritual and ancestral relationships with the environment and our common experience of having our ancestral and sacred lands infringed upon that we write to urge you to take action against a project that will be built upon a sacred burial site of utmost cultural importance to the Kanaka Maoli.

Through UBCIC Resolution 2000-11, UBCIC committed to focusing on the protection of Indigenous knowledge, self-determination and traditional resource rights at national and international levels. It is in the defence of the international rights of Indigenous peoples enshrined in the United Nations human rights system that UBCIC supports the Elders, relatives, and advocates defending a mountain that is wahi pana, a sacred landscape home to the goddess Poli’ahu that connects the Hawaiian people to the island itself. Mauna Kea is rife with genealogical connections for the Kanaka Maoli and continues to be an important place of pilgrimage and traditional and customary practices.

The American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People contains provisions that work to protect the cultural heritage, integrity, and distinctive customs of Indigenous peoples, and Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlines Indigenous peoples’ right to “maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” The Kupuna or Elders who have been arrested for defending a site that is sacred and important to them is shameful and in direct violation of the state responsibilities affirmed in these two human rights instruments. The TMT has no free, prior, and informed consent from the Kanaka Maoli and fundamentally threatens their inherent rights.  

UBCIC calls for the impending construction of the TMT to be immediately shut down and for the Government of Canada to withdraw their support of a project that will have considerable impacts upon Mauna Kea’s geology, endangered wildlife, and cultural practices vital to the Kanaka Maoli. The Canadian government’s continued support of the TMT fundamentally contravenes its commitment to reconciliation and implementing the UN Declaration into legislation and policy.

We call upon the Governor of Hawaii to ensure that the state respects and protects the Kanaka Maoli’s right to be stewards of their lands and waters, as well as their right to practice their spirituality, traditions, and way of life freely. A colonial agenda will continue to persist if we allow sacred sites to be desecrated and Indigenous voices to be stifled. The deep emotional, cultural, and spiritual attachments the Kanaka Maoli have to Mauna Kea must be honoured.


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip           

Chief Don Tom

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson

Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources
Hawaiian State Ethics Commission
Dr. Judith Sayers, University of Victoria
University of British Columbia
University of Victoria

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