US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



Mauna Kea: Violations of Indigenous Peoples Rights

Mar 21, 2019

During the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the USHRN co-sponsored a side-event entitled “Indigenous Women: Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. The event was moderated by USHRN Executive Director Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez. Two of the program's speakers, Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California, and Pua Case, Program Coordinator for Mauna Kea Education and Awareness of Hawaiʻi, presented on the human rights violations connected to the proposed construction of a 18-story observatory on Mauna Kea, a mountain sacred to indigenous Hawaiians.

The proposed observatory would be taller than any existing building on Hawai‘i Island and would further devastate the cultural landscape and open space of the northern plateau that includes hundreds of Hawaiian cultural sites and shrines. The project is led by corporate and foreign interests of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory LLC including the University of California, California Institute of Technology, and the nations of Canada, China, India, and Japan.

Indigenous peoples have always been connected to and have held reverence for their mountains. Kanaka Maoli, indigenous Hawaiians, hold great reverence for their holy mountain, Mauna Kea, also known as Mauna a Wākea (Mountain of Sky Father). Mauna Kea is a place of cultural significance for Kanaka Maoli, a place of spiritual connection with one’s ancestors, a sacred temple.  

Over 50 years of astronomy development has inflicted substantial, significant, and adverse impacts upon Mauna Kea with the present 22 structures built by multinational corporations. The project, dubbed “TMT” (Thirty Meter Telescope), would also negatively impact and interfere with the cultural and religious practices of Kanaka Maoli. This is a violation of the standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), such as articles 12 (1) and 25 regarding spiritual practices, and article 32 (2) on free, prior, and informed consent. Furthermore, TMT does not meet the requirements of Hawai’i state law HAR 13-5-30 for construction on lands zoned “conservation,” which Mauna Kea is. This is also a violation of UNDRIP article 29 (1), which focuses on conservation and the protection of the environment.

As articulated in the UNDRIP articles 11 and 12, the United States, including the state of Hawai’i, is obligated to respect the cultural and religious customs of indigenous Hawaiians. The efforts undertaken by the state of Hawai’i and all parties involved in advancing the TMT project, also run contrary to General Recommendation 23 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which among others, calls upon State parties (like the US) to ensure that “indigenous communities can exercise their rights to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs…” The construction of TMT on Mauna Kea is in direct violation of these international legal norms and would be an injustice against Kanaka Maoli as well as all indigenous peoples the Declaration aims to protect.


Source: Mauna Kea Education and Awareness -