I spend a lot of my time, and a lot of my life, trying to find the places of connection and dissonance in Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality. Being Native Hawaiian, kanaka maoli, I have always been intrigued with how my ancestral legends of our earth mother Papahanaumoku and sky Father Wakea are similar or different to the book of Genesis in the Bible. I want to know how these fit, and how my brain and my heart can hold them both as being true and real and important. Never has the relationship between my two belief systems been so sharply focused as now, with the battle over Mauna-a-Wakea in my home, on the Moku o Keawe.
Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain, has been in the news a lot recently, because of protests against a new telescope scheduled to be built there. This is the TMT, the Thirty Meter Telescope, with funding from many mainland and international investors who want to explore the depth and the breadth of our skies. The people who are staying vigilant on Mauna Kea, the protectors, are trying to preserve the Mauna as a piko point – a genesis, a point of connection for kanaka maoli to the earth, to one another, and to wao Akua, realm of the Gods.
I have been involved in this movement to protect our sacred site from being dug into, and carved out, for an eighteen story high building. Mauna Kea is close to where I live, and I look to its often snow-capped peaks out of my bedroom window. The importance of connecting with this “We are Mauna Kea” movement has been not only to firmly re-root myself in my culture, and learn more about the mo’olelo, legends, of my ancestors, but also to be a part of a large group of Hawaiians claiming our identity and place in our world. This scale of protest, with this level of participation, has not happened before in my generation, or with this many young people stepping into the places our kupuna have held for us.
A particularly poignant moment of connection between my faith and my heritage came for me on Maundy Thursday. After a few days of warning to the group from the police about blocking the access road up the mountain, we knew there were going to be arrests. These arrests began on Maundy Thursday. My mom and I were confined to working on our farm that morning, but headed up Mauna Kea as soon as the cow and goats were milked and the other animals fed. By the time we got up there, the first round of arrests had happened, and the protectors were continuing up the mountain, with arrests for “blocking” and “obstruction” happening along the way. After speaking to a police officer, we heard there was a second van coming down the mountain, and we decided to follow them to post bail. As the unmarked, beat up red van came down the winding road, those of us by the visitors center stood and chanted for our warriors. Most of us were crying, so frustrated and deeply sad at this seeming criminalization of being native. In standing up for our birthright, for our belly button connection to God, we were being handcuffed and given criminal records. “Hewa”, my brain told me. This is wrong.
We followed the van to Hilo, and heard the chants and singing from the holding cells, full of brave men and women who took it upon themselves to protect the mountain, even to the point of jeopardizing their jobs. Bail was set for each person at $250, and one by one we did the paperwork to bail them out, trying to spare them the indignity of sitting overnight in a cell. As others heard that my mom was handling money, we were handed $5, $10, $20 crumpled and pulled out of back pockets and car consoles, everyone pooling together and giving what they could. On Maundy Thursday, we listen to a lesson about Jesus’ servitude to His disciples. He humbles himself and washes the feet of those who know Him as their teacher. The connection to this idea was so strong, watching those who had humbled themselves in service to their mountain and their connection to creation experienced through it – they were serving God. Soft tears fell down my cheeks most of that day, for my people, for my land, for what hard work it is to try to uphold my baptismal covenant – for the feeling of helplessness that crumples me at God’s feet, asking only for help.
With this movement in mind, I embarked for New York City, to attend first the Anglican Indigenous Network gathering and then the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I wanted to be able to leverage my voice, to make this trip mean something for the people who I left behind on Mauna Kea – to bring their voices, my brothers and sisters, with me. I found at the UN a more meaningful connection to the work of the Church than I anticipated. The more methodology was talked about, the more I understood the points of connection between what happens at General Convention, and why it is important. I also felt strongly the call of our baptismal covenant, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”.
In God there are no divisions – no indigenous and white, no male and female, no gay and straight – we are all His people, His children, His beloved. The Church is called to stand in witness to the injustices we see in our world – not because desecrating sacred sites, or climate change, or racism are “Indigenous Issues” – but because they are issues that we are ALL living with the effects of, and we will not be a healthy body of Christ unless we address them.
I am proud to be part of a church that seeks to engage the Christ in all persons through forums like the United Nations. We are actively doing the work of Christ by being in the room, bearing witness to pain and trying to soothe it. We are actively loving our neighbors as ourselves by addressing the systemic racism and injustices that have been part of our policy and structure for far too long. And we are actively becoming instruments of God’s peace and reconciliation by enabling young people such as myself, to be at the UN, as a witness to Christ to advocate for my people. I do this work in the hopes that my children will inherit a better world, where relationships to earth are held as sacred, and they are healing instead of broken. I am deeply thankful to have been given this opportunity. Mahalo piha.