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November 1, 2022

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Mauna Kea Education and Awareness

by Pua Case

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support our grantee partners, who are at the forefront of organizing and creating solutions that improve people’s lives and bring us closer to achieving a true democracy. The insight and perspective they provide is invaluable. The Q&A below was generated by Pua Case, Lead Coordinator and Project Director of Mauna Kea Education and Awareness.

MKEA’s mission is to educate and raise the awareness of communities in Hawai’i and beyond on the spiritual, historical, cultural, environmental, and political significance of Mauna Kea and provide cultural learning opportunities to everyone. MKEA is a FY21 Activist Collaboration & Care Fund grantee partner.

What brought you to this work? 

My name is Pua Case and my mountain is Mauna Kea. I am a mother of two daughters and a teacher, chanter and dancer, cultural practitioner, community resource, protector and activist. I am born and raised on Hawai’i, with native ancestry to the valleys of ‘Awini. I was raised by my grandmother and those who taught me about my birthplace and my responsibility to care for it. I know intimately of the relationship my people shared with the land and the sea. I have devoted my life to teaching and reconnecting people with their cultural traditions and practices. From the summit of Mauna Kea to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, my profound connection to both fuels my passion, shapes my prayers, and ignites my actions to support the efforts of native and local communities who are protecting their own resources, life ways and places.

In 2015, I facilitated the creation of Mauna Kea Education and Awareness (MKEA). The organization began in response to the proposed building of an 18-story Thirty Meter Telescope on the upper slopes of a mountain the native Hawai’ians view as sacred. It serves as the water source for the island and the landscape that practitioners use to maintain and sustain the life ways of their ancestors. 

How do you connect/collaborate in your community? Key partners?

MKEA has emerged as a constant presence for Mauna Kea, setting the momentum, creating the materials, and delivering the instruction necessary to spread the message of Mauna Kea’s sacredness and history, as well as its current status and the issues surrounding it. With the challenges faced from so many different sources, it has taken constant collaboration, organizing, energy, time, work and funding to ensure that the mauna is ever present in our minds and our hearts. We have realized that no one organization would be able to sustain and maintain the strength and perseverance it would take to halt the projects, the over-development, and the social injustices to the native people of Hawai’i.

MKEA team members have had the blessing, privilege and good fortune over the years to travel  on behalf of Mauna Kea spreading the message of the mountain to many parts of the world. Throughout our travels and our work, we have built international, national and local alliances, collaborations, relationships, support systems, and friendships with tribal nations, organizations and individuals.

What are you learning or what are you teaching? 

MKEA was formed around the mission to educate and raise the awareness of communities in Hawai’i and beyond on the spiritual, historical, cultural, environmental, and political significance of Mauna Kea and provide cultural learning opportunities to everyone from keiki to kupuna, residents, visitors and others concerned about Indigenous rights and responsibilities in order to create a platform for protection of sacred places and for social justice and positive change.

Throughout the duration of this work, MKEA has learned that this organization must continue to offer diverse, creative and constant opportunities and information in order to ensure that Mauna Kea maintains its role as the “pala” or sealant, beacon, unifier and symbol for Hawai’i and the world. 

Tell us about a recent victory or something you’re proud of. 

In 2019, MKEA applied for and received a Seventh Generation Thriving Women’s Grant to collaborate on a short film project, Standing Above the Clouds (SATC), which focused specifically on the women of the Mauna Kea movement. It aimed to provide a glimpse into the lives of three families of intergenerational women activists called Mana Wahine, or Kia’i, guardians of the mountain.

SATC premiered in November 2019 at the Hawai’i International Film Festival on O’ahu. The film has since been shown at over 40 film festivals all over the world. Many of the showings have been accompanied with panels or presentations featuring the Mana Wahine, women in the film, and film production crew. SATC was featured at the PBS Short Film Festival and was the Golden Reel Award Winner for Best Documentary Short, at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in 2020. SATC is currently being expanded into a feature film which should be released in 2023. 

What do you need from funders or how can people help? 

MKEA is grateful to all of the funders who have believed in and supported the vision, mission and objectives carried through by the circle of contributors who have enabled this organization to be a constant presence for Mauna Kea. The majority of funding obtained by MKEA is the result of extensive grant writing efforts and MKEA applies regularly for funds and fundraises for programs, events, presentations, direct instruction, lessons and materials.

What gives you hope? 

It’s our hope that MKEA will remain a pivotal force and a constant reminder through all means possible to inspire, activate, and engage the people not just in this moment but for the long term. For the last 12 years, individuals, organizations, native people, and allies have successfully halted all construction attempts, built a steadfast alliance with nations around the world with numbers that have grown by the thousands. Together we will continue to rise like a mighty wave. E Hū e Hū!