Campaigner Pua Case travels for solidarity and support

Text Ikaika Hussey
Art Malia Hulleman
Thread Water Rights

Travelers bring all variety of gear and gifts when sojourning abroad. Summit asked native rights campaigner Pua Case how she and her daughter Hāwane Rios (on the cover of Issue 3.0) approach international travel and what propels them.

Pua Case (PC): In recent years, because of the situation with Mauna Kea, I have traveled to the places where people have responded and supported the mauna in different ways—either by coming to Hawai‘i to pray and stand on the mountain with us, or through social media or who have prayed for us around their fires and around their water. So I’ve visited those who have, in some way, connected to Mauna Kea because of similar situations going on in their homelands. That has determined where my Hāwane and I—and the other members of the Mauna Kea ‘ohana—have directed our alliances.

There’s the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe in the Oakland area; the Winnemem Wintu of Mt. Shasta in California—whose people are praying for the return of their salmon and who are making an incredible effort to take charge of their water system—and the Oak Flat Apache warriors from Arizona who traveled to Mauna Kea with their leader. And why they travel here, is the same reason we go elsewhere. They travel because they come to pray on the mountain. They believe this will strengthen them. And when we travel to another people’s homeland, we are doing the same.

We are gathering strength, we are learning about sacred connections, and we are making our alliances strong, so that when the call goes out—as it has recently at Standing Rock and the Sacred Stone Camps—there’s no hesitation. We do for others as they do for us, because now is the time when we need the numbers, we need the prayers, we need the united effort to support one another; to actually proceed in a manner in which we see that what we need to achieve is, in fact, achievable. That is why I go to these places. I want to show them that I support them, because what they stand for is so integral and essential to the next seven generations, that where else would I be? And when they see that I stand with them, I know that it makes them strong because that’s what it does for me when they stand with us. It makes me stronger because I know that we are not alone.

Summit (S): What do you bring with you?

PC: When I travel to a place, I am thinking about what will show that I honor and respect a people that I am connecting to and that I have made a promise to support. The reason I do this is because many of these people have not ever been respected. They have not been valued in the way that they should be: for what they know, for the indigenous wisdom that they still possess. And they have not been given the recognition of surviving the atrocities that they have had to endure over generations. So when I come upon their homeland, I enter in a manner that is humble—on my knees if I have to—but also full of power, because that is why I am there. I am there to support them with every ounce of strength that I possess.

As a native person, I am also looking at protocol and that determines, partly, what I am bringing. I think about what I am wearing, firstly. When I enter formally, like at Standing Rock when I have to walk between all those flags that are flying high from every nation—including the Hawaiian nation—the first thing I do is adorn myself with regalia that is befitting the honor that I would like to show them. I’m going to bring sacred objects that remind me of my own conduct and what would be expected of me. So I will take something from Mauna Kea to remind me to stand strong as a mountain, to remember the conduct that the mountain would demand and expect from me, which would be my highest and my best. And I would bring things that would assure people that I know why I am there, and I know how to interact with them.

Pua Case (left) shares a truck bed with other mana wahine on the slopes of Mauna Kea during the blockade | Te Rawhitiroa Bosch

Then, of course, we bring gifts from our homeland; gifts that we give to those to whom we should give, and in a manner in which our ancestors would to show respect and honor. It could be foods, it could be regalia, it could be a sacred object that we’ve brought from home. But that is the expectation of a people that still practice the protocol and know what it is to exchange. We bring our chants and our dances because that is what we universally know that must occur between our people.

The intangibles that we bring are our prayers and our ceremonies. We are now at a time that we should be teaching our youth enough prayers, chants and songs that no matter where they go, they will be recognized as youth who know what it is to exchange with their indigenous relatives. We should be also schooling our youth on the magic and the power and the necessity of prayer. Before we make a move, we pause and we regroup, and before we take that next step, we put our ancestors before us, behind us and on all sides, and that can only occur through prayer and ceremony. If we neglect to teach the upcoming generation those things, if we teach them just to stand without the prayer and ceremony, then they stand alone. But if we teach them that through prayer and ceremony, they will never stand alone, then we have a real hope and a real chance to change things for the betterment of our people. Those are the things we bring.

S: Can you talk about the immediate connection between Mauna Kea and Standing Rock?

PC: The people at Standing Rock and many of the people at all the other places that we have mentioned have been standing for longer than we have, and many of them have gone through more in their histories and in the current times than we ever will—their struggles and challenges; the racism that they face, we will never know to that extent. And I have stood with them and I have felt what they go through. But what Mauna Kea has done for them is, that through witnessing the manner in which we have stood—and we are certainly not perfect—but with the connection that we have with the sacredness of the mountain and the schooling and the lessons that the mountain has provided for us, it has taught us very quickly how to stand in a manner that is in respect and honor of the wao akua (place of the gods), of those of all power above us and beyond us. And because of that, it has inspired our relatives to stand in that manner as well.

Because we stood in prayer and ceremony and stood in a kapu aloha—in a manner that was not fueled by rage or anger or opposition to something but, rather, for something sacred—we have inspired movements. We have inspired the world to take a look at how we did what we did on the mountain in so short a time. And, granted, we may need to do that again in the time upcoming, and I hope that we will do it even better. I hope that our self-discipline will be improved upon; and I hope that when we stand, we will one day just be able to stand in complete silence and prayer and ceremony; and not need to even say one word.

But because of all of that, we have been watched and studied and looked at on video; every moment of what we have done is somewhere on YouTube. So now, in 2017, with President Trump’s order that the pipeline proceed while knowing that already there is a movement—the audacity of that, the disrespect that comes from that. This is how we have instructed our relations in the Dakotas—we have said pause. We pause and we let the tribal people of that place work it out and figure out what they are going to do. And we, with no judgement, will just hold that space for them because that is what we would hope they would do for us.

In the end, we who have dedicated and committed ourselves to our relatives—and it’s not every Hawaiian, it’s not every native person—but we who have chosen this path will, in the end, stand with the water protectors in whatever they decided to do. If they resist, in whatever way that we can, we will resist with them. The time has come when we, as Hawaiians, cannot be passive any longer, whether it's in defense of our own waters or in support of our relatives elsewhere. Because if we don’t stand, I’m not sure we’re going to make it to the next seven generations. So this is the time when we must be sure and we must be brave; when we must do more than we ever thought we would. And we must do it in the best way that we can. And that is the beauty of the path we chose. And that is just the way it is.


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