UConn’s NACP presents ‘Standing Above The Clouds’: Protecting the sacred mountain

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The Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) teamed up with the Asian/Asian American Cultural Program (AsACC) on Nov. 18 to present a film screening in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.“Standing Above The Clouds,” a 2018 documentary that follows the lives of Native-Hawaiian mother-daughter activists working  to protect Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain in Hawaii County, from the construction of a 30-meter telescope. 

Since July 2019, protesters, consisting of young women, have been standing up against the police to protect the sacred land. Kapulei Flores, a photographer, says their community is their sanctuary. Many of the protesters fear the police will arrest yhe young women, but following the footsteps of the older women empowers them to stand with Mauna. 

After the documentary screening, the NACP welcomed Pua Case, a Native Hawaiian and Wimea teacher. Amber Espinoas-Jones, an independent producer and stage manager from Oakland, California  took part in this film, motivated by capturing motherhood and sisterhood throughout this movement.  

After the documentary screening, the NACP welcomed Pua Case, a Native Hawaiian and Wimea teacher. Amber Espinoas-Jones, an independent producer and stage manager from Oakland, California  took part in this film, motivated by capturing motherhood and sisterhood throughout this movement. Photo provided by author.

“It is important to us to get this film out to be used and get awareness about the Mauna,” Espinoas-Jones said. “We are also very close to these women in a beautiful way.” 

Case said that though Hawaii is a great tourist destination, tourists have no idea what is going on within the community.  

“For the past 10 years we have been standing for the protection of Mauna Kea,” Case said. “Everybody wants something and we are constantly more and more now having to safeguard and protect our island home. We function as really a tourist industry here and when you come here you’re going to see the most beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, mountains, valleys, rivers. But underlying all of that are people who come from fierce warriors.” 

The 18-story, 30-meter telescope project was launched by five countries: Japan, China, India, Canada and the United States. The observatory for this project was planned to be built on the island. There were 13 stories of the construction documented by the film, built without the community knowing. Six petitioners, including Case’s family, decided to stand up against the project. The project was successfully delayed. 

“With developers and lots of time with the state government, it’s already a done deal,” Case said. “The system is not set up for Native people to be successful, or even local people. But do you stop because that’s true? No. You have to exhaust every avenue at the end because at the end, at least you delayed it for longer than you thought possible.”  

The event was welcomed by UConn students, faculty, and students from other universities.  

“I learned that you have to stand behind what you believe in,” Richard Zheng, a fifth-semester management information systems major, said. “You are the living warrior of the things you believe in, so you need to fight for that. You must be present with your beliefs in order to stop people from tearing it down.”  

Zheng decided to come to the event because it was important to learn about other cultures. 

“I learned that you have to stand behind what you believe in…You are the living warrior of the things you believe in, so you need to fight for that. You must be present with your beliefs in order to stop people from tearing it down.” 

Richard Zheng, a Fifth-Semester Management Information Systems Major

“Being Asian American, I hear often about things happening in China,” Zheng said. “Although it is very important to know what is happening in your homeland, it is equally as important to know about others and how we can help each other to fight for our beliefs.” 

Vinh Do, a fifth-semester chemical engineering major, shared their favorite part of the filming: “learning about the names of the lands that I’m living on and the struggle of the Native Hawaiians, especially the elders who are trying to protect their worshipping lands and mountains from the greedy government,” Do said. 

“Standing Above The Clouds” was a project that took nearly a year to put together. Director Jalena Keane-Lee, who was unable to attend the screening hosted by the cultural program, and Epinosa-Jones expressed the need to bring light to this movement. The film premiered at the Hawai’i International Film Festival in November 2019 as a part of a showcase dedicated to Mauna Kea films from a Native’s perspective.  

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