It’s about science, religion, the state, indigenous wisdom, the law, colonialism, and our environment yet it is about so much more. The embattled Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Big Island of Hawaii has brought forth some very important questions that are now being discussed globally. In this article we will look at a brief background, dissenting opinions, the current legal case and why this is such a vital choice-point for humanity to address… in Hawai’i and beyond!
“We Aloha every one of you. Go home and tell the story to your families of your sacred places. Don’t let your children and your children’s children forget coz that’s when they’re gonna come and take it from you.” -Lanakila Mangauil, Native Hawaiian
Background: Though the telescope is a marvel of modern science, it has been proposed for a place held sacred to Hawaiians for millennia, Mauna Kea. We all witnessed the world grieve over Notre Dame as it burned yet this man-made place of worship is only a mere 850 years old in comparison. When measured from its base at the bottom of the ocean, Mauna Kea is taller than Mt. Everest. It is some of the newest land on the planet and rises above the ocean on one of the most remote island chains. In a dramatic and historic way, captured on camera in October of 2014, Native Hawaiians stopped the ground-breaking ceremony for the Thirty Meter Telescope. The video and short synopsis by Big Island Video News below sets a backdrop for what is happening now. Please watch the video!
The planned groundbreaking for the $1.4 billion dollar Thirty Meter Telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea was halted on Tuesday, when protesters made their way up the mountain to stop the proceedings.
Opponents of the TMT challenged the law and the state’s right to block the road, eventually blocking the road themselves. International dignitaries from TMT partner countries were delayed en route to the ceremony. Some officials, like Governor Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Billy Kenoi, never made it to the summit.
When event guests eventually made it to the summit area, organizers hastily arranged to go forward with the ceremony, but were not able to get underway before an irate Lanakila Mangauil stormed the TMT site — in his bare feet — halting the ceremony. Mangauil was eventually joined by supporters and together they stopped the groundbreaking.
The live broadcast was thrown into disarray by the many delays and interruptions.
TMT officials have not said whether or not they plan to reschedule the ceremony at a later date. -Big Island Video News
All sides enjoy the fruits of science. Astronomy is a wonderful quest for knowledge and all people, indigenous or not, have benefitted from observing our place in the cosmos. Many opponents of TMT are actually huge fans of science and astronomy. Therefore presenting the dispute over the placement of TMT on Mauna Kea as a battle between science vs. religion is actually a misrepresentation of what’s really happening.
Stewardship, Educational use, and Mismanagement: The story goes back all the way to 1964 when University of Hawaii first identified Mauna Kea as a prime site for astronomy. The Department of Land and Natural resources designated it as a Conservation District and in 1968 UH was granted a 65-year lease for 13,321 acres of land at the summit of Mauna Kea. Over the next decade numerous telescopes were built despite public opposition, and the permits were granted after the construction was complete.
By 1996 the trash and debris at the summit due to the observatories was so bad that the Sierra Club has to file a complaint to University of Hawaii and the state had to follow up with an audit of University of Hawaii’s (mis)management of the summit. Despite this, two more telescopes were built in the following year. So where does this leave us in 20 years when the 18 story-tall TMT is obsolete and an even larger 50 Meter Telescope is proposed?
“The University of Hawaii’s management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve is inadequate to ensure the protection of the natural resources within the reserve. …the university’s focus on pursuing its own interests has led to conditions and practices that have countered or weakened these processes. Because the university focused on developing Mauna Kea, it did not allocate sufficient resources to protect other natural resources on the summit.” -Audit of the Management of Mauna Kea and the Mauna Kea Science Reserve
Academia, Science, Religion, and State: Academia as a sanctuary for higher learning dates back to Plato in 350 BC. The dawn of Newtonian Science in the 1500’s set the stage for the Enlightenment Period which promised an era ruled by reason. Common Law, the foundation of most governing systems, was born out of a desire to collectively steward our natural resources, the Commons. Most religions hold love, service, and compassion as central tenants to living a sacred life.
Each of these institutions, uncorrupted, have the ability to bring people together for a common cause and to lift humanity to its’ highest expression of nobility. Each in their own way holds a promise to liberate us from barbarism yet we struggle with it still today. Power and money, not ethics or moral principle generally have the final say in our modern world.
How often do we see established power structures like academia, science, religion, and the state desecrating what they have been entrusted to preserve, protect, and exalt? Failing institutions are exemplified through witnessing polluted water, air, and land; many people homeless or without food; rampant war and the looting of natural resources; as well as the extinction of species and whole ecosystems.
Fast Forward to 2019: Despite setbacks and attempts to move TMT to other potential sites, Gov. David Ige announced on June 20 that the permit to build has been approved. He thus issued a notice for the project to proceed. At 3am in the morning before the announcement, multiple law enforcement agencies dismantled structures and shrines built by Native Hawaiians and Kahookahi Kanuha was arrested on the mountain.
“we can show the world exactly what the state of Hawaii thinks about Hawaiians and how they treat them, how they treat our culture, and how they treat our spiritual beliefs and practices, which is basically to treat it like a bulldozer and just ram through all of it.” -Kahookahi Kanuha
On July 8, opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court on Hawaii island. The lawsuit alleges that the state failed to require the developer post a security bond as required by the state’s 1977 plan for Mauna Kea. A bond ensures that the land can be returned back to its original state even if the project goes bankrupt in the middle of construction. TMT has not yet secured the full $1.4 billion budget required to complete the project. Gov. David Ige, Attorney General Clare Connors, state Land Board chairperson Suzanne Case, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory and others are listed as defendants on the lawsuit. Despite all of the above today Governor David Ige announced that construction on TMT will begin the week of July 15 (in 4 days). Protests are anticipated and the National Guard is being called in for road closures to protect the heavy construction equipment being brought to the construction site.
“By failing to post the bond they have laid all financial liability on the People of Hawai‘i, in the event (that)TMT doesn’t get full funding and this is especially important because they don’t have full funding now. That is the purpose of requiring a bond in the first place — so the people don’t get stuck with the bill.” -Kealoha Pisciotta, Mauna Kea Hui Leader
It is indeed true that when we forget our own connection with our heritage and what is sacred that these things can be easily taken away from us. This pattern was enforced through colonization when natives were taken from their families, put in Indian Schools, had their hair cut, and were not allowed to speak their language. The same is even true of the indigenous people of Europe who were conquered by Rome and the Church who called them heathens and no longer allowed their ancestral ways.
It is time for all people of faith to come together and put the sacred before the almighty dollar. -Jim Albertini, Malu ‘Aina Center For Non-Violent Education & Action
Hawaii is the newest land on the planet. Mauna Kea the tallest mountain when measured from the sea floor. Hawaii is the last place humans found on their migrations as they populated the planet. It is a place where people from all over the world come to celebrate and learn from the rich culture of Aloha. It is a place of profound natural beauty. Therefore it is no surprise that this issue represents a larger choice-point for people everywhere. A crossroads in history.
It IS about science, religion, the state, indigenous wisdom, the law, colonialism, and our environment yet it is a metaphor for the human condition. There is a popular story amongst tribes of North and South America called the Eagle and Condor Prophecy. According to this legend there will come a day when science (symbolized by Eagle) and spirituality (symbolized by Condor) will learn to work in balance. In that day the Eagle and Condor will fly together and the world will know peace.
Are we ready to take an evolutionary leap as a species and think with an integrated mind about our current situation? Why are so much of our resources and energy going towards “progress” when we are barely taking care of, or even remember what is sacred? Why should we be looking to the stars for answers when we are destroying the eco-systems that sustain all life here on our earth? My hope is that people everywhere will start by looking within themselves to begin the remembering process. We can have our head in the stars, but home is where the heart is.