The debate over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has drawn fierce divisions across Hawaii. Misinformation has clouded both sides of the debate. Yet, one thing remains true. Mauna a Wakea must be protected from further encroachment. Thirteen telescopes, among which several are no longer operational, have already left permanent scars at the summit.
TMT, which boasts itself to be the largest telescope in the world, will leave an even greater mark on what is considered one of the most sacred places in Oceania. TMT, along with the University of Hawaii, have long promised the co-existence of science and culture atop Mauna a Wakea. Yet, such promises overlook the fundamental issues at the heart of the TMT debate. Desecration does not equate to stewardship, co-existence, or respect that Hawaiian and their ancestors deserve.
The Ku Kiai movement to protect the Mauna is not inherently anti-science, as many have charged. Being against TMT does must not discredit the ingenuity of Hawaiians to understand the cosmos. Hawaiians have a rich history of technological innovation and relationship with the universe. It is vital that this history is not co-opted and appropriated to support TMT’s agenda to desecrate Mauna a Wakea in the spirit of “progress.”
Money will never justify the desecration of sacred places. Hawaii has long been subject to the benefits of capitalism. Economic growth and scientific progression have been used to solidify the role of the state in policing Mauna a Wakea and the indigenous bodies that fight to protect it. Laws to protect property uphold the systematic dispossession of indigenous peoples. The Board of Land and Natural Resources has enacted emergency rules to prevent “trespassing” on the Mauna. The BLNR and Gov. David Ige passed such laws during the last demonstrations four years ago to limit access to the summit of Mauna a Wakea. By making Hawaiians trespassers on their own land, the state uses its policing mechanisms to fence out indigenous bodies, all in the name of protecting property and profit.
The state continues to refuse to acknowledge the many voices, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian, that have called for the protection of Mauna a Wakea. Still, the voices continue to carry on, beyond Hawaii and into places that have long witnessed the desecration of their own ancestral homelands. Ku Kiai has long held the support of other indigenous peoples from Aotearoa, Tahiti, to indigenous nations on the continental United States.
As of Wednesday, July 17, over 30,000 people had signed a petition calling for the protection of Mauna a Wakea. That number continues to rapidly increase. Mauna a Wakea deserves to be protected, regardless of one’s opinion on Hawaiian sovereignty, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and other highly contested debates. This is a human rights issue, wherein all people deserve to the right to protect their ancestors from harm.
As someone who is not Hawaiian, I ask you to stand in solidarity with Kanaka Maoli and their kupuna who have worked tirelessly to defend their homelands and their Mauna from further desecration and expropriation. We all have a responsibility to protect and respect the land and people where we live.
Take time to educate yourself and others on the importance of the Mauna and why people are willing to protect it with their life. TMT is not an ally of those who live in Hawaii. It uses the state’s law enforcement, many of whom are Hawaiian, to force the construction of its telescopes. There are many alternatives available to the Thirty Meter Telescope, including other locations, such as the Canary Islands. There is no alternative for Mauna a Wakea and its ancestors. It is of and belongs to the Hawaiian people.
Chase Benbow, of Kailua-Kona, is currently a graduate student at UH Manoa studying indigenous history and settler colonialism.