Construction of telescope on Hawaiian volcano faces opposition from Sproul Plaza protest

Brianna Luna/Staff

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Singing and chanting echoed across Sproul Plaza on Wednesday morning when about 25 people took to the Mario Savio Steps to protest the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, which is being constructed on top of the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.

Wednesday was Mauna Kea Awareness Day, and the protest in Berkeley was one of many that took place across the United States and Canada.

The TMT, a new class of extremely large telescopes, will allow scientists to see farther into space with more clarity, according to the TMT’s website. The UC system has a share in this project, along with the California Institute of Technology and national institutes from Japan, China, India and Canada.

One reason that the TMT is facing opposition, particularly from Native Hawaiians and those who stand in solidarity, is that Mauna Kea is viewed as a sacred and spiritual place.

Sheridan Noelani Enomoto, a Native Hawaiian and community organizer/policy advocate for Greenaction, described how the Hawaiian word for land, “’āina,” means much more than that; it means “the one who sustains us.”

“We need to honor and take care of the one who sustains us,” Enomoto said.

Samantha Tamale, the executive director for the Indigenous and Native Coalition Recruitment and Retention Center, or INC-RRC, said the astronomy department would not meet with protesters Wednesday morning.

“Science disconnects with humanity and what is sacred,” said Bria Puanani Tennyson, a campus senior, and a member of the INC-RRC.

There are environmental considerations with the TMT, but a report from the Hawaii state Board of Land and Natural Resources, or BLNR, addressed these concerns. The BLNR stated that the TMT will not pollute groundwater, damage historic sites, harm rare plants or animals or release toxic materials.

According to Dr. Kalama O Ka ‘Aina Niheu, a doctor with the Mauna Medic Healers Hui and co-founder of the Standing Rock Medic + Healer Council, the TMT will “dwarf every other telescope up there,” standing 18 stories above the ground and two stories below.

Opponents of the TMT have filed prior lawsuits, which appealed a construction permit for the telescope issued by the BLNR, but the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the permits in October 2018, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Despite the legal affirmation, protests have continued against the telescope’s construction.

Niheu commented on the current mobilization of the Kānaka Maoli, or Native Hawaiian, people who are willing to stand and physically block the treacherous and long road to the top of the mountain. She said the situation may be “gearing up to have a similar confrontation to Standing Rock.”

“The protectors of the mountain will never stop fighting,” Niheu said.

Contact Marlena Tavernier-Fine at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarlenaTF_DC.