There are many strong opinions about the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, project on Maunakea on Hawaiʻi Island, and it is important that everyone know the facts. Unfortunately, an April 2 op-ed by members of UC Berkeley’s Indigenous Americas Working Group calling for the UC system to stop funding construction of the TMT contained inaccurate information that needs a response.
The op-ed states, “In the state of Hawaiʻi, this proposed project ‘does not meet the eight criteria of state law (HAR 13-5-30) to construct in a conservation district.’ ” That statement contradicts the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruling in October 2018 that affirmed the state land board’s 2017 decision to issue a conservation district use permit for the telescope. In its majority 4-1 opinion, the court determined that the state followed the law in approving the project.
The op-ed also incorrectly implies that all Native Hawaiians oppose TMT. A nonprofit Native Hawaiian organization from Hawaiʻi Island called Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities Inc., or PUEO, publicly supports TMT and was a party in the recently contested case hearing and Supreme Court case. Its members, along with a number of other Native Hawaiians, publicly support the project. A 2016 poll by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser found that 46 percent of Native Hawaiians on Hawaiʻi Island supported TMT, 59 percent of all Hawaiʻi Island residents favored TMT construction, and 89 percent agreed there should be a way for science and Hawaiian culture to coexist on Maunakea.
To that point, the op-ed writers incorrectly state that TMT “effectively disregards native Hawaiian voices.” Putting aside the Native Hawaiian voices such as PUEO that support the project, Kahu Kū Mauna is a community-based council created in 2000 made up of volunteers from the Native Hawaiian community that advises on the management of Maunakea.
The op-ed also incorrectly stated that “to conduct astronomical research — without considering the astronomical knowledge that Native Hawaiians have been practicing on this land for centuries — is disrespectful.” In fact, the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawaiʻi, or UH, at Hilo opened in 2006 with a mission to honor Maunakea in all its dimensions, exploring science and culture as different facets of the same reality. ‘Imiloa is one of the few science centers in the world founded for the explicit purpose of public education on contemporary science within the context of an indigenous culture. Hawaiʻi is also the first place in the world to weave traditional indigenous practices into the process of officially naming astronomical discoveries, thanks to a unique educational program called A Hua He Inoa, a collaborative effort by ʻImiloa.
Whether you oppose or support TMT and astronomy on Maunakea, we encourage everyone to seek out the facts. For UH, it is a privilege to be the state’s lead for astronomy and resource management on Maunakea.
This began in the 1960s at the request of Hawai‘i Island residents and with the support of the state to advance scientific knowledge utilizing Hawai‘i’s natural resources and to diversify the economies of the island and the state. With this privilege comes the responsibility to mālama, or care, for Maunakea, a wahi pana, or storied place.
We know UH needs to continue its path for a stronger emphasis on cultural practice, history and education. The focus has been on caring for cultural and natural resources and ensuring safe public access, especially for cultural practitioners. Balanced stewardship is absolutely essential, and UH envisions a stronger educational program on Maunakea for visitors, the public and those who work on the mauna around culture as well as the environment, history, astronomy and science.
In 2017, the UH Board of Regents formally adopted a resolution to affirm UH’s commitment to the collaborative stewardship of Maunakea’s cultural, natural, educational and scientific resources in a manner that integrates traditional indigenous knowledge and modern science. The resolution directs the university to work with the state, the county of Hawai‘i, Native Hawaiian organizations and the community to achieve this aim. It also directs the university to increase the engagement of Native Hawaiian students, Hawai‘i Island residents and residents of the state of Hawai‘i in the areas of astronomy, celestial navigation and exploration through an active educational and outreach program. UH stands open and ready to collaborate with all.
Dan Meisenzahl is the director of communications at the University of Hawaiʻi.