On Saturday, protesters rallied at California Memorial Stadium for the “Protect Mauna Kea Rally” against the UC system’s involvement in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, in Hawaii and UC Berkeley football’s Polynesian Heritage Celebration.
Campus senior and student master of ceremonies at the rally Bria Tennyson said in an email that while the rally was directly related to Mauna Kea, the protest was also to raise awareness for the lack of support Pacific Islander students receive on campus.
“The rally occurred at the football game because the University decided to hold a “Polynesian Heritage Event,” while still funneling money to the TMT project in Hawaii,” said campus junior and protester Dylan Burgoon in an email. “The purpose of the rally was to draw attention to this hypocrisy and voice issues that Hawaiian and other indigenous students hold.”
According to Tennyson and Burgoon, Pacific Islander students at UC Berkeley have fought for a full-time student program director for Pacific Islander students and said the school has only given the Pacific Islander Initiative program manager, Angel Halafihi, a part-time appointment.
Tennyson added in an email that the politically correct term for the football event would have been Pacific Islander, not Polynesian.
“What I think has happened in Hawaii is that TMT has become a catalyst for much bigger conversations,” said Gordon Squires, the vice president of external relations and senior astronomer for the TMT. “I think that Native Hawaiian students in Berkeley and in California relate to issues of self-determination, sovereignty and the oppression of Hawaiian people … the much extinction of culture.”
According to the TMT website, the TMT is a new class of large telescopes that will allow researchers to look deeper into space.
In 2009, the TMT board selected the summit of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world, to be the construction site for the telescope.
“Mauna Kea is a religious site for Native Hawaiians,” Tennyson said in an email. “It is the site of our creation story.”
In 2007, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation committed $200 million to the UC system for the TMT project on Mauna Kea, with protests occurring later in 2014 and 2015 after the TMT groundbreaking ceremony.
In 2014, the UC system helped found the TMT International Observatory LLC, the nonprofit organization leading the telescope’s construction. In 2018, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the TMT project was valid and construction was scheduled to begin July 2019, which led to more protests against the project.
“We appreciate the input of the individuals and groups who have helped shape the evolution of TMT, and will continue working to ensure that the project — in its efforts to advance science and astronomy — will honor and respect the cultures and traditions of Hawaii,” UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email.