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Sunday, January 08, 2017
Native Hawaiian Astronomers Testify in Support of Telescope
By News Release @ 2:11 PM :: 5186 Views :: Hawaii County , Higher Education, OHA


From TMT International Observatory, January 5, 2017

Two local astronomers of Native Hawaiian ancestry testified at today’s contested case hearing in Hilo to show their support for the TMT project, as well as the connection between today’s astronomy and ancient Hawaiians.

Drs. Heather Kaluna and Paul Coleman took the witness stand to explain how their astronomy work has simultaneously enriched their professional and personal lives. Both also testified that they have benefited from being able to use the existing observatories on Maunakea in Hawaii as part of their studies and work.

Kaluna, born and raised in Pahoa, spent her first semester of college at the University of Hawaii-Manoa in 2002. After taking a pair of astronomy and physics courses that semester, “I immediately fell in love with astronomy and decided to pursue the astronomy degree at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, which was the only place in the islands that offered an undergraduate degree at that time,” she testified.

Heather said her first experience with Maunakea was a field trip to the mountain in 2003. “It was the first time I went up to the mountain,” she said. “The mountain felt so different from the rest of the island.”

Kaluna also served as an intern under the Keaholoa STEM program, which was designed to provide research and training opportunities for minority students and also educate participants on local cultural perspectives. She received her Bachelors of Arts in Physics and Mathematics in the spring of 2008, and was accepted shortly after into the University of Hawaii-Manoa astronomy program, where she studied water on asteroids and trying to understand a possible source of Earth’s water. As a graduate student, she conducted many observations using the UH 2.2m, Subaru, Keck, Gemini and IRTF telescopes in Hawaii.

She testified that she eventually found her own personal balance between science and culture: It was during her graduate studies that she developed a relationship with the mountain, giving offerings and prayers on the mountain. At the same time, her father was involved in the construction of the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope, while her relatives work at the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea and for the TMT project.

“I see Maunakea as a special place that allows us to understand and study our origins,” Kaluna said. “As one’s origins and genealogy are critical aspects of Hawaiian culture, I view the pursuit of astronomy on Maunakea to be a beautiful blend of culture and science.”

The second testifier, Paul Coleman, took the long route around the globe to eventually study the stars on Maunakea.

An astrophysicist with the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, Coleman graduated from St. Louis High School on Oahu and earned various science degrees from the University of Notre Dame and University of Pittsburgh.

After unsuccessfully applying for astronomy positions back in Hawaii upon graduation, he was hired by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. As the years went by, “the record of my work and experience, papers published got better and better.” He then learned the Netherlands was one of the partner countries of the UK telescopes located on Maunakea.

“This finally meant that I could also apply for time for those telescopes,” Coleman said. “I used to joke that I had to go almost to the other side of the Earth in order to be able to use the telescopes in Hawaii because the competition for telescope time was so tough.”

Coleman said his Native Hawaiian roots come from three main families in Kohala, Hawaii; Oahu; and Kaanapali, Maui. He claims his maternal lineage can be traced back to Mele Makini (4th great tutu), who was related to Hawaiian royalty King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani.

Coleman began his own research on cultural significance of Maunakea, talking with his Tutu and other elders who spent many hours at the high altitudes on Mauna Loa and Maunakea).

“From those sources, I learned some of the stories of the mountain and the special relationship of Poliahu and her sisters,” he testified. “I even published a paper in 1993 describing our astronomy project and the goddesses of the snow mantles. During those years, I talked to as many elders as I could find and read as much of the published materials on Maunakea that I could get my hands on.”

“Maunakea is a sacred place, but not so sacred that it cannot be used for the betterment of our people,” Coleman testified. “Allowing astronomy on Maunakea is definitely one of those things which brings benefits to Hawaiians. It provides proven economic benefit to Hawaii. It diversifies the economy so we do not have to rely on the economic vagaries of tourism. It instills pride, fosters educational benefits, and provides a source of income in a clean, green field.”

Both Kaluna and Coleman completed their testimony today and were the last of TMT’s expert witnesses. The contested case hearings will resume on Monday at the Grand Naniloa Hotel.



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