An Open Letter to Telescope Protesters in Hawaii
Why astronomy on Mauna Kea is not a desecration but a duty.
by Dana MacKenzie, Nautilus, March 5, 2020 (excerpt)
…When you propose to shut down the TMT, you are proposing that we should shut our eyes to our own family. Your own family. This has nothing to do with being for or against science. It is not pono. It violates what I have learned about Hawaiian culture, that ohana comes first.
As you know, the astronomers have a plan B, to build the telescope in the Canary Islands. Gordon Squires, vice president for external affairs of the TMT, tells me that the effect will be to make the science take twice as long, because there are about half as many nights with good seeing on the Canary Islands. Still, the universe can wait. The one-celled organisms will still be there even if we take twice as long to find them.
I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about you, native Hawaiians. What will be the effect on you when you abandon your kuleana, your responsibility to Wakea? He brought you to this island and made you stewards of this unique mountain, the mountain you named after him. Mauna Kea is the umbilical cord joining earth to the stars. It is a place that Wakea has designated for looking up as well as for looking down. He could not entrust this place to anyone else. He had to choose gatekeepers who could look in both directions: a caretaking people who valued their connection to the earth, and a voyaging people who valued their connection to the stars. He would not want you to succeed in only half of your mission.
Suppose that, by the power of kapu aloha and the grace of the gods, you agree that my words are true. What then would I ask you to do? I would ask for only one change at first, small but profound. Over and over, the kia’i have referred to the TMT as a “desecration” of the sacred mountain. It is not, and the word should not be uttered again. Instead I ask you to acknowledge that the observatory will consecrate a small part of the mountain to a purpose intended by your own gods. Your mission is not to oppose this consecration, but to make sure that it is done right. Be pono, and make sure that the astronomers are pono too.
What do I mean by “doing it right”? A long list of things, some of which may not be easy. First, there should be native Hawaiian astronomers. Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, says that there are currently no native Hawaiian astronomers at any of the 13 telescopes on the mountain. This is a scandal. Though there are many native Hawaiian engineers doing outstanding work on the mountain, it is the astronomers who provide the vision, and they cannot fulfill their job without native Hawaiian eyes.
When I call for native Hawaiian astronomers, it is of course the responsibility of the astronomy community, but it is also your responsibility. Brialyn Onodera, a native Hawaiian engineer who works at one of the telescopes on Maui, wrote in the Honolulu Civil Beat that the protests have created a climate in which “telescope” has become a dirty word. (She is not the only one saying this; I have interviewed others.)
You, the kia’i, can reverse this message. You can teach native Hawaiian children that astronomy is a sacred responsibility (or kuleana) that has been given to your people. Teach your children that there are two types of astronomy, just as there are two types of hula. We have kahiko, done in the ancient style with no instruments except chanting and drums, and we have ‘auana, done in the modern style, with Western music and instruments. No one protests against hula ‘auana, or calls it a desecration. We all recognize that it is another valid expression of what it means to be Hawaiian. Likewise, you can encourage some of your children to become kahiko astronomers, practicing the ancient methods of navigation, while others become ‘auana astronomers, fulfilling their kuleana with the best instruments that Western science can devise. Both of these missions should be treated with equal respect.
Should you reverse your opposition to the TMT, a cause that some of you have given 10 years of your life to? I leave this choice to your own conscience. In any case, there is other work to be done. The Master Lease awarding management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve to the University of Hawaii will expire in 2033. It seems to me that any decision about individual facilities should wait until the issue of who will manage the mountain next is resolved. The kia’i deserve a place at the table, and I hope you will take it. You have earned the power to say no, but you have also earned something greater: the power to say yes.
This voyage of discovery, this quest to reunite the family of Wakea, will not be a short one. It will not end when TMT is built, or not built. It will not end when the Master Lease is renewed, or not renewed. The quest will last for centuries. All that we are asking, all that the gods are asking, and all that your children are asking, is for you to join us. At the helm, where you have always been….
read … An Open Letter to Telescope Protesters in Hawaii