Growing up in Hilo I attended Ellison Onizuka Science Day practically every year, collecting “space swag” from the exhibits and classroom discussions. With my eye on the sky, I vowed to pursue a career involved in contributing to humanity’s collective knowledge of the universe.

NOTE: pick the correct link

Eventually, I graduated from the University of Hawaii Manoa’s engineering program, ready to pursue my dreams and conquer my final obstacle: finding a job. Looking to stay in Hawaii, my options came down to construction or military-related work. However my space-oriented career goals led me to applying for jobs on the mainland, and accepting that my dreams might never come true in Hawaii … until I got a call.

In college, through the Akamai  program, I interned at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope being built at the summit of Haleakala. In the summer after graduation I was contacted by a woman who saw me present my internship project and asked if I was interested in working for DKIST. I accepted her offer, excited that I could contribute to building the most powerful solar telescope in the world, in Hawaii! However, with this career came a new set of challenges.

Following the 2015 protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope, the word “telescope” had practically become a nasty swear word to be avoided in casual conversation. Fortunately my family supported my career, especially my Hawaiian grandmother and mother, but I found that I mostly avoided talking about work, especially when I could be targeted, challenged, or threatened.

I can’t describe how it feels to be working for a telescope, when I see commentary surface online from people, my people, who associate it with the desecration and rape of our beloved mauna. How these telescope eyesores are another corporate entity taking advantage of the Hawaiian people, yet here I am, a Native Hawaiian, working at a telescope.

I’ve felt ashamed, not for following my passion and pursuing my dreams, but that some Hawaiian people criticized telescopes and TMT for absurd reasons. Many discussed unrelated topics, such as the sovereign status of the Hawaiian kingdom, or chose to ignore facts and pursue a false narrative of  genocide, commercialized profit, militant weaponry, pollution and desecration.

The evening sky as seen from Haleakala.

Kauionalani Onodera

Mauna Kea is our piko, that which connects our land and sky, and TMT opponents claim that telescope construction is desecration. But I think telescopes maintain the sanctity of the mauna, worshipping the sky through observation and servicing a goal of bringing humankind closer to understanding creation of life in the universe. It isn’t traditional but neither were the ahu erected on the mauna, which didn’t diminish their sanctity to those who built it.

For my opinions I may be criticized and attacked, but I cannot stay silent and must also fight for what I believe in. I don’t want to be afraid to say “Imua TMT” and want everyone to proceed with respect, on the common ground that we want what is best for Hawaii’s future. It isn’t Hawaiians versus desecration. It isn’t a war on culture and science. It isn’t an issue where only Native Hawaiians get to have a say because we are no longer the only ones who live here.

The author on the mauna.

TMT was legally approved as determined by the current governing body of Hawaii, and saying that we were overthrown in an unsavory manner by a foreign party, much like how Kamehameha conquered and united the islands, is irrelevant.

If Hawaii continues to be haunted by the past and we can’t progress into the future, we will continue this trend of commercial exploitation of natural resources for tourism. TMT can blaze a path both for science and Hawaii with money allocated to education and lease on Mauna Kea and the removal and decommissioning of existing telescopes. These conditions show that TMT listened to legitimate concerns of the people and have earned the right to stay in Hawaii by proving that its presence benefits astronomy, education, and our economy.

It isn’t Hawaiians versus desecration. It isn’t a war on culture and science.

Some people will never sway from their beliefs, and will maintain their constitutional right to protest, or challenge the law by literally creating roadblocks to the project. I won’t scream and shout at those who disagree with me, or threaten them into silence. I value sincere discussion on opposing viewpoints, even if I haven’t changed someone’s mind at the end of the day, I know they tried understanding my views, and vice versa.

I hope I’ve offered a local girl’s perspective on the issue to those on the fence about the project. Finally I want to recognize the silent supporters and want to acknowledge my appreciation for your continued support.

I am looking forward to the completion of this project, and will continue to look skyward toward a bright future with the prospect that one day I might contribute to TMT myself.

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