About the Author

Rich Matsuda

Rich Matsuda is the chief of Operations and External Relations at the W. M. Keck Observatory. Born in Honolulu, he has worked at the observatory and lived on Hawaii Island for 28 years. In 2021, he served on the State House of Representatives Mauna Kea Working Group.

During my 28 years working in astronomy on Mauna Kea, growing concern over the treatment of Mauna Kea turned into a deep chasm in our community over TMT. My initial reaction was defensiveness. My identity as a local-born engineer intending to do good through the pursuit of science was shaken.

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My great-grandfather came to Hawaii from Japan as a contract worker in sugar. After him, there have been five generations of mostly Asian and haole settlers, and Native Hawaiians, in my extended family. I use the term “settler” for those who came in modern times, in contrast with kanaka maoli genealogically connected to Hawaii for over a millennium.

My family is similar to many in Hawaii. While I love Hawaii’s vibrant mix of cultures, my conception of the melting pot we live in blurred my view of the devastating impacts of Hawaii’s colonization on kanaka maoli.

I have not experienced these impacts directly, though I have had intimate conversations with kanaka maoli anguished by dispossession from their ancestral lands and ways of life, and a history of erasure of their culture and language.

Anguished not only by what happened a century or two ago, but by stark disparities manifesting today: in health, education, housing, economic opportunity, criminal justice, and the exhausting struggle to defend Hawaiian identity.

I am left contemplating why a third-generation Japanese settler in Hawaii like me has had greater privilege than so many Native Hawaiians in their ancestral lands, which does not feel good or right.

After so much history, it seems so intractable, so frozen. Maybe that’s why some of us look the other way, allowing the inequities to persist.

‘Passion For Science’

I returned to Hawaii in the 1990s as a young engineer to join an incredible team constructing a revolutionary telescope that promised to peer deeper into the origins of the universe than ever before. Over the years, colleagues became like family.

Looking back, we feel immensely proud of astronomical discoveries made possible by Mauna Kea’s amazing natural qualities, and so valued by the world they garnered two Nobel Prizes. It has been rewarding to see discoveries made on Mauna Kea spark the public’s passion for science.

Roughly 500 employees at the Mauna Kea Observatories take part in astronomy’s technical, scientific, educational, and economic contributions in Hawaii.

Telescopes on Mauna Kea
Telescopes on Mauna Kea. Courtesy: Andrew Richard Hara

Based on my experiences, I strongly believe Mauna Kea astronomy is worth having and sharing with Hawaii and the world. But, it is clear we must change how astronomy is conducted going forward.

For the second half of 2021, I was Astronomy’s representative on the House of Representatives Mauna Kea Working Group, charged with developing recommendations for a new Mauna Kea management structure, paying particular attention to Native Hawaiian perspectives.

Were the discussions uncomfortable?

Yes, at times, but they were conducted with aloha and respect. There were also heartwarming moments of vulnerability and connection.

And, lots of learning. I thank the working group members for braving the uncomfortable, and thank those who led and facilitated our discussions with skill and grace.

Setting aside whether you agree with the recommendations or not, I offer positive suggestions for productive interaction going forward no matter what the eventual structure is.

I believe we should purposefully create more space for genuine dialogue between kanaka maoli with ancestral ties and kuleana to Mauna Kea and other major stakeholders, including astronomy, focusing on the resource most important to us all — the mauna. This could include everything from private conversations to more organized meetings.

Here are avenues for productive discussion:

  • Learning each other’s history and perspectives is invaluable and cannot be rushed. Mutual understanding leads to reciprocal relationships that support collective, rather than narrow, interests.
  • It is important that those with privilege hear and acknowledge kanaka maoli experiences of dispossession and inequity with open hearts. We cannot repair all the injustices of the past, but we can seek to interrupt and change inequitable systems for the better.
  • Stewardship based on traditional Hawaiian core knowledge, supplemented by contemporary best practices, assures the long-term sustainability of Mauna Kea. Grounding in traditional knowledge guides our respectful conduct on the mauna.
  • Building mutual understanding of both traditional Hawaiian knowledge and contemporary science, like astronomy and other fields, with openness and humility provides the opportunity to integrate knowledge, not talk past each other.

I believe equitable discussion of these topics provides a foundation for co-creating a future that supports far more of our mutual interests than we currently imagine is possible.

It is clear we must change.

Things won’t change overnight. But like seedlings, even small attempts at genuine dialogue and shared decision-making can take root and strengthen our community over time.

Widening the aperture, there are many related struggles in Hawaii that I’m sure you can think of. Where can we plant and nurture more seeds of change?

As our future descendants look back to today — how will they judge us? I believe they would tell us to reach out to each other with humility and aloha to create the future we want for them.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Author

Rich Matsuda

Rich Matsuda is the chief of Operations and External Relations at the W. M. Keck Observatory. Born in Honolulu, he has worked at the observatory and lived on Hawaii Island for 28 years. In 2021, he served on the State House of Representatives Mauna Kea Working Group.


Latest Comments (0)

"I am left contemplating why a third-generation Japanese settler in Hawaii like me has had greater privilege than so many Native Hawaiians in their ancestral lands, which does not feel good or right."Exactly. Why is that? Start from there and you can see the frustration and anger that TMT has wrought upon the native Hawaiians. It's not just about the telescope. It's a symbol of much more than that.

oldsurfa · 2 years ago

Why only the Hawaiians? Don't other indigenous peoples deserve reparations for the lands that were stolen? For example, the people who were already living here when the Hawaiians arrived...

blargh · 2 years ago

Support knowledge, support the TMT.

Valerie · 2 years ago

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