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View from Mauna Kea: Looking Forward or Looking Back?
Atop Mauna Kea, people from dozens of countries work together in cooperation for the advancement of knowledge that benefits all humankind.

About the Author

  • Sylvia Dahlby
    Sylvia Dahlby
    Self-described "dumb haole" from Kailua, Oahu, Dahlby currently lives in Hilo. She thinks humans should colonize Mars and build an asteroid defense system before we get wiped out like the dinosaurs.

“As it has for America’s other indigenous peoples, I believe the United States must fulfill its responsibility to Native Hawaiians.” — Daniel Akaka

How did the #WeAreMaunaKea mantra morph into the vanguard of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement? For many years, Native Hawaiian organizations have been working to establish a system of self-governance. Some dream of a day when the Kingdom of Hawaii is restored, the same way India and Hong Kong were returned to the rightful owners. More power to them. So how does shutting down construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope help rebuild a nation? How will razing the 13 existing telescopes in the Astronomy District improve the quality of life for the average Hawaiian? Neither of these demands further the cause of sovereignty; they may do more harm than good.

“It concerns me that the TMT protestors are reacting, rather than planning. It’s short-term and emotional decision-making.” — Richard Ha, owner of Hamakua Springs Country Farms, a 600-acre Big Island farm, founding board member of Ku‘oko‘a and part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiatives.

Demonstrators gather at he KIng Kamehameha statue on their way to the Governor’s office. 21 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Demonstrators gather at the King Kamehameha statue on their way to the governor’s office in late April.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The protesters did not object to Saddle Road improvements when we bulldozed and paved a hundred miles of the sacred mountain with toxic asphalt. The convenience, economic benefits and safety of a modern road clearly outweigh any risks in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and none of the culture warriors are saying Daniel K. Inouye Highway is a desecration.

“I firmly believe the highest level of desecration rests in actions that remove the opportunity and choices from the kind of future our youth can own.” — Chad Kalepa Baybayan, captain and navigator of the Hokulea, Hawaiiloa, and Hokualakai, graduate of UH Hilo’s Ka Haka Ula O Keelikolani College of Hawaiian Language, with a masters in education from Heritage College.

We have a lot to learn from Hawaiian culture. The ancient Hawaiians knew plenty about making the best use of limited resources. Advanced fish husbandry and ahupua’a farming methods were models of sustainability. Old Hawaii was home to a sophisticated society and the most advanced science of the day in navigation and astronomy. Hawaiians held Mauna Kea sacred, yet that didn’t stop them from building a quarry and using the mountain’s resources for practical purposes.

“They ventured to Mauna Kea, reshaped the environment by quarrying rock, left behind evidence of their work and took materials off the mountain to serve their communities, with the full consent and in the presence of their gods. Using the resources on Mauna Kea as a tool to serve and benefit the community through astronomy is consistent with the example of the adze quarry.” — Chad Kalepa Baybayan

Hawaii was once a place where science, nature and spirituality co-existed in harmony. Born at the time of Haley’s comet, Kamehameha The Great believed the stars were writ large in his destiny. He was a forward-thinking, bold leader who used western weaponry to unify the Kingdom and modernize it under his rule. When waves of immigrants hit the shores of Hawaii, they brought Asian and European influence, new technology and new religions. Native Hawaiians embraced the ukulele and developed a written language. King David Kalakaua is famous for early adoption of electricity. The Hawaiians took the best that the world had to offer and gave aloha to the world.

Hawaii was once a place where science, nature and spirituality co-existed in harmony. …Hawaiians took the best that the world had to offer and gave aloha to the world.

Modern cultural practitioners are reviving ancient belief systems and Hawaiian traditions. Yet they choose which arts and sciences to perpetuate, and which customs to consign to history. Nobody wants to reserve the best surf breaks exclusively for the ali’i.  Twenty-first century Hawaiians continue to adopt new technology like satellite telecommunications and use the internet to track the Hokule’a from space at it continues its sacred journey of exploration and discovery.

Present day Hawaiians build houses, drive pick-up trucks and love spam musubi. Hawaiian culture is thriving all over the world, more than in any other time in history. Hawaiian music, fashion and surfing are more popular than ever. Thanks to the Merrie Monarch festival, you can find hula halau in Paris.  Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners are bringing back the best parts of old Hawaii, writing new songs and adding fresh pages to the Islands’ rich history.  Everywhere you look there’s Hawaiian pride. O’iwi TV, immersion schools and conservation. Honu are making a comeback. Kaho’olawe is healing.

“As a Native Hawaiian, I feel that it is important to acknowledge our heritage, but we shouldn’t blind ourselves to the future.” — Alexis Acohido, candidate for Bachelors of Science in Mathematics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

After 7 years of the permitting process, community meetings, EIS review of claims of adverse impacts on the land, water table, and wildlife, TMT construction was approved to be in full compliance with the environmental and cultural challenges. Additional legal challences could not show how the presence of the existing telescopes in the Astronomy District or construction of the TMT interferes with religious or cultural practices. The stewards of Mauna Kea have made mistakes. Hawaiians have suffered a litany of broken promises in the past. The University of Hawaii, Office of Maunakea Management and the island’s scientific community can and must do better to protect the environment and the Hawaiian heritage.

Why aren’t the Protectors of the mauna calling for the removal of Hawaii’s “occupiers” at the Pohakuloa Training Area? Surely the presence of a U.S. military garrison where live fire ordnance tests are conducted across 133,000 acres — an area six times the size of Kaho’olawe — is more offensive to cultural practitioners and native beliefs and potentially a greater threat to Hawaiian sovereignty than the construction of one very large telescope on only five acres. If we’re going to protect Mauna Kea from more desecration, let’s start by downsizing the PTA.

The telescopes in the Astronomy District are instruments of peace. In the starry darkness of Mauna Kea’s wondrous nights, people from dozens of countries work together in cooperation for the advancement of knowledge that benefits all humankind.

Snow along road on the summit of Mauna Kea.  9 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/CiviL Beat

Snow along road on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Some folks don’t see how space exploration benefits them. Yet, space science touches every one of our lives, and makes life better on earth every single day. Weather satellites save millions of lives every year. NASA-developed materials like Kevlar and fire-retardant foam, bio-technology and artificial hearts have saved tens of thousands more. NASA technology has given us GPS, climate change tracking technology and environmental science, Google Earth and cordless drills.

The unparalleled scientific achievements of the Observatory Complex have been a source of local pride for the University of Hawaii and the international academic community for over 40 years. Will shutting down the Astronomy District and returning Mauna Kea to its pre-colonial condition restore the soul of a nation and pave the way to self-determination for Native Hawaiians? Will the reborn Kingdom be ruled by mystics and seers? The mixture of religion and politics is both volatile and dangerous.

Gov. David Ige, the UH Board of Regents, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and even Hawaiian sovereignty advocates should not allow a minority of fundamentalists in any religion, no matter how fervently they believe they are right, to dictate matters of public policy. We expect our leaders to make the highest and best use of natural resources for the greater good, and honor their commitments. Instead, they have allowed the TMT shutdown mob of Anonymous hackers and bandwagon environmental activists from the mainland to create a hostile climate for public discourse, just say a’ole to scientific and economic development projects, and put major investments in STEM education in jeopardy.

“The THINK fund helps our kids not fortunate enough to have gotten a Kamehameha Schools education. They are the ones who need help. Once you get an education, no one can take it away.” — Richard Ha

Higher education is the great equalizer, the best weapon against racism and injustice, and the key to righting past wrongs. Education and economic opportunity are a one-way ticket to a better life. Yet, too many of Hawaii’s best and brightest go to the mainland to study or find better paying jobs and more affordable homes everywhere but here. This brain drain hurts local communities, especially on the Big Island where there’s a shortage of doctors, health care practitioners, professional services and skilled trades.

Lack of opportunity for professional growth in the islands limit options for entrepreneurship and creating a technically literate, knowledge-based economy. Hawaii County has the lowest median family income in the state, and Puna District schools are in the top four for free/subsidized lunches. Isn’t a modern society and strong middle class a more solid foundation on which to rebuild a nation?

“Our ancestors cherished knowledge and prioritized the future of their children.” — Alexis Acohido

The Kingdom of Hawaii valued education, literacy, innovation — and adventure.  The TMT is not only in line with these values, it would be a giant monument to the sacred quest for knowledge and daring exploration that led the original Hawaiians to discover new worlds.

“Mauna Kea is the celestial portal into the universe. Mauna Kea, like life, is sacred, and we need to proceed with the important work of ensuring our future.” — Chad Kalepa Baybayan