Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mauna Kea TMT Update: More protests, walkouts and a counter-campaign by the TMT

by Salman Hameed

It seems that the movement against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, is growing (see this post from last Thursday). The governor of Hawaii has now postponed the construction until April 20th. On Sunday, there were more protests against the construction on both the Big Island and Oahu. Even Drogo from the Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa,  is part of the protests:

On Monday, a few hundred students and faculty staged a walkout at University of Hawaii against the telescope.
The walkout happened at noon with students and professors, many from the Hawaiian Studies program.  After leaving their classes the protestors met at the Campus Center to stage a rally.  Protestors battled passing rain showers during the rally which lasted approximately 60 minutes. Both students and professors were unhappy with the university’s lack of responsiveness to their concerns over the construction of the state of the art telescope. 
There was also a walkout on Monday by the Native Hawaiian Council (Pūko'a Council):
At noon, hundreds gathered for a system-wide walk-out in front of UH Manoa’s campus center, saying the telescope is unnecessary and offensive to Native Hawaiians.
It was organized by the Pūkoʻa Council, the university’s Native Hawaiian council, which features representatives from all 10 system campuses. 
“The Board of Regents or the Office of Mauna Kea Management can no longer speak on behalf of the entire University for this issue. As we’ve seen in the past week, opposition to this issue is widespread and this includes opposition within the University itself. The Board of Regents needs to know this as do the TMT investors,” said UH Manoa representative for the Pūkoʻa Council, Dr. Lilikala Kameʻeleihiwa. 
The Pūkoʻa Council said it expressed opposition to the TMT project when representatives met with UH president David Lassner at Kapiolani Community College on April 6 and asked that construction be halted. 
“The combination of, how do you bridge western science with tradition and Hawaiian knowledge, is to really listen to native people who really understand Hawaii, who really understands the geography of this land and the stories of this land,” said Kaneohe resident Keali’i’olu’olu Gora.
The Thirty Meter Telescope consortium has launched an online campaign to counter these protests with a hashtag #WeSupportTMT. I think for the past seven years, the TMT folks had managed PR well, but they certainly have been caught off-guard with the current protests and are now playing catch-up. Here is the TMT website that provides clarification to many of the objections. The website has some issues as well. For example, the TMT site highlights an 1874 quote from King Kalākaua in support of astronomy on the island. I remember seeing that quote at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii. I visited there a few years ago with my friend and historian of native religions, Tracy Leavelle. Tracy was furious because a quote from an Hawaiian authority was being appropriated selectively while ignoring other Hawaiian authorities who may have been more critical of US presence on the island. The TMT issue is not just about science. It is seeped in political and cultural history of Hawaii and astronomers have to be sensitive to those issues beyond simply a "check-box" approach.

I will leave you here first with a video of protest on the Big Island, and then below of protests in Honolulu:


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