Native Hawaiians protest 'sacred mountain' telescope

| 7th October 2014
The summit of Hawaii's 'sacred mountain', Mauna Kea. Now an even larger telescope is to be built there. Photo: Markus Jöbstl  via Flickr.
The summit of Hawaii's 'sacred mountain', Mauna Kea. Now an even larger telescope is to be built there. Photo: Markus Jöbstl via Flickr.
Native Hawaiians and others are gathering today for a peaceful protest at the ground-breaking ceremony for a huge new telescope on the 4,207 meter summit of Hawaii's 'sacred mountain', Mauna Kea.
It's 19 stories tall, which is like building a sky-scraper on top of the mountain, a place that is being violated in many ways culturally, environmentally and spiritually.

The 'Thirty Meter Telescope' (TMT) international observatory is moving ahead today with a ground-breaking ceremony.

But the chosen site on the summit of Mauna Kea is sacred to the Hawaiian people, who maintain a deep connection and spiritual tradition there that goes back millennia.

With its giant mirror, 30 metres (nearly 100 feet) across, the TMT promises the highest definition views ever of planets, orbiting stars, and well beyond.

But for many native Hawaiians, the $1.4 billion new telescope is a monstrosity and a defilement of their sacred mountain. "The TMT is an atrocity the size of Aloha Stadium", said Kamahana Kealoha, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner and protest organizer.

"It's 19 stories tall, which is like building a sky-scraper on top of the mountain, a place that is being violated in many ways culturally, environmentally and spiritually."

"We are in solidarity with individuals fighting against this project in US courts, and those taking our struggle for de-occupation to the international courts. Others of us must protest this ground-breaking ceremony and intervene in hopes of stopping a desecration."

Clarence 'Ku' Ching, longtime activist, cultural practitioner, and a member of the Mauna Kea Hui, a group of Hawaiians bringing legal challenges to the TMT project in state court, said:

"We will be gathering at Pu'u Huluhulu, at the bottom of the Mauna Kea Access Road, and we will be doing prayers and ceremony for the mountain."

Environmental issues

The principle fresh water aquifer for Hawaii Island is on Mauna Kea, yet there have been mercury spills on the summit. Water-hazardous pollutants including ethylene glycol and diesel fuel are used there.

Chemicals used to clean telescope mirrors drain into the septic system, along with half a million gallons a year of human sewage that goes into septic tanks, cesspools and leach fields.

"All of this poisonous activity at the source of our fresh water aquifer is unconscionable, and it threatens the life of the island", said Kealoha.

"But that's only part of the story of this mountain's environmental fragility. It's also home to endangered species, such as the palila bird, which is endangered in part because of the damage to its critical habitat, which includes the mamane tree."

Whose land is it anyway?

The new telescope is to be built within a 500-acre (2.0 km2) 'Astronomy Precinct', inside the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. The Precinct was established in 1967 on land protected by the Historical Preservation Act for its significance to Hawaiian culture.

Mauna Kea is designated as part of the Crown and Government lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom - lands that have been effectively annexed by the US Government, as Professor Williamson PC Chang, from the University of Hawaii's Richardson School of Law, explains:

"The United States bases its claim to the Crown and Government land of the Hawaiian Kingdom on the 1898 Joint Resolution of Congress, but that resolution has no power to convey the lands of Hawaii to the US ... they just seized it."

Kealoha also refused to accept the validity of the US's claim to ownership of sovereign Hawaiian land, saying, "Show us the title!"

"If the so-called 'Treaty of Annexation' exists, that would be proof that Hawaiian Kingdom citizens gave up sovereignty and agreed to be part of the United States 121 years ago.

"But we know that no such document exists. The so-called 'state' does not have jurisdiction over Mauna Kea or any other land in Hawaii that it illegally leases out to multi-national interests. I agree with how George Helm felt about Kahoolawe", said Kealoha. "He wrote in his journal:

'My veins are carrying the blood of a people who understood the sacredness of land and water. Their culture is my culture. No matter how remote the past is it does not make my culture extinct. Now I cannot continue to see the arrogance of the white man who maintains his science and rationality at the expense of my cultural instincts. They will not prostitute my soul.'

"We are calling on everyone, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike, to stand with us, to protect Mauna Kea the way George and others protected Kahoolawe. I ask myself every day, what would George Helm do? Because we need to find the courage he had and stop the destruction of Mauna Kea."



The protest: Tuesday 7th October, 7am to 2pm, at Saddle Road at the entrance to the Mauna Kea Observatory Road.

More information:

Funding for the $1.4 billion project is being provided by:

  • The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation of Palo Alto, California
  • National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan
    The National Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • The California Institute of Technology
  • The University of California
  • The Indian Institute for Astrophysics
  • Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA)
  • University of Hawaii


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