Temple Under Siege
A traditional Hawaiian lele (offering platform) must share space with existing telescope observatories.

Indigenous Hawaiians Fight Proposed Telescope on Sacred Mauna Kea

Christina Rose

In Hawaii, scientists and Native Hawaiians are going toe-to-toe over the decision to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop a sacred mountain. The summit of Mauna Kea already holds 13 telescopes, but this one would be vastly larger than the others and the largest telescope in the world until another is completed in Chile.

Sacred sites are often under attack by the mainstream, but in this battle, activists fighting the telescope have reason to believe they will win.

From the bottom of the sea to the summit, Mauna Kea is 33,000 feet high and the world’s highest mountain. It is Hawaii’s most ancient burial grounds for the most revered of ancestors; a place of shrines and ceremonies that plays a critical role in Native Hawaiian culture.

According to Native Hawaiian traditions, Mauna Kea is the first-born child of Father Sky and Mother Earth. From Mauna Kea, Native Hawaiian astronomers developed star knowledge and learned how to navigate the globe. They learned the earth was not flat thousands of years ago, by following the stars.

Kelani Flores, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and anti-telescope litigant in the Appeal to the Supreme Court of Hawaii, said, “It is Mauna A Wakea, the mountain of sky father. It reaches into the realm of sky father to connect with the divine, the star nations, and the grandfathers. In Hawaii, we call it Piko, the mouth on top of the mountain that connects the earth to the stars.”

The sacredness is seen differently by those who would profit from the telescope. At a June 13, TMT Lease Hearing with the Board of Land and Natural Resources, a TMT appraiser described the land as vacant, unimproved, and lacking infrastructure. This appraiser also placed an extremely high monetary value on the Mauna Kea land. TMT’s pursuit of a sublease would allow building to begin immediately, but was deferred by the board, pending additional information.

Representatives for the Thirty Meter Telescope learn their sublease has been tabled pending further information. (Kalani Flores)


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