Hawaii: $1.4 billion Telescope at Stake as Scientists Clash with Locals Over ‘Maunt Kea’

Hawai’s tallest mountain ‘Maunt Kea’ has been a battle ground between scientists and Native Hawaiians for the past seven years. The sacred mountain which has more than 250 shrines and burial sites, is said to be the place where the mother and father of the Hawaiian race first met. While it’s a sacred site for the Native people, scientists claim its an ideal location for a planned telescope that could be revolutionary for Astronomers.

Campaigners protesting against it say the $1.4 billion, 18-story-high Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will ruin the beautiful scenery and spiritual power of the mountain.

“Mauna Kea in every respect represents the zenith of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral ties to Creation itself,” native Hawaiian activist Kealoha Pisciotta wrote in a post for the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance. “When the land, the waters, the life forms suffer, we feel this suffering, the process of creation begins to un-ravel and de-creation begins … We lose our place in time and space and then we are lost.”

Around 31 protesters were arrested in April, on the mountain during the first attempt to transport building materials to the site, causing Gov. David Ige to temporarily stop all construction, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. After he waved the green flag to resume the project last week, a dozen more protesters were arrested for refusing to move out of the way of construction crews.

In late August, the Hawaii Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine if the University of Hawaii was correct in issuing a conservation district use permit for the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The plaintiffs are appealing an earlier ruling by a Circuit Court judge who said the permit was issued lawfully.

In a column for the New York Times, science writer George Johnson describes the native backlash as a “turn back toward the dark ages” and laments the fact that “Indian creationism is tolerated out of a sense of guilt over past wrongdoings. Again the spiritual is inseparable from the political.”

Reactions such as Mr. Johnson’s have prompted defensive responses from native Hawaiians on social media.

“Any time Hawaiians – or any other native people, for that matter – come out in force to push for more respect for our culture and language or to protect our places from this kind of destruction, we are dismissed as relics of the past, unable to hack it in the modern world with our antiquated traditions and practices,” writes Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada, a PhD student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in a blog post.

It remains to be seen how this clash between science and local culture plays out. Hopefully, the two can find a common ground that’s best for both parties.

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