Academics’ Letter to the Partners, Associates, and Affiliated Entities of the Thirty Meter Telescope Project – Idle No More

Open letter to the Partners, Associates, and Affiliated Entities of
the Thirty Meter Telescope Project.

You are representatives of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), University of California, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, and Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation.

We ask that you divest from the TMT project.

We, the undersigned, are faculty, staff, students and alumni of the University of Hawai`i, their colleagues and members of many diverse academic institutions and public nonprofit organizations who are deeply concerned with the irreparable damage that the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) would have on our communities, cultures, collective futures, and sacred Mauna Kea. With great urgency, we are writing to you in your capacity as trustees, directors, or administrators of institutions who are affiliated with this project and/or the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory LLC (TIO).

Mauna Kea is a deeply sacred place, the wao akua, realm of the gods, and it is the piko that connects Papahānaumoku, Earth Mother, and Wākea, Sky Father, as well as past and future generations of Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiians). The akua Kāne, god of fresh waters and many things, traverses the mauna, as well as his daughter, Poliʻahu, the akua of the snow, her sisters, Līlīnoe, Waiau, and Kahoupokāne, her companion Kūkahauʻula, and her guardian Moʻoinanea. Mauna Kea is also a critical site of Kanaka ʻŌiwi ka hana ʻoihana kilokilo hōkū, practices associated with observing movements of the stars.

TIO proposes to place an 18-story high industrial complex, with a footprint of over five acres and excavations reaching 20 feet into the ground, on this sacred land. The TMT project has raised numerous concerns. It violates legal protections for Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights, historic properties, Mauna Kea’s fragile ecosystems, and the State of Hawaii’s public land trust. Many of these concerns are currently before the courts and in processes of environmental review. By divesting now, you support efforts towards a lasting reconciliation between the many communities connected to Mauna Kea.

The TMT site is in a Conservation District, where projects that “cause substantial adverse impact[s]” are prohibited. The TMT’s Final Environmental Impact Statement itself reported that UH’s astronomy-industry development has caused “substantial, significant and adverse” impacts on Mauna Kea’s cultural, archaeological, and historical resources and that the TMT would add to those adverse impacts. Notwithstanding this finding, UH obtained a conservation district use permit to build the TMT. The Mauna Kea hui, a collective of ʻŌiwi cultural practitioners and environmentalists who have been striving to protect Mauna Kea for almost twenty years, has challenged this permit and is awaiting a judgment in the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.

The TMT project is the latest in a long line of poor management decisions by the University of Hawai`i. Two state audits in 1998 and 2005 cited that the University failed monumentally in its responsibility to protect the public lands and resources. Under the University’s management, the rare wēkiu bug has suffered habitat loss and incursions by invasive species and many gallons of hydraulic fluid, mercury, and sewage have been spilled and were quickly “absorbed” into highly porous ground, beneath which are flows to aquifers. In 2014, many challenged the University’s proposal to renew its master lease of Mauna Kea (currently ending in 2033). Since 1968, when the University was granted a lease to build “an observatory” on Mauna Kea, the University has allowed industrial astronomy-development, associated support structures, and commercial recreational enterprises to proliferate. Thirteen telescopes now stand on Mauna Kea’s most sacred summit.

We highlight some of the many reasons the TMT project has met with tremendous public opposition:

1. The University of Hawaiʻi’s mission statement proclaims that it is a “Hawaiian place of learning,” yet it has repeatedly failed to address profound concerns expressed by Kanaka ʻŌiwi over the desecration of their sacred mountain;

2. The Associated Students of the University of Hawai’i (ASUH) passed Resolution 13-14 (November 6, 2013) which states, “the ASUH strongly opposes the appropriation for student and state funds and leases for the construction of any new telescopes on the Northern plateau of Mauna Kea, including the TMT, without further input from stakeholders”;

3. The summit of Mauna Kea is composed of Hawaiian Kingdom national lands, unlawfully controlled by the U.S. after the illegal overthrow of the kingdom, and is now held in trust by the state of Hawai`i. Until the unresolved claims of the Hawaiian nation to their inherent land base are addressed, any development or sublease of these lands further complicates efforts to resolve Hawaiian national claims. We oppose UH’s burdening of these lands with the TMT project;

4. The University of Hawaiʻi expended millions of dollars of State of Hawai‘i taxpayers’ money for the permitting process and attorney fees that should have been borne by TIO, a Delaware company based in California;

5. The University of Hawaiʻi’s master lease over Mauna Kea summit lands will expire in 2033, yet construction on the TMT has begun before the University has secured its extension on the master lease as well as on the sublease to the TMT;

6. Construction has also begun before a decision has been rendered in the ongoing legal appeals of the conservation district use permit and the TMT sublease. If construction activities are allowed to proceed and the court’s decisions uphold the claims of the present appeals, it would result in irreparable harm to these public lands and it would be impossible to return the landscape to its natural state;

7. UH attorneys disingenuously argue the TMT adds a mere “increment” of impact. The TMT is not an increment because it would add the largest structure on the mauna yet. And, further impact is anyway prohibited because, as UH admits, industrial astronomy development has already substantially, adversely impacted Mauna Kea;

8. Contrary to the University’s claim, its desecration of the summit is not merely a “continuation” of Native Hawaiian astronomy traditions. Native Hawaiians revered the summit and did not construct large buildings in this realm of the akua (gods).

Recently, TIO contractors began moving construction equipment to the summit–raising widespread public outcry and triggering a demonstration and vigil on Mauna Kea by ka poʻe aloha ʻāina, those who have a great love for this mountain. As of April 2, thirty-one young people and elders, protectors of the sacred mountain, have been arrested. These arrests are a product of UH/TMT’s disrespect for public processes, the courts, and especially Mauna Kea’s protectors.

Divestment from the TMT project demonstrates respect for the self-determination of Native peoples who are seeking to protect sacred sites. We ask that you divest so that we can stop the construction, bring the machines off the mountain, let the leases to the university expire and the mountain heal.

Me ke aloha pumehana,

Learn More and Sign the Letter Here