Mahalo A Nui Loa

Richard Ha writes:

Soon the Thirty Meter Telescope people will publicly announce that they are exploring the possibility of siting their immense, $750 million Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea.

The reason the TMT people are approaching us with such respect – most importantly, they are asking what they can do for our people in exchange for using our excellent astronomical site – is because a lot of people have worked very hard for what they believe in, for years and years, without giving up.

People like Kealoha Pisciotta. Kealoha has spent many years of her life following every detail of every happening on the mountain, attending hearings, speaking up and holding people accountable to the mountain’s Master Plan, and much, much more.

To say that the history of modern day astronomy atop Mauna Kea is full of contention is, of course, to state the obvious. You don’t have to look far at all to find people on the ground with heartfelt distress over what they say are ruined archaeological sites, endangered ecological habitats, desecration of, and blocked access to, religious sites, dangerous spills, damage to the water table and a general lack of respect for the mountain.

In addition, I’ve mentioned before that when I look at, for instance, Keaukaha – a mostly Hawaiian community in Hilo – I see zero benefit to the community from those million dollar telescopes atop Mauna Kea, which is an important and even sacred site in the Hawaiian tradition.

But there is a profound difference in how this TMT project is being proposed for Mauna Kea.

And it is because of Kealoha and some others, and the ones who came before them, that we are where we are today.

• They fought to bring control of the mountain back to the Big Island where it belongs. Now the mountain is managed by the Office of Mauna Kea Management, which is under the control of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

• They fought for the requirement that there be a Comprehensive Management Plan in place before there was any more development on the mountain – and won.

• They fought to make sure that the Comprehensive Management Plan was sensitive to cultural issues. Because of all the opposition, the people managing the mountain have had to look to the Big Island community for solutions. This is a huge change.

• Most of all, Kealoha and all the others have fought for respect. And because of them, we are finally being respected. We all need to acknowledge that. 

We are controlling the process now.

This only came about because of Kealoha and others who have fought so long and so hard for what was right.

We, and future generations, owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, no matter what takes place with this particular project.

Dr. Henry Yang, the new president of TMT who is also the president of UC Santa Barbara, is a “people” person, not a “timeline” person. I am very impressed with him and glad he is in charge. He speaks our language.

But if it weren’t for Kealoha and the others, we would never have gotten to this place where we speak the same language.

Before the TMT begins the process of considering siting their new telescope atop Mauna Kea, I want to take this time to mahalo the people who are responsible for getting us to this point.

Mahalo a nui loa.