It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and there’s one thing that all UC Santa Barbara students can do to support the Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) community:
Tell the University of California to divest from the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project.
The Thirty Meter Telescope is a colonial project, and it’s born out of the United States’ relationship to Hawai’i. Until the late 19th century, the Kingdom of Hawai’i was recognized by the U.S. and other countries throughout the world as an independent, self-ruled state: It had its own political institutions, cultural and religious practices, and territories.
In 1893, foreign businessmen and U.S. troops invaded Hawai’i, imprisoned the queen and overthrew the Kingdom of Hawai’i. These actions were later written into the law of the U.S. Kānaka Maoli have known this since the invasion and have resisted occupation for the last two centuries. But it was only 30 years ago that the U.S. government formally recognized the illegal overthrow.
Located on the Big Island of Hawai’i, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world. It is also the most sacred place in the Kapu system, the religion of Kānaka Maoli. For Kānaka, Mauna Kea is the “piko:” the umbilical cord and the center where Wākea (Sky Father) and Papahānaumoku (Earth Mother) meet. For centuries, it has been recognized as a sacred place as well as a location for Kānaka astronomers to develop astronomical insights about the universe. Kānaka are no strangers to astronomy.
But for the past 40 years, foreign astronomers have flocked to Mauna Kea to build 13 telescopes without permission from Native Hawaiians. Kānaka have been concerned over the development of massive projects from the start because the management, environmental and cultural practices didn’t check out. And, unfortunately, many of the things they were concerned about came to fruition: The telescopes on Mauna Kea severely damaged the natural, archeological and historical resources of the Mauna.
Yet foreign astronomers continue to propose new projects, including the TMT, which was pitched by a collection of international universities and funders in the 2000s. The UC is the main convener of the TMT project, with UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang serving as its chair.
Because of the previous wrongs from foreign telescope projects, Kānaka have opposed the project publicly since its inception and have urged the TMT to not be built on Mauna Kea. Even a 2010 study commissioned by the TMT recommended “that Project proponents strongly consider no further development, including the TMT Observatory Project and the TMT Mid-Level Facility at Hale Pōhaku, take place on Maunakea.”
The TMT, however, ignored both public concerns about the project as well as their very own report, and they pressed on with the project.
Kānaka and allies across the globe resisted. The most visible resistance was TMT’s first failed “groundbreaking” ceremony in 2014. The second was their failed “groundbreaking” in 2019, when 38 Kānaka Maoli kūpuna (elders) were arrested for protecting the Mauna. Others around the world joined them: The U.N., the Kingdom of Hawai’i, brother and sister nations from other indigenous communities and several hundred thousand people around the globe expressed their deep concern about, or opposition to, the project. At this point, the UC has sunk over 60 million dollars in a project that is both harmful and that current and former project partners, such as India and Japan, recognize is doomed to fail in Hawai’i.
And the UC and TMT continue to double down: since their project failures began, they have applied for over a billion dollars in funding through the National Science Foundation.
This isn’t about “culture vs. science.” Kānaka have used the stars for centuries to navigate the world in good relations. And this isn’t the only possible place to build the telescope. Nobel Laureate, Andrea Ghez, professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, herself said at the July 30, 2020 Regents meeting that “90%” of the science proposed atop Mauna Kea could be done at a different location in the Canary Islands. But people in the Canary Islands have also seen the mismanagement of the project; they don’t want it either. The UC has wasted money on this project, and it’s never too late to walk away from a failed project.
While the UC has already lost the colonial “race” to build the TMT, they can instead prove they’ve learned their lesson by committing themselves to being at the forefront of ethical, restorative science and divesting from the project. We urge all students at UCSB to hold the UC accountable by urging them to divest from the TMT.
How can you do this? Sign onto this letter campaign to hold UC President Michael Drake, the UC Board of Regents, and Yang accountable.
Mauna Kea Protectors are a community of Kānaka Maoli students and allies at UCSB organizing for the protection and conservation of Mauna Kea. We partner with Uprooted & Rising, an organization calling for food and environmental justice on college campuses. You can follow us on Instagram at @MKP_UCSB.