TMT Panel

A panel discussion was held on Sunday at the Hawaii State Capitol featuring three Native Hawaiians in favor of the TMT.

A Thirty Meter Telescope panel discussion was held this past Sunday at the Hawai'i State Capitol Auditorium with the aim at having a publicized conversation in favor of the TMT. The event featured three speakers of Native Hawaiian descent who support the TMT and voiced their views on what the term “sacred” means to them in respect to Maunakea.

The event was organized by Sam King, Executive Director of Imua TMT, a non-affiliated group that supports construction of the telescope on Maunakea, and was streamed live on Facebook with the hopes of sparking conversations in support of the telescope.

“I was talking to these gentlemen, Kalepa, Peter and Kimo, and we wanted to talk about the religious claims that are being made, the sacredness claims, and kind of the history of the kapu system, Native Hawaiian religion, the culture, and how those all feed into the current situation,” King said. “It seemed like a good way to talk about it because defining sacred is fundamentally what we’re doing here.”

According to King, the TMT issue is no longer a legal question, but a moral one. 

“Do we enforce the law in this way on people who will always think it’s sacred and never agree, because the separation of church and state is important? Or is that principle immoral?” King asked.

These questions which were raised among these four TMT supporters led to the idea of a publicized panel discussion, in order to allow a conversation to be had about the idea of sacredness upon Maunakea without the belief that the telescope would lead to desecration of Native Hawaiian land and culture.

According to Kalepa Baybayan, one of the panel speakers and a master navigator of Hōkūleʻa, the TMT would not only be beneficial to Hawaii, but to the world at large by providing vital knowledge which may allow scientists to determine potential planets for future human settlement.

“In order for humanity to survive, we would have to travel light years, but each of us has only a lifetime to contribute to the effort,” he said. “When it is completed, the thirty meter telescope on Maunakea will, with great accuracy and speed, vastly increase the capacity for the kind of scientific research which is vital for the quest of mankind’s future.”

All three panelists seemed to agree that the construction of the TMT on Maunakea would be consistent with the intentions and wishes of their Native Hawaiian ancestors.

“If you look at Hawaiian tradition, the spirituality and commitment to, I guess, quote ‘sacredness’ of what was traditional practices, customary traditional practices, was the opportunity that the ocean, or the land, or the mountain, or the sky provided to improve the quality of life,” Peter Apo, trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said. 

According to Apo, Hawaiians have always looked forward, pursuing the opportunities for advancement that arose in their natural systems. To him, this did not stop with the coming of technology, as Iolani palace had electric lighting before even the white house.

Attorney Kimo Stone attempted to pinpoint the core of the movement in opposition of the TMT. Rather than merely a religious or cultural issue, Stone believes that it all boils down to a history of injustice towards the Hawaiian people.

“There is a sense of long delayed injustice for Hawaiians in general, and for Hawaiian issues, from the denial of language to the death of land to the loss of governmental control of our government and our futures,” he said.

Because of the frustration that stems from this long history of injustice, Stone claims that this has become an emotional issue to opposers, which makes conversations between the two sides of the issue difficult to navigate. This became especially apparent to Stone when he faced opposition, which he described as “attacks,” after testifying in favor of the TMT.

“Not a single one of the attacks ever challenged a factual or logical aspect of the argument,” he said.

Apo stated his concerns about this emotionally-based argument against TMT. He mentioned that he took part in the Protect Kaho’olawe movement, and participated in many controversial issues in Hawaii, in most cases taking the side of his fellow native Hawaiians. However, he believes that, unlike other movements that have been aimed toward Hawaiian empowerment, this one involving the TMT is becoming divisive. 

“We would look at our nationhood and our self-determination in ways that would benefit all of Hawaii, because we were one people, I mean, that was my impression,” he said, referring to past Hawaiian movements. “This is the first time that I feel that we have this hot issue that is beginning to divide us, Hawaiians on one side and the rest of Hawaii on the [other].”

According to Apo, the word “sacred” means no discussion as far as the kia’i are concerned.

“This isn’t about, at the end, religious values. It’s not. It’s about a deep rooted sense of injustice and justice delayed, for over a hundred years. And it just so happened to now at this point in history point up to the mauna,” Stone said.

Nonetheless, Stone has respect for the opposing view as well. He mentioned that his daughter stands with the kia’i in opposition of the TMT, and that they both respect each other’s mutual views on the issue.

In the end, the speakers agreed that the goal is to promote inclusiveness rather than divisiveness on the Maunakea issue.

“We all need to learn how to share the mauna,” Baybayan said. “There is more than enough room to accommodate every person’s practice that we just have to have the will to share."