"I invite my fellow kanaka who support TMT to join me in trying to reach for the stars." - Naea Stevens
An open letter written by astronomy student Naea Stevens regarding TMT
From TMT.org, Oct 10, 2019
O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua
O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani
O ke au i ku kaʻiaka ka lā e hoʻomālamalama i ka mālama
O ke au o makaliʻi ka pō
O ka walewale hoʻokumu honua ʻia
O ke kumu o ka lipo, i lipo ai
O ke kumu o ka pō, i pō ai
O ka lipolipo, o ka lipolipo
O ka lipo o ka lā, o ka lipo o ka pō
Pō wale hoʻi
Hānau ka pō.
For many cultures the world over, the darkness was something that was to be feared. When one considers how poorly humans fare in the dark, that fear makes sense. There's a reason why so many of the creatures that are talked about in human mythology show up at nighttime. The night is sort of the ultimate darkness here on this wonderful Earth. But to my ancestors, to my people, to nā kānaka Hawai'i, the Hawaiian people, the night was not something to be feared.
To them, the night was to be respected - the beginning of everything. The stars in the nighttime sky created maps spanning the entirety of the Pacific ocean. The moon brought the tides and dictated when it was right to plant crops and harvest them; when to go fishing and what to fish for. My ancestors looked to the heavens, to our ultimate past, in order to see into the future.
Astronomy does precisely that. Through astronomy, we are able to look back in time. We are able to see Pō in all her splendor. We can see the past of our universe as well as our future. With every bit of knowledge we gain, we advance not only humanity in general but Hawai'i in particular.
Koʻu iʻo, koʻu piko, koʻu ʻiwi, koʻu koko.
My people are strong. We are strong of will. We are strong of mind. We are strong of voice. This is why I will say this loud and clear. I am Hawaiian. He kanaka ʻōiwi au. Hawaii is special. Mauna Kea is special. I have slept on the flanks. I have prayed at the summit. I have spent years of my life studying the mauna and teaching about it, our history, our culture, the science conducted on the summit and how it all comes together with the observatories. I have a loud voice trained by years of doing community focused education. I have the same headstrong willingness to do what I believe is right - a strong-headedness that I know comes from my ancestry (and which borders on being stubborn which I know comes from my family). I stand as a proud Hawaiian. He kanaka ʻōiwi au.
And yet I feel cowed. I find myself bending under the pressure of a community who loudly tell me that I am not enough of a Hawaiian. Even online, when there is only the cool blue glow of a laptop or phone screen conveying the words, I can feel emotion - red hot anger - pouring over me. So many others who I have spoken with feel the same. It has pulled apart families and threatens to rip me away from mine. I am not alone, and yet I feel alone. I hear that's a common sentiment amongst us kanaka who support the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project.
E hō mai ka ʻike mai luna mai ē.
I have not always been in favor of TMT. Many years ago, when I first heard of the project, I was apprehensive. Weren't the observatories doing enough? Hasn't enough been done? Where do we go from here? Why not space?I asked. I came to better understand the technology behind the telescope. I better understood the goals and aims. I realized it was a lens with which we could see farther ahead than any telescope technology currently possessed. If nothing else, it appealed to the child inside me who saw a spacefaring future like Star Trek. A bug was planted - our kilo hoku led the Hawaiian people across the Pacific. We were navigators unmatched in skill. What if we became the navigators for humanity? I've always felt a great pull to Kanaloa, who would assist the navigators. Even so, perhaps he could assist humanity, with nā kānaka maoli guiding us across celestial seas.
E oʻu mau kiaʻi mai ka pō mai, e nānā ia mai i ka pulapula a ʻoukou.
Astronomy as a scientific pursuit is the cleanest option among "industries" for Hawaii and celebrates Hawaiian culture. We live in Laniākea, our local supercluster of galaxies. Our recent extrasolar visitor is 'Oumuamua. There is a dwarf planet in our solar system named Haumea. The observatories create jobs and careers for local people; and not just as astronomers. Trade jobs, doing electrical work and repairs and construction - jobs which we need in our economy - are arguably the majority of jobs in astronomy. For every researcher, there's maybe four more jobs that are made available. For local workers. Supporting local families and the local economy.
Contrast this with tourism. The tourism industry continually tramples on our history and culture. Tiki torches line paths in Waikoloa, leading tourists to Pan Polynesian luau. Millions of people visit Hawaii each year. Many stay in hotels. Some stay in vacation homes that are otherwise vacant year-round. In the summer it's impossible to visit family on other islands because of price hikes preying on tourists who come to Hawaii and receive a sanitized, scrubbed-clean version of the culture and 'āina - a version of us that is devoid of history or color. All of this is far more damaging for our culture than a telescope.
The big question now is how do we move forward? How do we heal our fractured community? I invite my fellow kanaka who support TMT to join me in trying to reach for the stars.
Naea Stevens is an astronomy student, working at UiT.