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Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Mauna Kea Observatories: "Uncertainty About what Lies Ahead"
By News Release @ 4:23 PM :: 5512 Views :: Hawaii County , Greenmail, Higher Education, OHA

Let’s commit to safety for all atop Maunakea

By Doug Simons, Executive Director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, July 15, 2019.

Since the state announced construction restart plans of the Thirty Meter Telescope, uncertainty about what lies ahead on Maunakea abounds. Conflicts and protests on the mountain in 2014 and 2015 frame our expectations of 2019, and perhaps beyond.

As a longtime member of our community and Maunakea Observatory director who witnessed first-hand past protests, it saddens me to acknowledge that rifts in our community are poised to reopen. While near-term protests may be unavoidable, with a shared commitment to safety on all sides of this struggle we can give our community some much-needed peace of mind. We can have strong positions and beliefs and still share our ideas with dignity and respect.

Often we look at controversial situations in a binary fashion, producing winners and losers in the process. While that outcome may be fine in some arenas, our community should not be woven with such contradictory threads. A commitment by all to safety for all helps blend these threads.

Maunakea is revered by essentially all who experience it, is held sacred by many, and also happens to be a prime portal on our universe. The Maunakea Observatories have helped make Maunakea the most scientifically productive site in the world for the study of the universe, helping us understand our place in it.

For many on Earth, that personal context and connection is deeply important. At the same time, Hawaiian cultural practices and perspectives inform and enrich the world, and these rights deserve protection for the very purpose of being. As Irina Bokova, past director general of UNESCO put it, “Protecting the rights and dignity (of all indigenous people) is protecting everyone’s rights and respecting humanity’s soul, past and future.”

For people who work on the mountain, people who practice their culture and religion on the mountain, and people who visit the mountain, I look to a future beyond coexistence because coexistence still implies barriers. I look to a future in which knowledge and world views hybridize to create a reality more beautiful and resilient than its progenitors. This is occurring now, through A Hua He Inoa, the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua, black hole Powehi, and the unusual asteroids recently officially named Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘awela by Hawaiian students. I look to a future for Maunakea where studies of the universe are buoyed by the wisdom of Hawaiian kupuna, and grounded in the genius of Hawaiian culture.

As a community, we are bigger than that which separates us in the face of adversity. We all owe it to our keiki, who will define our future, to lay a strong foundation. Let the first pohaku in that foundation be one in which we all commit to the safety of each other at all times.

  *   *   *   *   *

Aloha to our scientific colleagues around the world,

From Mauna Kea Observatories, July 20, 2019

On behalf of the more than 500 people employed by the Maunakea Observatories, we offer a perspective about the Maunakea situation with the sincere hope that our words encourage greater understanding of the complex circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Staff members of the Maunakea Observatories, many of whom are born and raised in Hawaiʻi, feel a deep and personal connection to the special people and place of our Hawai‘i Island home. We live and work together in a community where our success is measured by the quality of our relationships, one of the paramount reasons life here is enriching, rewarding and inspiring. Even in conflict, our differences don’t define us; our humble, reverent appreciation of our community does. The diverse mix of scientists, technicians, engineers, administrators, and students of the Maunakea Observatories continually seek a path forward that strengthens the future of our island community. Our local staff, family members, and friends have a wide range of views and strong feelings about the events that surround us. We deeply respect all these viewpoints, which come from our family and friends, and we both believe and champion their right to express them.

In our community, we are weathering the pain of rifts in these carefully tended relationships that will take mutual respect and time to heal. We know these challenges across our island home have gained attention with our peers in the international astronomy community. We understand your expressed concerns. We also urge your appreciation of the nuances and complexity of the issues we now face.

The future of Maunakea astronomy will be defined primarily by the diverse people of Hawaiʻi. The vast majority of island residents support the Maunakea Observatories, who have been part of this community for more than 50 years. Conflict about the Thirty Meter Telescope does not change the long-standing support our Observatories have earned, but it will undoubtedly influence its future. For the benefit of the people who work on the mountain, for those who practice their culture and religion on the mountain, we look to a future beyond coexistence because that still implies barriers. We look to a future in which knowledge and worldviews hybridize to create a reality more beautiful and resilient than its progenitors.

This is beginning already, through A Hua He Inoa, the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua, black hole Pōwehi, and the unusual asteroids recently officially named Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘awela by Hawaiian students. We look to a future for Maunakea where studies of the universe are buoyed by the wisdom of Hawaiian kupuna and grounded in the richness of Hawaiian culture. We are nurturing this future now as devoted members of the Hawaiʻi Island and international astronomy communities. We ask for the informed understanding and support of our international astronomy community to uphold this vision, which we believe will be an important part of everyone’s future.


Director Doug Simons, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope

Director Pierre Martin, Hoku Kea Observatory

Director Jennifer Lotz, Gemini Observatory

Director Paul Ho, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (East Asian Observatory)

Interim Director Robert McLaren, Institute for Astronomy

Director John Rayner, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility

Director Michitoshi Yoshida, Subaru Telescope

Director Klaus Hodapp, UKIRT

Director Hilton Lewis, W.M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II)


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