Guest Column — Wakea Manifesto


 By Noah Patterson Hanohano Dolim

This essay serves to voice three important concerns I have related to the Thirty Meter Telescope project. I write this as a rebuttal to popular arguments in support of the construction of TMT, to offer constructive critique, as well as to encourage, and promote the continuation of further dialogue that includes all peoples, parties, and institutions. I also take this time to thank the individuals who reviewed this piece before it entered the public sphere.

Any errors are of my own.

‘Ekolu Mea Nui

1)The Lease–The University of Hawai‘i manages an 11,000 acre section of Mauna Kea, referred to as the “Mauna Kea Science Reserve”. UH leases this land from the Department of Land and Natural Resources for $1-a year, UH subsequently sub-leases parcels of said land to other scientific institutions. (Note: Mauna Kea is included in the Crown Lands, private lands belonging to ali‘i under the Kingdom of Hawai‘i that were converted to “ceded lands” under the U.S.) The current lease that UH holds expires in 2033. If the construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope is allowed, it would most likely be completed in 2022. Currently,

the University of Hawai‘i is seeking a new 65-year lease for the MKSR. If a new lease cannot be obtained, the current lease would expire and all observatories would have to be decommissioned by 2033,and the land would revert back to conservation land. This would mean the TMT would have less than ten years of operational use.

He n?nau ka‘u

Why would the invested parties (Canada, China, India, Japan, Caltech, and Univ. of California) put $1.4 billion into a project with a less than 10 year operating period and attempt to start construction; unless, the University of Hawai‘i, DLNR, and the aforementioned parties already know the lease renewal is set? If true, this means these parties have essentially negated the important process of community hearings and testimony (for those on both sides of this issue), which is unacceptable.

2)Progress vs Primitivism–The TMT has been constantly billed as this great contribution to humanity

through scientific advancement; and that we [Native Hawaiians and locals as a whole] should be honored to contribute to the cause, etc., etc. But, the history of Hawai‘i has shown how the phrase “for the greater good” has operated, in places such as Kaho‘olawe, M?kua, Waik?ne, and P?hakuloa; which were all utilized in the name of American national defense. M?kua and P?hakuloa continue to be used for military training; while Kaho‘olawe and M?kua are still recovering from decades of abuse. In fact, some of the leaders who were integral in stopping the bombing of Kaho‘olawe were a part of the first wave of arrests atop Mauna Kea.

Although the TMT is not a military project, it is still being promoted as progress “for the greater good” and will result in irreversible damage to the land. ‘?ina cannot continue to be treated as the collateral damage of these projects. The ideology that k?naka are stewards of ‘?ina clashes with the rationalization of science/military necessity over the health of the land. If built, TMT will reach into outer space to look at stars, galaxies, and possible alien life forms, while turning its back on the spaces we inhabit. Is this continued impact to the land worth the observation of matter far, far away?

Another popular argument for the construction of the TMT is that ancestral Polynesians/NativeHawaiians were skilled voyagers, and would therefore agree with the project. However, there are two different epistemologies and two different intentions in play. If we put these modern day astronomers down in a wa‘a in the middle of the Pacific, with their fancy data charts and knowledge, they would not be able to navigate. What happened when the early Pasifika navigators could not see the stars, perhaps on a stormy or overcast night (or you know, during the daytime)? The skill of navigation was not and is not just the romanticized notion of star-gazing; it was to truly know how the environment operated: sky(star lines, clouds, winds, birds, etc.), water (currents, tides, marine life, etc.), and land(navigational points, signs of land, etc.), and all elements in-between. These environmental features were the instruments of navigation. It is certain that there were people who knew every constellation but did not have the skill to navigate. To be a navigator was to be trained as such.

Additionally, there are claims that Native Hawaiians who do not support the TMT project are against progress; people often mockingly say that perhaps we should give up our cellphones and cars, and return to the “primitivism” of the “ancient days”. I am not against science or so-called “advancement”, but do not try to twist the history of our k?puna to justify this project. Do not confuse your science with ours. Progress is the synthesis and negotiation between past, present, and future; one cannot devour the other.

‘?lelo no‘eau

Here I refer to the ‘?lelo no‘eau: I ka w? ma mua, ka w? ma hope.

3)“A Hawaiian place of learning”?–The University of Hawai‘i-M?noa website states that “students get a great education and have a unique multicultural global experience in a Hawaiian place of learning—truly like no place on earth”. What kind of a “Hawaiian” experience is being talked about? Hawaiian culture can be seen on display throughout the UH system, through mediums such as art, language, and performance. The athletic department uses the nickname “Warriors” (Rainbow Warriors), and uniforms that reflect Hawaiian/Polynesian motifs. At one point, UH even had a mascot that was a walking caricature of a “Polynesian” warrior. In

addition, the UH system motto is “Ma luna a‘e o n? l?hui a pau ke ola ke kanaka”, a translation of the

Goldwin Smith quotation “Above all nations is humanity”. I could go on and on but that is not the point. The University of Hawai‘i system, as an institution, utilizes Hawaiian culture but fails to recognize the voice of K?naka, or K?naka related issues. This is not just a problem in the UH system, but also an issue in the broader


Students, teachers, staff, and community members (both Hawaiian/Non-Hawaiian) have continually voiced their opposition to this project throughout the entirety of the process. However, when K?naka raise their voice in opposition, we are quickly labeled as angry/ignorant Hawaiians, our culture becomes a hindrance to progress, and the ears of the institution seem to go deaf. Although public testimony in front of the Board of Regents offers a space to talk, it is a one-way conversation that does not appear to work. Effective communication comes from dialogue: an exchange of ideas between two parties, which involves listening (not just hearing).

E ho‘olohe mai i ko k?kou leo

If the UH system is serious in wanting to create a “Hawaiian place of learning—truly like no place on earth”, it needs to re-balance its investment between Hawaiian culture and K?naka. The establishment of a stable dialogue between students, teachers, staff, and administration should be well-nurtured. The UH system has the potential to set itself apart from other universities and colleges, and become the unique institution it wants to be: E ho‘olohe mai i ko k?kou leo.

E?, e n? k?naka, n? ‘?iwi, n? kua‘?ina, n? kupa, n? pulapula, n? mamo, mai ka puka ‘ana o ka l? i

Kumukahi a hiki i ka n?po‘o ‘ana o ka l? i Mokup?papa. E?! This is our time, the world is watching.

Think about the possibility of a lease extension for another 65 years. Sixty-five years? For the people of my generation, it would be a blessing if we were still walking on this earth. This stand for Mauna a W?kea is not for us, maybe not even for our children’s generation; this is for our grandchildren and the hanauna that follow, so that they do not have to fight the same battles we are facing today. We are po‘e aloha ‘?ina, patriots of this land. This battle is just one amongst many that we face as members of the Native Hawaiian, local, and global communities. The time we have on Earth as physical beings is temporary, but the consequences of our actions resonates across generations.

Through the constant re-writing, re-thinking, and re-framing of this essay, this movement has gained an incredible amount of support beyond Hawai‘i nei by Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians living abroad. Through social media, the hashtag #protectmaunakea has lifted our voice across oceans and continents. Pictures of support from people all over the North American continent and many other places around the world have been widely circulated. Our Pasifika and First Nations brothers and sisters have also voiced their support for protecting sacred spaces and for the un-silencing of Indigenous voices.

E n? po‘e kia‘i mauna, mahalo piha i? ‘oukou. To the protectors and guardians of the mauna, I am indebted to you.

Me ka ha‘aha‘a nui a me ke aloha no ku‘u kul?iwi.

Noah Dolim is a M.A. student studying Hawaiian History at the University of Hawai‘i M?noa. He previously attended UH-Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College. Although growing up mostly on the island of O‘ahu, his ‘ohana originates from the Puna district on the island of Hawai‘i.


1 reply
  1. Nelson Ho
    Nelson Ho says:

    Mahalo Noah Dolim, M. A. candidate, for presenting, in a cogent and lucid way, some of the core issues of the Mauna a Wakea protectors, past and present.

    No one should argue that the Hawaiian community is “just now” or “only for the last seven years” speaking their concerns about Mauna a Wakea. That specious argument just signals a shallow knowledge base. In the 1970’s the cultural practitioners were labeled “hunters” and their voiced concerns were about access and not wanting the summit gated off as the exclusive preserve for the scientists and their ONE telescope (that Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) gave permission to be built.) The Hawaiians were present, vocal and watching their summit as the UH took control and the controversy began.

    Meanwhile, the UH, without asking further DLNR permission, built three more telescopes on the summit ridge, before being caught and reprimanded. Even today, the University of Hawaii and DLNR continue to think the mountain’s problems stem from PUBLIC ACCESS rather than their bad decisions and mismanagement practices.

    Back in the 70’s my environmental kupuna called the building of telescopes “urbanization”, while many now call it industrialization. In both cases, bulldozers are present, noise and air pollution are continuous, petrochemical spills are too common and “significant, adverse, and substantial” cumulative harm has been done to the vulnerable cultural and natural resources (NASA’s own Mauna Kea environmental review conclusions).

    Back in 1995, I took Sierra Club concerns, about the telescopes’ construction debris spilling onto the shrines dotting the summit plateau, to the Hawaii Tribune Herald. It took front page coverage, before the UH and its Institute for Astronomy began clean up efforts.

    Sierra Club calls the problems on the mountain land mismanagement and industrialization of conservation lands, to this day. The wrong set of people are making the decisions about the “golden goose.” As our kupuna, John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ”

    The University of California, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Hawaii (my alma mater), Gordon Moore (the grantor of $250 million towards the building of the TMT), and the governments of Canada, China, India and Japan are all facing massive legal, cultural and political backlash for their ill advised decision to ignore the years of warnings and arresting and criminalizing the protectors. Peter Apo, OHA trustee said it succinctly, “Whoever ordered the arrests wasn’t thinking too clearly.” And, in a way, it is in keeping with the way past major decisions have been made for Mauna a Wakea.

    Mahalo Tiffany Edwards Hunt for publishing all these articles in the Big Island Chronicle. You are truly contributing to the Community.

    Nelson Ho
    Chair, Sierra Club Executive Committee

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