Understanding the Past, Navigating the Present, Embracing the Future

//Understanding the Past, Navigating the Present, Embracing the Future

Ed Stone, Executive Director; Christophe Dumas, Observatory Scientist; and Gordon Squires, Vice President, External Relations

It is no coincidence that the ideal location to peer from Earth into the heavens is here in Hawaii.  The Island of Hawaii has been the home of TMT for more than a decade.  But for much longer than that, it has been a place where science and spirituality are woven into the fabric of everyday culture.

We think it’s fair to say that what is happening today in Hawaii isn’t just about the construction of TMT on Maunakea. Among those who remain opposed are many who see TMT as a platform for what they believe is the wrong side in the much larger political issue of Hawaiian sovereignty and past injustices. We respect those who express opposition and understand the pain they feel.  However, TMT is a bystander in that larger conversation that has been going on for many years.  And whether or not TMT is built in Hawaii will not bring closure to it.

Although it may not appear this way at the moment given what is being shared and seen in social media, the majority of Native Hawaiians actually support the construction of TMT on Maunakea: An independent poll conducted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in 2018 found that 72 percent of Native Hawaiians (registered voters) support TMT, 23 percent oppose it and 5 percent were undecided.

Similarly, many Native Hawaiians and others believe that Maunakea is sacred and yet can still be home to astronomy. A statewide poll conducted in 2018 found that 88 percent of Hawaii residents agree there should be a way for science and Hawaiian culture to co-exist on Maunakea.

We are dismayed by the many false accusations being spread.  We are dismayed that TMT supporters are being shown such great disrespect that some have become afraid to speak publicly.

We have a lot of supporters in Hawaii and they are asking us not to leave.

TMT is Part of the Community

TMT is a nonprofit organization and Hawaii Island has been our home for more than 10 years.  From the beginning, we approached the community, asking what was most needed, how we could help be part of this community, listening to what was said, and setting on a path to fulfill those needs.  TMT brought into the process the Kahu Ku Mauna Council and other Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to consult and give guidance along the way.

First, the community expressed very strong concern for the future of Hawaii Island children, and rightfully so.  As a result of the partnership, a number of benefits were devised that would answer that concern.  Among them:

  • The Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund (the THINK Fund) was established in 2014 to enable Hawaii Island students to master STEM and become a science and tech workforce for better-paying jobs in Hawaii. The THINK Fund was established and is funded by TMT and administered by the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Pauahi Foundation. So far, the THINK Fund has benefitted more than 20,000 students and 97 schools and nonprofit organizations on Hawaii Island. To date, TMT has provided more than $5 million to the THINK Fund and will continue to invest $1 million a year.
  • To develop and support Hawaii’s future workforce, TMT established and is ramping up to a $1 million dollar a year investment in its Workforce Pipeline Program. For example, the Akamai Internship program provides college students with summer internships at observatories and other high-tech companies in Hawaii. We’ve funded Akamai with an additional $1.3 million. As of this date, the Akamai Workforce Initiative alumni include 36% women, 25% Native Hawaiian, and 47% underrepresented minorities.

Second, the community also expressed concern about the impact TMT might have on the environment and cultural/historical sites. We answered that through redesign of the development plan to ensure address any potential impact, from view planes to waste disposal.  All of that information is on our website at MaunakeaAndTMT.org.  In addition, TMT agreed to pay lease rent  ramping up to $1 million when operational – 80 percent goes to the Office of Maunakea Management for improved stewardship activities; 20 percent goes to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Scientific Discoveries

TMT represents the pinnacle of human imagination and innovation, enabling in-depth understanding of the origins of our universe while pushing further the frontiers of human knowledge. As a new, powerful optical / near-infrared telescope, TMT will enable astronomers to see further out into our universe and reach back toward the beginning of time, facilitating unprecedented research and discovery.

Many see TMT as a major step forward in scientific discovery, as a way to cement Hawaii’s reputation as a global center for astronomy, and as a place that works well with business “done right” and with an understanding of Hawaii’s values.  Many see TMT as an organization of people who respect and honor the history and culture of our island home.

The Way Forward

We recognize that these words can’t completely address all of the questions and concerns we are hearing in our community. Over the last 10-plus years, we have had many conversations with those who support TMT and those who oppose it, and we will continue to have them. All have learned a great deal about and from each other, which is valuable to those of us at TMT.

Like most, we sincerely wish that TMT will be built on Maunakea in a peaceful and lawful manner. We acknowledge the depth and intensity of the opponents’ feelings, and recognize this is a stressful situation for everyone. We remain hopeful that can we find a way forward safely and peacefully, and with mutual respect.