Local Hawaiians Weigh in on Thirty Meter Telescope

By Eli Stillman, Editor in Chief

Construction of what is to be, the worlds most powerful telescope, is in the middle of a time-out after Hawaiian Governor, David Inge, called for a halt in progress to further discuss conditions of the 1.4 billion dollar project.

IMG_1329The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), is set to be constructed on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii.  In Hawaiian culture, the peaks around the area are considered sacred and at one time, only top ranking spiritual leaders were allowed to travel to their tops.  Today, such rules aren’t as strict, but the peaks are still very sacred to Hawiian people.  The area is the final resting place of many Hawaiian rulers and trips to the top for prayer and offerings are very common.

Though plans for construction have been known about for months, a movement opposing the project gained momentum last week on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. Even celebrities like Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa, a Hawaiian native, have taken to the web to express their concerns about building the telescope on hallowed ground.  Opposition of TMT can be seen in the non virtual world as well though, as Hawaiians, including a group here on campus, demonstrated with signs last week.

The Southern Oregon Hawaiian club has more than 60 members including some that hail from the big island. Kapoe Lewis,a senior at SOU and member of the club, grew up only an hour and a half away from Manau Kea and opposes the construction because she believes the sacred area already allows enough space designated for scientific research.

“Hawaiians aren’t against astronomy or science and star navigation has been important in the culture since it began,” She states, “I can see both sides, but wish they would use all the money to restore the already built telescopes, instead of destroying more land.”

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Notable support for the project came from the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who claimed last week that Canada planned on helping the project by building key components of the observatory in domestic high quality factories. “This revolutionary facility has the potential to transform astronomers’ understanding of the universe.”

Private companies that have agreed to help the international project are located in China, Japan, India and America.

TMT and its supporters claim that once completed the telescope will make advances in nearly every field of astronomy and astrophysics.  The number of possibilities are difficult to comprehend as technology like this has not yet been fully realized.  As stated by the website, “TMT will go far beyond what we envision today and TMT will enable discoveries that we cannot anticipate.”

At the site, dozens have already been arrested in the past week for blocking construction trucks trying to head up the county roads.  Countless other groups of people have traveled to the construction site daily to protest, in hopes of making the workers leave or stalling progress long enough for investors to pull out of the endeavor.

“This isn’t about a complex telescope – when Hawaii was illegally claimed as US territory, the Hawaiian people were granted plots of land to be left in its condition because of its religious value, that mountain being just one of the many religious areas on that island particularly,” says Kekai Obrey, a SOU employee who moved from Hawaii when he was 18 but, to this day, carries with him a strong connection to the island as well as Mauna Kea.

With family currently on the mountain protesting, Obrey feels that if projects like this continue, outside groups will never stop coming in and building on important land.

“I thought laws were supposed to stop things like this from happening,” he continued, “how long until another group of rich and powerful people want to build something else up there?”

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