Discovering black holes and other galaxies in the universe seems like such an amazing and harmless thing to want to do; however, if you’re trying to build a giant 30 meter large telescope (Thirty Meter Telescope, a.k.a. TMT) on sacred Native Hawaiians lands, it feels less amazing. This is a real situation that is happening on Hawaii’s Big Island, and it’s been going on for two months (as of August 2019). As an individual who is going into the field of scientific research it’s very important that these types of issue are brought to light and that they are situations that help the scientific community grow and realize some of the damage that has been done in the name of scientific discovery. Learning and discovering new knowledge is great and can lead to advancements in the world, but at what cost are we doing this research and gaining this knowledge?
Fellow scientists, please don’t stop reading quite yet. Hear me out. I’m not saying that we ALL directly are endangering sacred sites of native Hawaiian peoples, but we definitely aren’t helping unless we are actively taking a stance. In Smithsonian Magazine they discuss the fact that:
“the legacy of colonialism still pervades in science today.”
They go onto detail that there have been numerous people pleading to “decolonize science”. According to Nordling, decolonizing science is a movement that is aimed on eliminating/reducing the disproportionate legacy of white European thought and culture through education (Nordling, 2018). Now what does decolonizing science have to do with putting a telescope onto a mountain in Hawaii? By decolonizing science we, as the scientific community would be attempting to remove the inequalities, and we would be making sure that science and the way science is performed is beneficial for everyone (SmithsonianMag).
Not everyone knows what it’s like to hold something sacred so this desire to protect a sacred mountain might not be so clear. The native Hawaiians think of Mauna Kea (the mountain that the scientists want to build TMT on) as the home to Wākea, who is the sky god who was partners with the goddess of earth, Papahānaumoku (The Guardian). Another main point that the Hawaiian activists have raised is that the Hawaiian people have been oppressed and have lost so much already, so it makes sense for them to protest in attempts to save a place that they hold sacred.
Here’s an example that the Michigan State community could relate to, imagine if scientists announced that removing the Rock to dig underneath it would help us learn more about the soil nutrients at that distance from the Red Cedar. I know there would be some Spartans that would get extremely defensive and would protest against it. Now imagine if that was a mountain that your culture believed housed the land and sky gods.
Is it really worth exploring these scientific topics if it means desecrating things that people and cultures hold dearest to them? What knowledge is worth possibly making a full community/culture feel such a heavy loss?
- Phys.org, Giant Hawaii telescope to focus on big unknowns of universe, 2019: https://phys.org/news/2019-07-giant-hawaii-telescope-focus-big.html
- The Guardian, A new Hawaiian Renaissance’: how a telescope protest became a movement, 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/16/hawaii-telescope-protest-mauna-kea
- Smithsonian Magazine, Science Still Bears the Fingerprints of Colonialism, 2018: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-bears-fingerprints-colonialism-180968709/
- Nordling, Linda. “How Decolonization Could Reshape South African Science.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 7 Feb. 2018, www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01696-w.