Episode 12: Hawai'i and the Thirty Meter Telescope

Keck Telescope on Maunakea

Steelworkers hoist a piece of the Keck Telescope into the dome for installation at the observatory site on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Circa 1989. 

Credit: California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

Featuring a discussion with experts Samantha Thompson and Kalewa Correa from the Smithsonian Institution, this episode is about the history of Hawai’i and the controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The TMT Corporation’s Board of Directors selected Maunakea as its preferred site in 2009. The 2014 groundbreaking for the TMT site was met with fierce, but peaceful, opposition by Indegious Hawaiians and environmentalists for whom the mountain is both a sacred religious and cultural site, as well as home to rare species. Disagreements manifested at the mountain where protectors of Maunakea assembled to block the road and in the courts where they halted the project through legal proceedings.  The Supreme Court of Hawai’i halted the project until 2018, at which point  protectors once again assembled and delayed construction. In the media, the battle over Maunakea and the Thirty Meter Telescope was often portrayed as a conflict between science and religion, but as our guests point out, that is not the case. This episode contextualizes the battle as part of a larger history of science, colonization, and the sovereignty of Native Hawaiians. 

Podcast Guests
Samantha Thompson

Dr. Samantha Thompson is a Curator of Science and Technology at the National Air and Space Museum and an Edward & Helen Hintz Secretarial Scholar. She is a historian of science and technology with a focus on the history of astronomy and space sciences.


Kālewa Correa
Kālewa Correa

Kālewa Correa serves as the Curator of Hawai’i and the Pacific with the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center where he works on Our Stories, a digital storytelling initiative to showcase the voices of Pacific Islanders.


Blog Post: Ex LIbris Universum

MAURA: Hi. Two tickets to Hawaii please, for Maura Shapiro and Justin Shapiro. No, no relation.

JUSTIN: Work or vacation? We’re traveling for work. Yeah, we make a physics history podcast.

MAURA: It’s called “Initial Conditions: A Physics History Podcast.” Every physics problem begins with a set of initial conditions — oh, yeah. You don’t — okay.

JUSTIN: Thank you. And now we have to wait in line at security, and then we have a 12-hour flight.

MAURA: Well, at least we have some good podcasts saved.

ALLISON: And, scene.

JUSTIN: [laughs] So we aren’t really flying to Hawaii.

ALLISON: I can’t believe I wasn’t invited to your imaginary trip to Hawaii.

MAURA: I’m sorry! You were on a real vacation when I wrote this script.

ALLISON: Okay, but if you go for real, I bring great plane snacks.

JUSTIN: I don’t doubt that, given the popcorn maker you have stashed in the library.

ALLISON: Well, that’s part of my job as the associate director of library collections and services at the Niels Bohr Library and Archives: to manage popcorn production.

JUSTIN: And we’re grateful for it. I’m Justin Shapiro.

MAURA: I’m Maura Shapiro.

ALLISON: And I’m Allison Rein.

MAURA: And you’re listening to the last regular season episode of “Initial Conditions: A Physics History Podcast.”

ALLISON: The Season 1 finale.

JUSTIN: Every physics problem begins with a set of initial conditions that provide the context for physics to happen.

MAURA: Likewise, in “Initial Conditions,” we’ll provide the context in which physics discoveries happen. We’ll dive into the history behind the science of people, places, and events that have been overlooked and largely forgotten.

JUSTIN: If we aren’t actually flying to Hawaii, what are we doing?

MAURA: Well, we are going to Hawaii, metaphorically. Today we are talking about the 30-Meter Telescope proposed for Mauna Kea and the controversy surrounding it. To do that, we need to understand the history of Hawaii and astronomy.

JUSTIN: So today’s episode is very different from our past episodes.

MAURA: Yes, and I’m really excited, because today we are talking about indigenous Hawaiian astronomy and the 30-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea with two absolutely amazing guests: Kālewa Correa and Samantha Thompson from the Smithsonian Institution.

JUSTIN: A 30-Meter Telescope — I’m assuming that means the telescope is approximately 30 meters.

MAURA: Yeah. So telescope size is determined by the diameter of the primary mirror. 30 meters is huge, and it’s classified, very appropriately, under the class of “extremely large telescopes.”

JUSTIN: “Very large” wasn’t big enough?

MAURA: Believe it or not, there is already a Very Large Telescope in Chile, but its primary mirror is 8 meters, which is less than a quarter the diameter of the proposed 30-Meter Telescope, or TMT for short. So yes, “extremely” is an appropriate adjective.

JUSTIN: Not very creative, but at least it is less confusing than some of the more convoluted acronyms we usually encounter. Maura, what can you tell me about the 30-Meter Telescope, the TMT?

MAURA: Well, in 2000, the U.S. National Academy of Science proposed building an extremely large telescope as a foundational step for the future of astronomy. The 30-Meter Telescope was proposed in 2009 to sit atop Hawaii’s mountain Mauna Kea, a sacred site for native Hawaiians. There are 13 observatories already on this mountain, and the size and capabilities of the proposed 30-Meter Telescope made it an exciting prospect for astronomers to learn more about the origins of the universe. At the time it was proposed, it was going to be the largest ground-based observatory in the world.

JUSTIN: That sounds expensive. Who pays to build a telescope like that?

MAURA: Yeah. The proposed cost was $1.4 billion, but now it’s exceeded that budget. Anyway, it’s an international collaboration. Sponsors include universities, such as the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and governments such as Japan, India, China, and Canada, although Canadian support has wavered.

JUSTIN: And as I understand it, the plan for building the telescope sparked protests and outrage by native Hawaiians and environmental groups.

MAURA: Yes. Mauna Kea, the site of the telescope, is a sacred mountain, and the complex would tower 18 stories high, permanently altering the face of the mountain and drilling deep inside it. It would interfere with religious and cultural practices of indigenous Hawaiians and could also endanger already rare species found only on the mountain. Here is some news coverage of the protests.

REPORTER IN AUDIO CLIP: A group of opponents who also call themselves “protectors” sued the state of Hawaii for granting the TMT Company a permit they say is inconsistent with the state’s conservation laws.

INTERVIEWEE IN AUDIO CLIP: You have to remember that Mauna Kea, in its entirety as a conservation district, and conservation districts are one of the


highest protected levels, and they’re — it’s supposed to be no construction.

REPORTER IN AUDIO CLIP: The debate between astronomers and native Hawaiians [FADES OUT] —

JUSTIN: This isn’t the first time projects on the mountain have faced opposition. Even the earliest observatories on Mauna Kea were criticized for their cultural and environmental impact.

MAURA: Observatories on Mauna Kea were working to build ties and understanding between astronomy and Hawaiian communities through outreach and education and engaging more with both communities during decision-making processes. ʻImiloa is a museum sponsored by the University of Hawaii, Hilo, dedicated to educating visitors. “‘Imiloa links early Polynesian navigation history and knowledge of the night skies and today’s renaissance of Hawaiian culture and wayfinding with parallel growth of astronomy and scientific developments on Hawaii island.”

JUSTIN: But despite these efforts, the 30-Meter Telescope was met with resistance.

MAURA: The 30-Meter Telescope broke ground in 2014, and immediately protectors of the mountain assembled to halt construction, blocking the roads needed to reach the site. The protectors also created a refuge for learning, discussions, and assembly. Celebrities, such as Jason Momoa, even took part in defending the mountain. Some of the peacefully assembled protectors were arrested, but ultimately, governor of Hawaii David Ige temporarily stalled construction.

JUSTIN: The protectors fight for the cultural significance of the mountain, which is sacred to native Hawaiians. They also strive to protect the delicate environment and endangered species that construction threatens. But in many ways, they are fighting to defend the sovereignty of land that was taken from indigenous Hawaiians.

MAURA: In 2015, just a year after the 30-Meter Telescope’s groundbreaking, Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled that the conservation district use permit issued by the Board of Land and Natural Resources was invalid. Appellees did not receive due process when the permit was issued. This stopped construction on the 30-Meter Telescope, and officials even started a search for an alternative site in case Mauna Kea was no longer possible.

JUSTIN: And it didn’t end there.

MAURA: No. In 2018, the Hawaii Supreme Court approved a new permit for the TMT allowing construction of the telescope, and building was supposed to commence in 2019. Peaceful demonstrations blocked the road up to the mountain, preventing access not only to the TMT site, but to all observatories for a month. Eight protectors chained themselves to a cow grate, putting their bodies between construction workers and the mountain. Many protectors who were peacefully assembled were arrested, and all of the protectors who were arrested were Hawaiian elders.

JUSTIN: We all know what happened in 2020. Did Covid impact the project?

MAURA: Yes. Like many things around the world, construction paused and was set to resume in 2021.

JUSTIN: In the media, the fight over this mountain was often portrayed as a battle between science and religion. That’s not the case. In the discussion that follows in the rest of this episode, we learn about the history of Hawaii and the battle over the 30-Meter Telescope.

MAURA: And I just want to say here, as someone who spent my childhood dreaming about the stars, and then my higher education studying them, I understand the innate drive we have as astronomers to push deeper into the universe to learn more about its origins. And I understand that building bigger and better telescopes will facilitate that learning. We strive to answer questions, like: how did we get here? Who are we in relation to the universe? Is there other life out there? But at the center of these questions is humanity. In this episode, when we learn about the history of Hawaii and the 30-Meter Telescope, we may be uncomfortable, but I encourage you, our audience, to approach this topic with the same curiosity, empathy, and desire for understanding humanity to which you approach astronomy. Here is our interview with Samantha Thompson and Kālewa Correa.

THOMPSON: Hi, I am Samantha Thompson. I’m a historian of astronomy and curator at the National Air and Space Museum.

CORREA: Aloha kākou. Aloha to everybody. I’m Kālewa Correa. I’m the curator of Hawaii in the Pacific for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

MAURA: Thank you. So now we can just dive in. And can you please tell us about the project that you’re working on together?

THOMPSON: I can get that started. So we are — we have a project. We’re interviewing native Hawaiians who, in various ways, have been involved in the past and present growth of astronomical facilities in Hawaii, specifically on Mauna Kea. We really wanted to better understand why so many have been actively working to prevent further


expansion of astronomy facilities on the mountain, and rather than relying on clipped media sources, we figured we would go directly to people and get their perspectives on what’s been going on. I can also add, as a historian, one of the reasons why I wanted to embark on this project was I was really hoping that this would help inform my understanding of how the astronomy community has incorporated, or not incorporated, the needs of local communities when they develop observatories.

MAURA: And Kālewa, do you have anything to add to this, or —

CORREA: Yeah. I mean, I guess I’m along as a part of this. I’ve been involved with some aspect of documentation or involved with the TMT struggle for over the past 16 years in different capacities, either when it was when I was working at ʻImiloa Astronomy Center doing the exhibitry there, to the work that I do now, sort of talking about the land tenure and history of Mauna Kea at the Smithsonian Institution. So, Sam and I together, I think we made a pretty good team on the initial, or inaugural, collection of this — oral stories, and yeah, it’s going pretty well.

THOMPSON: Yeah. For the history of astronomy side, I think there’s this real push to understand kind of the cultural and social impacts of science as a whole, and this story has been in the news very — in very big ways recently. But what we have learned is that this — you know, the issues around astronomy on Mauna Kea is not something that’s happened in the last seven, eight years. It’s a really long story, so being able to get folks’ perspective on that is really helpful. And we do a lot of oral histories to kind of capture people’s — you know, their own perspectives, and you take that [laughs] into consideration when you’re thinking about what people are saying. But we don’t have the same types of, you know, historic data that we get from the astronomers’ side of things, where there’s grant applications and there’s scientific papers published. So we really wanted to find a way to be able to tell the story of that community.

CORREA: Yeah. And unfortunately the mainstream media during a lot of the protests was very skewed and only showed one side of what was happening up there and really vilified the native Hawaiian and Hawaiian nationals that were up there, sort of fighting on behalf of the mountain. So I think what the work that we’re doing through NASM and the Asian Pacific American Center at the Smithsonian is try to give a fair and balanced overview of what is actually happening, as opposed to what you read in the newspaper or see on TV or what you read generally on social media, which is vilifying the native peoples of these islands.

THOMPSON: And working for a public institution, you know, working for museums, this is an opportunity to tell the story to a different audience that may not have come across these — you know, these new stories, or when we get asked the questions of, Where do you put telescopes, and why?” we want to help people understand that there’s another part of that answer, and it’s really understanding the place in which we put observatories and what that means. And I really think there’s no better way to do that than through the voices of the people who are directly impacted, whether from the local community or the astronomy community side.

MAURA: Thank you so much. I think it’s really important that we have this balanced understanding of the history and the history of the place. So that takes us to our next question, which is about the history of Hawaii. Our audience might know that Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959, but the history is a little bit more complicated than that.

CORREA: The history is very complicated. Did Hawaii become a state in 1959? So it’s plausible that it could be a state in 1959. However, in order for one nation to annex another nation, you need a treaty with annexation. So in 1843, Hawaii was recognized as the first non-European independent state in the world by what is the Family of Nations. So it was the Anglo-Franco Proclamation that first recognized Hawaii as an independent nation. From that Anglo-Franco Proclamation, Hawaii had over 21 treaties with different countries around the world and over 90 embassies across the world, seven of them being in the United States of America itself. So if we look at the history of Hawaii from 1843 all the way on up to 1893, we have this time period of actual expansion and growth. We’re actually exporting more than we’re importing, and we are around the world. And Hawaii, folks need to know, is a multiethnic


nation made up of not just native Hawaiians, but made up of ethnicities all around the world that came to Hawaii. And so as an independent country with control of our lands and seas, being recognized by all these different countries, we had agency over our space, agency over our state. And in 1893, what happens is that it’s often chalked up to the Committee of Safety, thirteen men, six Hawaiian nationals of mixed ethnicity — whether they were either white or native Hawaiian — and then we had six foreign nationals and one foreigner, who attempted to overthrow the government. Thirteen people don’t overthrow a government. What it was, was 300 U.S. Marines and the U.S.S. Boston, under the command of Captain Alfred Mahan at the bequest [KB1] of John L. Stevens, the foreign minister to the United States. That actually overthrows the government here in Hawaii. So when we look at the overthrow of the actual government itself, it doesn’t overthrow the state. And so if you think about international law, and you think about conflicts that we know in a more modern context, like the United States going into Iraq or the United States going into Afghanistan, just because another government and its insurgency or its troops go into another country, doesn’t mean that that country is then extinguished. What it means is basically that the country is occupied at that point, until which time a new government or new organ that governs that state then is reappointed. So when we look at Hawaii and we look at its past, in 1893, it's overthrown by thirteen people, even though we had an actual force of 600 locally that was made up of our national guard, the Hawaiian Kingdom National Guard could have basically taken out these thirteen people. And so ultimately, it is on the back of the United States, which was done in the 1992 Clinton apologies to the people of Hawaii. But he apologized actually to indigenous Hawaiians. He didn’t apologize to Hawaiian nationals. So when we talk about, like, what happened here in Hawaii, it wasn’t just the overthrowing of native peoples, it was the overthrowing of a government and state, which until this day, still exists as an occupied territory. We became a state because of a supposed annexation, a treaty of annexation which doesn’t exist. What actually happened was it’s called the Newlands Resolution. So it’s U.S. domestic law that basically made Hawaii the 50th state. So U.S. domestic law has no bearing beyond its borders. So if Hawaii is an independent state and the U.S. is an independent state, the U.S. can pass laws saying, “Everybody in Mexico are going to wear hats on Friday.” Everyone in Mexico could say, “Okay, that’s great, but we’re not going to do it, because we’re not a part of your country.” There are things that are passed domestically that definitely affect other countries, like drones and military incursions and stuff like that, but as far as domestic law goes, domestic law affects the states within your borders, or affects domestically what’s happening, not externally. So the United States has held the lands of Hawaii from 1898, and then it transferred it to the State of Hawaii in 1959. 1959 is definitely a key year to think about, and the reason for this is the Decolonization Act happens in 1960. So the U.S. knows that by 1959, they’re either going to need to deoccupy Hawaii, or they’re going to need to give it back to the rightful government that existed prior. When we look at how the state of Hawaii actually gets its lands, it gets it from the United States, which it’s stolen from the Kingdom of Hawaii. So when we are talking about Mauna Kea, what we’re doing is — generally when I talk about it, I talk about it from the land tenure side. I oftentimes will leave out the significance of the spirituality to my culture that I belong to and am a part of, but I like to focus just on: who actually has the right to build on Mauna Kea, and how do they have the right to build on Mauna Kea? One of the reasons that the United States needed Hawaii was all the ships at the time were coal ships, and so we were a coaling station in the middle of the Pacific. It was as early as 1840, under the U.S. “Ex Ex,” Expedition under Lieutenant Charles Wilkes that he starts to — Lieutenant Charles Wilkes starts to talk about Pearl Harbor or Pearl River being the best spot in all of the Pacific in order to have a harbor. What happens though is, Hawaii as an independent nation in 1851, which is then ratified in 1854, becomes a neutral country.


So as a neutral country, no one can actually launch war from our shores or use our land in order to wage war. And so with the growing expansion of the Spanish in the Pacific and the different countries that are going throughout the Pacific claiming these different areas and zones, what we see is we see the United States has this real keen interest on making Hawaii its space to re-coal and to basically use it as a strategic point. But the problem is, is that 1854 Proclamation of Neutrality basically says: you can coal here, but you can’t wage war from our shores. So after the overthrow, in 1898, it’s proposed to Congress by, again, Captain Alfred T. Mahan that we need to — the “United States” here — we need to take Hawaii for its strategic location because of the coming Spanish-American War that’s going to happen. And so ultimately, Hawaii is a part of the United States as a strategic point, even though it was illegally done. And even though there’s no treaty of annexation that exists that can prove that Hawaii is a part of the United States because of the Newlands Resolution and domestic law, Hawaii is still a strategic point today for the U.S. A lot of people like to say: well, in 1959, the people of Hawaii voted to become a state. Well, interestingly enough, the population of another country can’t actually vote to annex out and become a part of another country. So if you think about it today, think about what has happened in Crimea. In Crimea, basically folks that were Russian of nationality voted to become a part of Russia, even though Crimea is a part of Ukraine. So here’s an example. From 1890 to 1956, Hawaii’s population grew over 1,200 percent. So from 1890 to 1956, 1,200 percent. The 1,200-percent growth rate from 48,000 to over 622,000 people were American citizens. So if you take an entire population and you move it into a space and then say: well, we’re all voting for this place to become a state, that’s problematic, especially under international law, that’s problematic. So that itself is the true nature of colonization, is to move a population of yours into another space to then dominate. But Hawaii is under pseudocolonization. We’re actually under military occupation right now. So if you look at international law, we are still under that freeze point in 1893 when the United States Marines landed and helped to overthrow the Hawaiian kingdom government. So that point in time was frozen under international law. And that’s where we are today. But everything that has happened from that basically permeates out, so every land transaction, every type of transfer of land, assets, money, all of the embassies closing down — all those things, all the treaties are frozen as well in time right now. So when we look at those things, those are the things that really set up the fight for Mauna Kea. And a lot of people don’t realize it goes back that far, or it doesn’t — they don’t realize that it’s beyond just this idea of — there is the spiritual component, which is at the base of it, but there’s the other component, which is the land tenure of how the University of Hawaii gets the land itself at Mauna Kea and how the observatories even got a right to build there.

JUSTIN: Thank you. That’s really helpful context. I think the listeners are going to benefit from that. Of course, these disputes over land use are deeply embedded in these much longer colonial histories, and so it’s important to give an overview and a good history of those struggles. But turning now to building on Mauna Kea, I have sort of a two-part question. And the first part of it is: so we know that many modern observatories are situated on Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island. Why — what are the qualities of that location in particular that make it so ideal for astronomy?

THOMPSON: So there are a few things astronomers look for when deciding where to build a telescope. The first one is: you want dark skies. So you want — you’re trying to gather very dim light from far away in the universe. You don’t want bright lights from cities interfering in that at all. We used to have observatories right next to cities. There’s, you know, Harvard Observatory right outside Boston; Mount Wilson Observatory outside Los Angeles. But once you start getting electric lights


in big cities, those observatories really can’t overcome that light. So you want to get away from light as much as possible. The other next aspect is: you want to get as high into the atmosphere as possible, so astronomers are gathering light that’s traveling through a lot of Earth’s atmosphere, and our atmosphere changes in temperature. It changes in humidity levels. And as light comes through it, it actually distorts the light. So that’s why stars look like they twinkle, is because they’re kind of getting distorted on their way through the atmosphere. So the higher we can get, the less we have to deal with that. There’s also certain types of light that don’t penetrate the atmosphere, either at all or very well. Infrared light, for example, can get a little bit through our atmosphere, but not very well, so you want to get as high as possible to make that happen. Those are the two big things that astronomers will talk about, but another one, a third one, that’s really important is infrastructure. So you need — when you’re building things that are in really dark places, that are really high up, you need to be able to get there, and then you kind of need to live while you’re up there as well. So roads, electricity, housing, bathrooms, all of those things, which is typically why you see — once you have a telescope built on a mountain site, you tend to build more in those places. There’s already a road up. If there’s already electricity running, that’s things you don’t have to pay for again. So Mauna Kea is, you know — sits at 14,000 feet. It’s extremely high. The humidity levels are very low. When Gerard Kuiper, who was trying to find a place to build an infrared telescope, he went to Chile and did site-testing there. He came to Hawaii. He went to Haleakala first, and the humidity can be a little iffy there, because you have different types of clouds moving in. And when he got to Mauna Kea, it was really the best site for his telescopes. The humidity was really low. The temperature tends to be a little bit more stable. So he had the governor build him a road up there, and that was kind of this first step of getting permanent telescopes on the site. And telescopes have been brought up the mountain in the past, but this is the first time you get a permanent telescope up there.

JUSTIN: Thank you. And listeners would do well to remember Episode 2, when we talked about the carbon dioxide monitoring station on Mauna Loa, which was selected because it was far from any industrial center. The air was quite clear, and that was one of the few reasons why Keeling opted to build the monitoring station there. So Samantha, I think you’ve given us a good overview of one type of astronomy that’s practiced in Hawaii. But my other question is: could you also describe the history of native Hawaiian astronomy? [ADDRESSING CORREA?]

CORREA: Native Hawaiian astronomy — in the Hawaiian language, it’s called Kilo Hōkū. Kilo Hōkū is a very practical application of astronomy and a way of looking at the stars and understanding the stars and constellations, and it’s in our own way, as Kanaka Maoli: native Hawaiians. Most often, Hawaiian astronomy is thought of in the way that we navigate the Pacific or navigate around the globe. Beyond just navigation itself, it has practical implications here in Hawaii that some of it we know, and some of it we don’t know. The stars and the cycles of the Moon were used for our planting. Our religious structures here throughout the Hawaiian archipelago are actually aligned to star constellations. And so any ha’o, or religious structure that you go to, has an angle and is aligned to a constellation that we know, not necessarily a western constellation, but the constellations that are known by native Hawaiians. And so a lot of that knowledge, as far as the triangulization [KB2] or the alignment to constellations has been lost due to — we had mass die-off in 18 — between the time that Cook’s men came in 1790 through 1840, we lost nearly 98 percent of our population. So a lot of that cultural knowledge had been lost over time. That also, when you have a society going from a more traditional way of life into a modern way of life becoming, you know, the first non-European international state, you also have a tendency of sort of forgetting the old ways in that process. But everything from fishing to understanding spawning to planting to religious structures


were tied to the skies, and so there are constellations that were described in the Hawaiian dictionary and in the newspapers that now we understand only through telescopes, that were being described by my ancestors. So how did they know that some of these deeper-space constellations, or deeper-space planets existed? We have no idea, but there’s descriptions in the old newspapers dating back to 1830 that talk about some of these discoveries, and they’re discoveries from our way of understanding the world.

MAURA: There are multiple telescopes already existing on this mountain, yet the construction of the 30-Meter Telescope was quite controversial. So my question is: why was this controversial?

THOMPSON: So after the first permanent telescope was built in the late 1960s, UH — the University of Hawaii — has one built in 1970. Since then, you’ve had over a dozen telescopes constructed on the mountain, covering about finances from, I think, a dozen different countries in this process and kind of sweeps across the electromagnetic spectrum. So you have different types of telescopes. There is some overlap in what they do, but they’re all kind of, you know, serving different people that are doing something differently. Though there was a lot of protests that we saw in the media around the 30-Meter Telescope, I think it’s important to note that resistance to more construction on the mountain took place much earlier than that, and the earliest that I’ve seen is about 1999. One of the telescopes, the Keck Telescopes, were trying to expand their footprint on the mountain. And they actually held public meetings where they invited public input, where they talked about environmental impacts, and I think that this is the first time that you really see a big public outcry for more expansion, where people are upset that they weren’t involved earlier on in the process. You get a lot of lawsuits happening from about 2002 onward. So this has been kind of a constant legal battle for the last two decades, so by the time you get to 2014, 2015, this has been a long time of saying “no” for this community. The 30-Meter Telescope is a little bit different in a way, where it is — it would be the largest telescope on the mountain. Its mirrors would cover about 25 meters. It will stand 18 stories high. It will have a huge footprint on the mountain. It will also be dug really far into the mountain. So I think there’s that to consider. But what we heard from folks [laughs] was: it’s been two decades, and we said “no” two decades ago, and this is where we put our foot down. And I’ll let Kālewa speak to this, but I really do think what I heard was that it kept in line with a younger generation really becoming aware of their voice and the power that they had to be able to say “no.” A lot of the older generation, you know, in 1967, they didn’t know that the telescope was being put up there to begin with, and maybe they didn’t realize that they could have said “no” at the time. So there’s kind of the slow process of gaining that voice and that power.

CORREA: Yeah. I mean, I guess going back to the understanding of this next generation really taking the reins on some of these protests is important to note, and some of it comes from — I mean, again, everything in Hawaii has a very long history, so if we go back to 1898 going into 1900, basically what we see happening is that the Hawaiian language — which is the national language, along with English — English was the language of commerce and law; the Hawaiian language was the medium of instruction. The Hawaiian language was banned within the Department of Education as the national language, and that basically was intentional as a way of denationalizing and obliterating the national consciousness that existed there. What better way to have a populace really get on board with what’s going on with raising the American flag, having them say, you know, “I pledge allegiance” every day, and having all of the medium and instruction in the Department of Education being done in English? Not a bad thing. English was already in the Hawaiian kingdom, and again, it was used for law and used for commerce as the official language. And also, it was the official second language of Hawaii, so everybody was bilingual here. But looking back at that, when we look at when the ban is actually lifted on Hawaiian language as an instructional language, basically it’s 1982 is when we see that being repealed by the State of Hawaii. So if we look at that time period and the amount of time not understanding


culture, not understanding your past, really starting to get into this — what has been dubbed “the Hawaiian Renaissance,” which is kind of coming back into understanding your history, understanding cultural practices and actually applying them. We see an increase of people participating in what is called Aloha ʻĀina, or Mālama 'āina, which means to take care of the land. And so through that, we see a resurgence of people really starting to protest military. We see people protesting the destruction of fish ponds, the destruction of places, and Mauna Kea is on that list of people paying attention to what’s going on up there and starting to, as Samantha said, being able to say “no.” We’re a very polite society here for the most part, and so oftentimes because everybody is related in a way or you’re accountable to your neighbors, even if they’re people that have recently come, because it’s such a small space, you try not to make waves. So I think traditionally, at least over the last 128 years, we’ve been pretty accommodating to changes going on here in Hawaii as the native population. But as more and more gets built up, as more and more land gets either turned into commercial or basically destroyed — military bombs here on a weekly basis, right next to Mauna Kea and Pohakuloa _____ right at the base of Mauna Loa. So you have this resurgence of just paying attention to — of someone that needs to speak for the land itself and to say “no.” And so as Samantha was mentioning, there have been protests for a while about observatories, but the magnitude of what happened with the TMT, at least in this most recent — what we saw from the _____ and the protesters. Protesters — we call them protectors — what we saw is the greater native Hawaiian population and Hawaiian citizens that are not native Hawaiian standing up for the mountain, because it can’t speak for itself. And we already have 13 observatories up there at the moment, and why can’t you use what you already have up there? Also with space telescopes happening, why is another ground-based telescope necessary, especially when it’s not welcomed here? I’m also going to speak to something that is often not mentioned in this debate over Mauna Kea, which is the inclusivity of the astronomical world to native Hawaiians. It is not a world that we are welcomed into. It is not a world that you have hiring from the native Hawaiian community, rather than menial jobs. There are native Hawaiian astronomers that are around the world trying to get jobs on Mauna Kea that can’t come home to actually participate in astronomy in their homeland. And this is intentional, in my opinion, that it has been an exclusive industry. And it is an industry at the end of the day. It is science for the good of humankind, and there’s no Hawaiian that will argue the fact of “astronomy is a bad thing.” They’re arguing over this particular project, which has been fraught with all kinds of issues, from permitting to public scoping to cultural understanding to even the way that they dealt with people that were protesting against it being constructed. The fact that when you have a population that is able to speak out and have their voice heard and basically you have truckloads of mace being dropped off and threatening a population that is basically kupuna, elderly in our culture — elderly people, standing up to have their voice heard, and the response is: we’re going to mace you, and we’re going to jail you, over you asserting your voice over your sacred space and over, actually, being the rightful beneficiaries of Mauna Kea itself, is that population. To have that, I think it’s a very narrowminded look from a community that’s supposed to have a wide view of the Earth. If we can’t even take care of what we have here, why are we looking beyond what we already have? And the fact that we have 13 telescopes up there, and we need to push this other telescope without actually fulfilling what was promised to the native Hawaiian community, I think is very problematic. If there was a lot more inclusivity in the actual running of the telescopes up there, having native Hawaiians


that are astronomers in those observatories, you might see a different perspective.

THOMPSON: I’ve spoken to native Hawaiian astronomy grad students who I know would love to come home and would love to continue working in Hawaii, and the jobs just don’t seem to be there right now, so I do think that’s, you know, something — an issue that I see talked about. Also, of the 20-odd interviews that we did, so few people talk about the 30-Meter Telescope as really being an issue. Like clearly, it’s the issue, but it comes up so infrequently because it’s not really the issue. There’s larger things at play here, and it is this idea that it’s not — no one came out with — told us that they hate astronomy or that they want no more astronomy, but it’s how it’s being done, where it’s being done, whose voices are being included in that decision-making process, is what arose the most. I mean, I think if we, like, did by words, you’d probably end up with like 0.001 percent [laughs] _____ conversation that’s actually about astronomy or the 30-Meter Telescope, other than, “This is too many.” And I think, you know, if you ask astronomers, “Why do you need another one?” they will have an answer for you. They will have a very good answer, but for the community that we interviewed, it was a “That’s your answer. How does that answer weigh with what we need?” So you kind of have these two conflicting needs and how you — where you put that value, that’s what I heard as being the real issue was: whose needs are being valued more than the other needs?

CORREA: And to add to that, it’s oftentimes because this has been such a long legal battle, and folks have been voicing their opinions for so many years now. What we’re seeing is, how many times do we have to actually assert ourselves and say what it is that we expect from the astronomy community for them to actually listen? But it’s still pushing forward, and so I think, you know, from diving now a little bit more into maybe the spiritual side of things, that’s what’s not being heard, and oftentimes it’s spun, at least in the media, that Mauna Kea being sacred is something very new, which it’s not. It’s not a new thing. If you go back — again, I go back to the old newspapers in the Hawaiian language in order to really understand my culture now, because of that mass depopulization that happened. And so if you look from 1830 all the way up through 1929, Mauna Kea is mentioned over 6,029 times within the Hawaiian language newspapers as a site of significance. And so if it’s not something that is significant or something that is sacred to at least the native population, then why was it being written about so much? And also, as a native person, I think it’s within our ability to decide what is important to us as a culture going forward. So it’s up to us to decide what is sacred. If we’re not allowed to dictate or mandate or say what is important to us as we go forward as a culture, then our culture is dead at that point. And so no new religious sites can be done, no new ways of knowing are crafted, and it’s because that culture is then stuck in time, and there’s only a time period that’s considered “ancient” or “sacred” or “Hawaiian culture.” Everything new is now United States Hawaiian culture. And so if we’re there and we’re at that crossroads right now, I have real — I worry for Hawaii, because Hawaii is its — Hawaii is the way that it is, and has continued for thousands of years, as Hawaii, even through the current colonization or occupation, whatever you want to call it — because of the people that came here originally and the aloha spirit that exists here. And so if we're no longer allowed to practice our culture, no longer allowed to practice our language, no longer allowed to say, “This is what is important to us,” then I think we’re lost. And so in that case, I really have worry for my people. I worry for the memories of my ancestors. I worry about where we go from here, and I worry for


the state of who is going to speak up for the land and who is going to be the people protecting what has been done for generations. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t normally, again, speak to the spiritual side of things, because it’s very complicated, and as soon as you say that, people of science often — they switch off. So the one thing that I do like to keep it to is the land tenure. So the land tenure is something that is — if you actually have paperwork to say that you have the ability to build and be up there, great, but where did it come from? If I take a Honda Accord from someone else, and I sell it to you, but I didn’t pay for that Honda Accord, and you own it now, is it still a stolen car? So I mean, when we look at that, and we actually examine how we got to where we are now, I just think it’s very problematic.

THOMPSON: The way I understand it too is Gerard Kuiper, in the early 1960s when he was trying to find a place on Mauna Kea to build his small infrared telescope, he built on a cinder cone that is the second highest point on Mauna Kea, and he says that he specifically didn’t build it on the highest point at the summit, because he understood that there was a religious or spiritual aspect to it. So that wasn’t a new concept to the astronomy community as well. It was kind of there from the beginning.

JUSTIN: So you mentioned a moment ago your work with the Protectors, who are fighting not just the 30-Meter Telescope, but a sort of larger legacy of science and imperialism in Hawaii. Are there any stories from the folks that you’ve talked to on the ground who are engaged with this issue that you want to share?

CORREA: Yeah. And I think Samantha will have her own too, here. I think probably one of the most significant stories that we heard over and over from the folks that we interviewed was the fact that it was the kupuna who put themselves on the front lines, and they were the ones that wanted to be arrested, and they knew that this might be one of their last fights in their lives, and they were willing to put their health and their bodies in front of the youth in order to stop any type of violence. The protests that happened at the base of Mauna Kea at Pu'u Huluhulu were intentionally nonviolent, and they were intentionally nonviolent because we wanted people to listen to what was happening there as opposed to just turning off and saying: oh, this is a bunch of radical, violent native people that just want to — you know, are neophytes that basically don’t want — don’t like science and don’t want modernization to happen. That is not the case here. A good portion of the people that are there have their Ph.D.s and are doctors of various different disciplines. The kupuna that were there, again, they put their health and their bodies in such a space that they were taking the front-line for the original arrests and stuff. And for me, when I think about it, I think about — in the United States, if you saw your grandmas and grandpas fighting for something that was important for them, being dragged away in zip-ties and handcuffs, being hauled into a van, and seeing that, just for speaking their mind, I would think there would be a, you know, some significant outrage in the United States. But it seems that it’s okay to happen in Hawaii, and it's okay for those things to happen to native Hawaiian elders. And additionally, just the kupuna camping up there every single day to ensure that nothing would happen, their voices would be heard, they would be seen — we’re talking about people that had healthcare issues that are in their 70s going into their 80s, being resolute on — this is their last stand. And so for me, hearing my generation and the younger generations talk about how important that was for them to activate was pretty key. But at the same time, you have the kupuna talking about how the younger generation are really taking the torch and leading in a way that they never even could conceive or that they didn’t expect that — they said it makes them so proud to see that this next generation — they don’t have to relearn language. They don’t have to relearn culture like they did.


What they did is, they’re born with it again. They’re born with their language and culture, and they’re on the front lines too. And so to see that interplay going back and forth between the kupuna and the younger generation, talking about — we’re not worthy to inherit what they’ve done, and the kupuna saying we’re so proud of what you’re doing. You’re definitely the next generation of leaders. For me, that just really hit home ______ [KB3] as an important part of Hawaiian culture going forward.

THOMPSON: I think that was one big aspect for me, was people talking about the roles of the different generations and what they’re responsible for, how they all kind of admired the different generations for doing their part so that — yeah, Kālewa spoke about that really well. The other part, the story that really stuck with me, was this campsite, the site that became this — how they saw it as this last stand — became a place of community and education. They called it a university, where you have people living there for a long period of time. You have people feeding each other, teaching each other, caring for each other, where it did become a community unto itself. And it wasn’t folks just hanging out. [laughs] They were really doing some work while they were there, and to hear those stories was really impressive, kind of what — you know I don’t like this term, but what a protest can look like. I don’t know that I’ve seen that very often, so that was remarkable. The component of a lot of the folks that chained themselves to the cattle grate and were arrested, if not all of them, most of them are professors. They’re Ph.D.s in various capacities and as, you know, somebody in that academic field, to see someone take a risk with their job and go out knowing that they might be arrested, was very — felt new for what I’ve seen in kind of the history of astronomy.

MAURA: Those stories all sound very impactful, and I really look forward to listening to them or interacting with them at some point. What I want to talk about next is the larger context. How does the battle over the 30-Meter Telescope fit into a larger story of colonization in science and in astronomy?

THOMPSON: I think there’s a lot of research being done lately on the very long history of colonization in science writ large. Science tends to be an activity where your pursuit is discovery, and that often means expansion, that means going into new places, and the impact on the people is often taken to matter less than the scientific discovery that’s made. So I think you get, in different fields, that impact with astronomy, because you need a place of which to do astronomy, and it’s often remote sites. We’re getting more there. The U.S., as — you know, continental U.S., there’s a lot of that that happened, you know — it was a long time before states became states where land was still not owned by the U.S. and telescopes were being built at that time as well. So this is not something even that’s new in continental U.S. history as well. I think when we talk about colonialization in science, it’s important to take into context the history of who and what is being colonized, because it looks different everywhere you go. I often feel a little hesitant to kind of make sweeping claims of what that looks like because, you know, building telescopes in Hawaii is different than building telescopes into South Africa or Chile or Australia. It's a different beast in its entirety. But I do see as a result of people kind of focusing on this idea that science can be a colonialist enterprise is, what can contemporary scientists do about that? I think there’s — what I’m seeing is scientists realizing there’s a long way to go, but at least that thought is even in the mindset now in scientific communities where it wasn’t a few decades ago.

CORREA: I’ll speak a little bit to that, science and colonialism or imperialism. I mean, if you go back to the foundations of the United States, U.S. “Ex Ex,” with Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, that was a scientific expedition, but it was done on military ships. And so unfortunately, historically it goes hand-in-hand, and it’s something that even when Lieutenant Wilkes landed here on Hawaii Island in 1840 and decided to walk from Hilo Harbor up to Mauna Loa to check azimuth and to verify,


if you read his journals, even that — they read as imperial conquest in the way that he treated the people that he was asking permission to go and use their space. And so when we look at that, I do think science and colonization are definitely hand-in-hand, and I do think it’s something that needs to be reckoned with, and it's something that could be fixed if both groups, or multiple groups, sit down at a table and actually map out what that looks like. You know? Unfortunately — and this is, in my opinion, being part of more of the education side of the astronomy community for a couple of years, and then now being at the Smithsonian — what I see is oftentimes going back to the, “My research is more important than your culture is,” oftentimes, especially here in Hawaii. And so even though there are very good astronomers listening, there are folks that just don’t think that it’s valid within the scope of science. And so until we can come to a point where we understand that science and indigenous ways or traditional ways of knowing are the same exact things, and understand that they are complementary, we’ll never get ahead. Traditional ways of knowing is science, but what happens that’s very different is that we don’t remove ourselves from the actual experiment. As humans, everything that we do affects the environment around us, whether you’re looking at fish spawning, whether you’re looking at stargazing. You are a participant within that. So the difference between native sciences and western sciences is only that. When you include the human, it’s a bias. In native sciences, you can’t remove the human, because it affects everything around you. So they are very complementary, and until we get to that point where we can understand that they’re both complementary and they both have value, that I don’t think we can get to that next step. And so I think native peoples really actually appreciate science, and so that’s valued quite a bit, but I don’t think it goes both ways all the time. So I think once there’s that shifting or that turn of the clock or that turn of direction where scientists actually understand that there’s a lot to learn from the native peoples of an area and that it is valid, then I think — yeah, I think it’s something that — it’ll move the bar forward once that happens.

THOMPSON: The notion of a participator is also something we’re starting to see in quantum mechanics, where there cannot be objective observations, so as we move forward, I think that’s absolutely something that science will grapple with.

CORREA: Yeah, totally. In native Hawaiian epistemology, even the way that you think when you’re interacting or what you say affects the overall result, and that was used throughout agriculture, throughout aquaculture, throughout even the building of religious ha’o and stuff. And those are protocols that are followed within traditional society here. And so, you know, oftentimes it’s looked at as sort of superstition, or it’s looked at as something that may be pseudoscience, but native Hawaiians had a word for microbes, so if you look in the Hawaiian dictionary, we actually had a word for microbes: “_____[KB4] is the word for microbe. So how is it that something that you generally need a microscope to see is something that could be described within a culture prior to contact? I mean, to me it blows my mind thinking about those sort of little things that I think we take for granted now, because we’re so — science is everywhere around us, and it helps to propel our world forward here as modern humans. But if we look back to the ancient traditions of native peoples, they actually were saying some of these things and describing some of these things already. It’s just — we’re going back and finding them now and bringing them forward. And so those types of scientific discoveries by the peoples before astound me.

THOMPSON: I want to add a little bit to that too. I think that there is this notion in western science that objectivity is obtainable, and as we study the history and philosophy of science, it’s not. Anytime you have people involved, it’s going to be subjective, and I think the pursuit towards that is what distinguishes science in a lot of ways, but it’s not in itself


actually [laughs] something that you can obtain. And I think the history of science as a field has really tried to understand the role of people in scientific enterprise. And we’ve seen — if I can do a little bit of historiography — we’ve seen the history of science field understand what it means to be part of the story of the history of science change over time. So to begin with, we’re telling the stories of scientists, the people doing the experiments. We eventually move to, “Oh, that’s right. There’s also engineers. There’s people building the tools. Oh, that’s right. There was also women there. There was also people of color there.” And it like, slowly expands, and I think what we’re seeing now and what I’m trying to study is, what about people who don’t consider themselves to be part of the scientific community in any way? Just because they’re not part of that community doesn’t mean they’re not part of the history of science story. And I think when we talk about trying to understand colonial science, it’s that trying to understand — of people can be a part of the story of science without directly participating in that pursuit, and that doesn’t mean that their story is less relevant or less important or should be valued less. It's just another component of that overall story.

JUSTIN: Thank you. You might be interested in some of our more recent episodes, where we talk about building the community of science and how the scientific community plays a role in legitimizing scientific knowledge. But yeah, we want to move away from that traditional kind of whiggish history of science…

THOMPSON: [laughs] Yes.

JUSTIN: …that looks at, you know, white men and their ideas.

THOMPSON: Yeah, the “great man” theory, which often becomes “the great woman” theory. [laughs] It’s not helpful at all. Yeah.

MAURA: So what lessons can our listeners take from this conversation as we all work towards a more equitable and ethical pursuit of knowledge?

CORREA: Good question. [laughs] I guess the way that I’ve been involved with this is to actually dig deeper into the subject at hand, especially when it’s — regards to this topic at hand, which is the TMT itself. It’s — you can go to basically the mainstream media and look at what is being said on mainstream media, and you’re going to get a canned response, because there’s a lot at stake here for this project. There’s a lot of money. It’s an over $1.2 billion project, so there’s a lot of interests in that. So I would say dig deeper into the subject itself, if you’re interested. Listen to some of the voices. Read some of the articles coming out of the opposition and really understand, again, this isn’t — in this case, it’s not native peoples against astronomy. It’s native peoples against this particular poorly handled project, and it’s also a case of, at this point, having their voices heard in a way that’s significant enough to actually change things. And so I guess the other thing for me is to understand that, you know, Hawaii is a space for the native peoples that are here, the Kanaka Maoli, native Hawaiians that have been here for over 2,000 years that have an ancestral connection to this space, that the bones of our ancestors are buried in this place that, even the hotels that are built upon the sand dunes actually are — some of our ancestors are under, and just to understand that there is a host culture here, and it’s not just everything that you see on a tourist website about leis, mai tais and sitting on the beach. There’s real people doing real work, working very hard just to survive, and to not only keep their culture alive but to practice their spiritual practices and to protect this place for not only themselves or their culture but for everyone that is a visitor here, and to understand that if we don’t have those people or don’t have those voices, that Hawaii as we know it ceases to exist.

THOMPSON: I started off as an astronomy student. I did my degrees in astronomy and physics and then moved over to history, and I feel like I’ve taken that mindset that a lot of historians have — is you’re gathering data, whether you’re a scientist, a historian, whatever you’re working on, it is: gather as much data as you can and then make an informed decision. So embarking on this project for me really was a way to try to understand what’s happening, and in order to do that, I wanted as much information as possible.


And I hope that’s what people take away is — you know, I remember what little I learned of Hawaiian history growing up. I remember what little of astronomy history I learned growing up. So to gather as much data as possible, to be better informed, to find a solution forward is, I think, applicable in all cases in this way. I’m not currently a member of the astronomy community. I’m not part of the Hawaiian community. I don’t know that I get a say in what happens with the TMT, but trying to better understand and help our visitors and other people understand the full story is my goal here.

JUSTIN: Thank you. And I have one final question for both of you. So for our listeners: where can people find your work and get engaged?

THOMPSON: [laughs] I want to say, TBD. Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question right now. So our goal is eventually — the interviews that we’ve done will be available publicly through the National Air and Space Museum Archives. It’ll take a while to process those oral histories, but we do want them available. We hope they’re available for journalists, for historians, for anyone who would benefit from that information. We would like to use them in our museum to be able to tell the story of, or answer the question of: where do astronomers build telescopes, and why? Because this is an important part of that answer.

CORREA: I can leave it with Samantha’s answer. I mean, we have SmithsonianAPA.org where you can find many stories, youth-driven stories, of native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth, recording the stories from their communities on there, whether it’s through podcast or film. That’s the major initiative I do. It’s called “Our Stories.” So you can find more information about history or language or stuff there, or the greater SmithsonianAPA.org to learn more about Asian-American history and native Hawaiian and Pacific Island history from my unit of the Smithsonian. But yeah, I’m looking forward to when these interviews come out through Air and Space, and I’m also looking at how we’re going to turn them and remix them into smaller vignettes that are going to inform society.

MAURA: That was Kālewa Correa, curator for the Asian Pacific American Center of the Smithsonian Institution, and Samantha Thompson, curator of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, bringing us the story of the 30-Meter Telescope.

JUSTIN: That was really enlightening, and I think it’s important to hear from scholars who are working with communities on the ground as they’re involved in social and environmental justice movements. But what’s happening with the 30-Meter Telescope now?

MAURA: Despite efforts for the TMT to build on its backup location in the Canary Islands, it is likely moving forward with building on Mauna Kea. The National Science Foundation, a potential funder of the telescope, is conducting an environmental impact study. They held meetings in Hawaii over the summer and just finished accepting public comments. Their statement reads, “NSF understands the possible construction of an extremely large telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island, Hawaii, is a sensitive issue that requires extensive engagement and understanding of various viewpoints.” Though they are not the only sponsor of the telescope, pulling funding could indicate a change in policy.

JUSTIN: In the next few years, stewardship over the mountain itself will transition from the University of Hawaii to the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority.

MAURA: This episode is only the beginning of the conversation. I highly recommend the podcast “Offshore” by Hawaii [KB5] Civil Beat, that has incredible coverage of Hawaii, Mauna Kea, and the TMT.

JUSTIN: In every episode, we provide further readings on our website that help shape our understanding of the topics we cover and that we recommend to listeners as a starting place for deeper research than we can fit within the hour of our podcast.

MAURA: This episode, I highly encourage listeners to check out these readings, and I’m so adamant about this that I’ve also dedicated this week’s blog post to the resources that I recommend the listeners check out. In a past discussion with our guests, Kālewa pointed out something that stuck with me. He said, “There is a colonialist idea that space is not occupied if it is occupied by indigenous people.” It made me wonder if science is such a space. Often, indigenous ways of knowing are not recognized by western science. There’s an encouraging and growing effort within the scientific community to reimagine a science that respects and values indigenous ways of knowing. You can find links to learn more about that work on our website as well.

JUSTIN: A special thank you to our guests, Kālewa Correa and Samantha Thompson.

ALLISON: And thank you to you, the audience, for listening to “Initial Conditions.”


This is the finale of Season 1, but stay tuned for a couple of bonus episodes in the future.

MAURA: And a special shout-out today to our tour guide and the associate director of library collections and services at the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, Allison Rein.

JUSTIN: This episode was created, researched, and written by Maura Shapiro and Justin Shapiro.

MAURA: Allison Rein is our executive producer, with audio production and editing by Carrie Thompson.

JUSTIN: We appreciate all the help and support provided by the wonderful staff of NBLA and CHP this season.

MAURA: “Initial Conditions” is generously sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

JUSTIN: I’m Justin Shapiro.

MAURA: I’m Maura Shapiro, and for the last time this season, we aren’t related.

JUSTIN: And you’ve been listening to “Initial Conditions.”

ALLISON: From the Niels Bohr Library and Archives at the American Institute of Physics.

Further Reading

Fox, Keolu and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. “Fight Against Colonial Science.” The Nation (July 24, 2019).

The two authors of this article are “a Kānaka ʻŌiwi geneticist and [a] black Caribbean and American astrophysicist,” who explain colonization’s role in the TMT proposal and subsequent discussions. I’ve included this article because it is short and direct, so this could be a good place to start researching this topic.

Kahanamoku, Sara, Rosie'Anolani Alegado, Aurora Kagawa-Viviani, Katie Leimomi Kamelamela, Brittany Kamai, Lucianne M. Walkowicz, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Mithi Alexa de los Reyes, and Hilding Neilson. "A Native Hawaiian-led summary of the current impact of constructing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea." arXiv preprint arXiv:2001.00970 (2020).

This proposal was written by a group of Native Hawaiian scientists and astronomers to center Native Hawaiian voices in the discussion about Maunakea and the future of astronomy. They summarize the state of the telescope and relationship between Native Hawaiians and astronomers. They cover the physical demonstrations and the response by law enforcement. Most importantly, they provide both short-term and long-term recommendations to implement for future astronomy projects.

McAvoy, Audrey. “US Environmental Study Launched For Thirty Meter Telescope.Honolulu Civil Beat (July 19, 2022).

This covers the recent news that the National Science Foundation is conducting an Environmental impact study for the Thirty Meter Telescope. NSF hosted four meetings in Hawai’i in August and recently closed its public comment period. 

Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda, Lucianne M. Walkowicz, Sarah Tuttle, Brian Nord, and Hilding R. Neilson. "Reframing astronomical research through an anticolonial lens--for TMT and beyond." arXiv preprint arXiv:2001.00674 (2020).

This paper covers colonialism and white supremacy and its relationship to astronomy. European scientific expeditions in the 18th and 19th centuries were facilitated by colonization and caused harm to Indigenous peoples. The authors propose a path forward in astronomy and apply the anticolonial lens to the Thirty Meter Telescope. The citations embedded in the article are also recommended readings to gain further insight on the authors' understanding and approach. 

Season 2: The Sacred Mountain. Offshore Podcast. Podcast audio. 2017. https://www.offshorepodcast.org/episodes/mauna-kea/

If I could only recommend one resource, it would be this podcast. The discussion of the Thirty Meter Telescope is part of a much larger discussion on science and colonization, but it is also very specific to Hawai’i and the people who have lived on the archipelago for generations. The host interviews astronomers working on the mountain, Native Hawaiians, and even Native Hawaiians who work on the mountain. From this range of perspectives, she is able to find nuance in her reporting. I believe this podcast gives this conversation the time needed to hear multiple perspectives and approach them each with respect. 

Swanner, Leandra Altha. Mountains of Controversy: Narrative and the Making of Contested Landscapes in Postwar American Astronomy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University (2013).

Though this is a longer read than other recommended articles, it is a great resource to learn not only about Hawaiian astronomy, but also of other Native American communities' relationships to the observatories built upon their land. Swanner’s coverage of Maunakea is unique in that it spends a lot of time discussing the work astronomers put into building ties and understanding with the Native Hawaiian people. Additionally, it was written before the demonstrations on Maunakea against the Thirty Meter Telescope brought international attention to the issue. If time does not permit you to read the entire dissertation, I recommend reading the introduction and the chapter on Maunakea. 

Whitt, Laurelyn. Science, colonialism, and indigenous peoples: the cultural politics of law and knowledge. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

This book is very dense and packed with information. Broadly, it shares a history of Western Science and its impact on Indigenous peoples. Before reading this book, I had not considered that science could be a form of colonization that continues today. Whitt defines biocolonialism as “a mode of neocolonialism in which the relationship of dominance and oppression is predicated upon the exploitation of indigenous human bodies and living organisms for profitable biological material.” Whitt argues that projects such as the Human Genome Project, often viewed as impressive international feats of science, are harmful in their bio-colonialist capacity. This is an example from the book that questioned my existing understanding of who “science” is for. 

Witze, Alexandra. “Hawaiian-Language Experts Make Their Mark on the Solar System.Nature 565, no. 7739 (January 11, 2019): 278–79. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-00098-w. 

This article covers the A Hua He Inoa effort to reconcile Indigenous Hawaiian culture with the astronomical discoveries made on the island. Because names are so important for identity and meaning, this is a way astronomers can connect with the long legacy of astronomy practiced by Indigenous Hawaiians. 

Additional Resources

‘Imiloa - ‘Imiloa is a project from the University of Hawai’i–Hilo, aimed at connecting Hawaiian culture and legacy of Hawaiian astronomy with modern astronomy. Through exhibits and outreach programs, ‘Imiloa works to build understanding and respect between astronomers and Native Hawaiians. 

National Science Foundation Environmental Compliance: Thirty Meter Telescope - Read about the National Science Foundation’s process to evaluate the Thirty Meter Telescope and the environmental impact. 

Protect Mauna Kea - MKEA is an organization that supports protectors of Maunakea both on the ground for demonstrations, in court, and in public policy. They have various educational resources and ways individuals can be involved. 

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center - Learn more about Hawaiian culture and history through the virtual exhibits hosted by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Currently, their website is down, but I’ve listed it here anyway for future reference. 

Society of Indigenous Physicists - The Society of Indigenous Physicists provide support, community, and programming for Indigenous Physicists. 

Thirty Meter Telescope Timeline - This is a timeline compiled by the organization behind the Thirty Meter Telescope and can be a helpful resource to visualize the process of building the telescope.


Show notes

Special Thanks to our guests on this episode, Samantha Thomspon and Kālewa Correa. Kerry Thompson of Thompson House Productions produced this show. Allison Rein is executive producer. Initial Conditions: A Physics History Podcast is generously sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

About the Podcast Team