Written by: Aaron Frumkin
Edited by: Anton Ziajka
Perched quietly atop a long-dormant volcano on the most isolated landmass of Hawaii, thirteen of the largest and most advanced telescopes known to modern science dutifully survey the night sky, gathering light and information from the nearly unobstructed vantage at the highest point in the Pacific. But long before telescopes and the annexation of Hawaii, Mauna Kea was a tremendous source of astronomical and meteorological understanding. From its peak, native Hawaiians gained much of the profound knowledge necessary to navigate vast distances across the Pacific, sailing from tiny island to tiny island using only skylights — sun, moon, and stars — as their guide.
According to native Hawaiian religion, Mauna Kea is the meeting point between sky and earth, a temple built by the divine creator and the zenith of Hawaii’s ties to creation itself. Believing the machinery desecrates their sacred summit and the scarce natural resources it shelters, native Hawaiians have opposed telescope development on Mauna Kea since it began nearly fifty years ago. Despite this opposition, thirteen telescopes adorn Mauna Kea today. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which will be larger and more powerful than any other on Earth, is likely to make fourteen.
The summit land is held by the University of Hawaii, which subleases tracts to telescope corporations in exchange for access to the telescopes. TMT obtained such a sublease and, in September 2010, applied for a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP), seeking permission from the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to develop on Mauna Kea’s summit. A group of Native Hawaiian residents and environmental groups (“petitioners”) challenged the application before the BLNR. The BLNR approved TMT’s application over petitioners’ objections in February 2011 and reaffirmed its initial decision after an administrative appeal in April 2013. Petitioners then filed an appeal in Hawaii State court challenging the BLNR’s final decision, which is pending as of the time of this writing. While it seems that the native Hawaiians’ beleaguered resistance to telescope development will fail yet again, this Note attempts to articulate their best arguments in hopes of properly framing the social costs associated with the great scientific and technological gains that TMT will surely provide.