Hawaiians’ protests have attracted the support of many across academe, who see the TMT — in the words of geneticist Keolu Fox of UC San Diego and physicist Chandra Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire — as colonial science.
“Far from some replay of an ancient clash between tradition and modernity, this is a battle between the old ways of doing science, which rely on forceful extraction (whether of natural resources or data), and a new scientific method, which privileges the dignity and humanity of indigenous peoples, including Hawaiians and the black diaspora,” they wrote in The Nation. “It is a clash between colonial science — the one which, under the guise of progress, has all too often helped justify conquest and human rights violations — and a science that respects indigenous autonomy.”
Hulali Kau, a writer and advocate working in Native Hawaiian and environmental law, said, “To anyone that continues to try to frame TMT as a science versus culture argument, I would say that this struggle over the future of Mauna Kea is actually about how we manage resources and align our laws and values of Hawaii to connect a past where the state has subjected its indigenous people to continued mismanagement of it lands with its uncertain future.”
Among many concerns, including the university’s past management of the observation space, Kau said she worries that the TMT will include two 5,000 gallon tanks installed two stories below ground level for chemical and human waste.
Mauna Kea, a conservation district, is home to the largest aquifer in Hawaii, she said. “There are still questions as to the environmental consequences.”
Kau noted that the university was previously embroiled in an indigenous space dispute, when it attempted to patent three strains of taro, or “kalo,” a popular food source. It finally dropped the patents several years later, in 2006.