After years of conflict, a Hawaiian mountain that is home to some of the most important astronomical observatories on Earth finds itself pacified.
Two of the famous telescopes already on top of Maunaka are Keck Observatory and the northern outpost of the Gemini telescope, and astronomers dream of adding the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to that collection. but the native hawaiians have been Astronomers protest the hold on the mountainWhich they consider sacred for decades.
“In Hawaii we fell into this deep polarization and we were stuck,” Rich Matsuda, associate director of external relations at Keck Observatory, said during a plenary panel on Jan. 9 at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held in Seattle. . online.
Now, Hawaii has formed a new agency that will oversee all activities on the mountain, or Mauna Kea, starting in 2028 – the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA). Matsuda and two other members of the authority presented astronomy community to MKSOA during a plenary panel, sharing how the authorization came about and what they hope it achieves — and outlining an approach astronomers might want to replicate at other observatory sites.
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MKSOA faces a formidable challenge. The organization will take over management of the mountain in 2028; Five years later, the state’s 65-year lease of Summit to the University of Hawaii for astronomy will expire. (The university issues sub-leases to individual observatories.)
MKSOA President John Comegei said during the panel, “At the end of five years, we will have to take full responsibility for managing the mountain, including developing a master plan, which will also include deciding how astronomy on Mauna Kea fits in.” ” The short timeline will be a challenge, he said, adding that the authority has no staff yet and cannot access the $14 million allocated for the effort.
“There’s not a single person who hasn’t called me crazy,” said Komiji, who quit her job as general counsel for Kamehameha Schools, a private school system emphasizing Hawaiian culture, to lead the authority.
roots of discord
Astronomers first came to Maunaka in 1964 with a small dome intended to help scientists evaluate the site. At the time, the state of Hawaii was just five years old and developing at a breakneck pace, Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a member of MKSOA and executive director of the Lālākea Foundation culture nonprofit, said during the panel.
He said it was a challenging time for Native Hawaiians. “While there was some talk that no one in the community opposed it, I don’t believe that was the case that much,” she said. “I think our community in general was overwhelmed with all the new technology, all the new infrastructure that was being put into our small community.”
In the beginning, there were only a few telescopes, but then more and more observatories expanded the area on the mountain. Wong-Wilson said Native Hawaiians opposed to the development began registering their objections with the state, but felt the government was ignoring their voices.
Komeji said of Maunakea, “It is probably the most divisive issue that has come up in my lifetime for all of Hawaii.”
Tensions reached a peak in the 2010s, when Native Hawaiians blocked access to the summit on several occasions in protest of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a massive new observatory that supporters hoped would rival the telescope. I can be four times more powerful. james webb space telescope, By July 2019, opposition to the TMT had become apparent, and Native Hawaiians began what would become a month-long hill station It seemed that this could continue indefinitely.
Wong-Wilson said, “We were thinking, well, how are we going to end this – we didn’t want to be there forever, this is not a place humans should be.” “We might still be there except that COVID got into our community.” leaders sent everyone home To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, and disagreement over the fate of the mountain – like much else – was removed.
test a different approach
A new chapter opened when the Hawaii legislature stepped in and in July 2021 established the working group that would ultimately recommend the creation of the MKSOA, which was formally established in July 2022. Many working group members joined the new authority, continuing their work building relationships and setting a new tone for the conversation about Maunaka.
Matsuda said, “What we realized is that we were all in common together, that we cared deeply about Maunaka from our different perspectives.”
Wong-Wilson, who was one of several elders arrested for blocking the road to the summit in 2019 and served on the working group before joining the authority, said that when it comes to the fate of Maunakea If so, she has come to terms with the need to compromise. , “I didn’t want to leave that puzzle to my children and grandchildren, as many generations before me,” she said.
Now comes the MKSOA itself, which is testing a new model for determining what does or doesn’t happen on the mountain – a model that gives a voice to each community that feels strongly about the mountain.
“This sense of mutual leadership is very different than a stakeholder model, when you come in and negotiate to protect your interests and negotiate to get a piece of the pie,” Matsuda said.
“The process, and the manner in which we tackle the next chapter, is almost as important as whatever that next chapter is,” Komeji said. “Do we turn red and blue and just yell and scream at each other, much as the rest of the world, the United States of America, is becoming, or can we find a way out?”
Although the scope of the authority will go far beyond astronomy, and although the footprint of astronomy on the mountain includes much more than the proposed TMT site, resolving the conflict surrounding the massive observatory will make or break the MKSOA. It is possible
For now, TMT is focused on building equipment that can be used at the project’s back-up site in Maunakea or in the Canary Islands off the coast of northwest Africa; The organization is also courting the US National Science Foundation and other potential funding sources. But sooner or later, construction will need to begin on some site, just as the dozen observatories already on Maunaka will need to know their fate before their leases expire in 2033.
And MKSOA is aware that people will be eagerly watching to see how their work turns out. Hawaii and the United States in general are beginning, both in fits and starts, to begin with the violence colonialism and its aftermath. in astronomy, Astro2020 Reportwhich is to guide American astronomy for the next decade, discusses Maunaka in detail and explicitly calls for astronomy to adopt a community-based science model at observatory sites around the world.
“It’s not happening in a vacuum, it’s happening in a larger framework of change,” Matsuda said. “I think it’s important for us in the astronomy industry to pay attention to this and look for opportunities for change and try to lead that change so that we can be successful in the future.”