Week 10 — Thirty Meter Telescope Yay or Nay?

Kandice Ollis
3 min readNov 2, 2020


In the Thirty Meter Telescope article, we balance the arguments of the Native Hawaiians and the astronomers who are part of the TMT project. The TMT project involves the construction and building of the huge telescope on the Hawaiian mountain, Maunakea’s, peak. The land, Maunakea, is ancestral land and has very important meaning to the Kanaka ‘Oiwi (Native Hawaiian) people. The Maunakea is one of the most sacred places in the Hawaiian Islands and is used as a place of worship and is considered to be an ancestral elder sibling to the Hawaiian people. Native Hawaiians have dedicated their lives to protecting this land because of its human-like meaning and their connection to it. On the other hand, the astronomers who are involved in this project sees it as an opportunity to retrieve data that can represent the entire Northern Hemisphere and be very beneficial to the United States as a whole. According to the Giant Hawaii telescope to focus on big unknowns of universe article, the TMT’s will allow scientists to determine whether there is life on other planets by determining whether their atmospheres contain water vapor or methane. Some natives even believe that maybe allowing the astronomers to use their land would bring education and employment opportunities to the natives. Now while we think about how we decide what knowledge is worth pursuing and how to pursue it, “astronomers must consider their obligations to the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi if they hope to do astronomy on Maunakea in an ethical and non-violent manner” and “Native Hawaiian cultural knowledge holders, including those not affiliated with the fields of astronomy, must consent — not merely be consultants to — further development”. (Kahanamoku, et al., 2019). I do not believe the Native Hawaiians are saying that they don’t want the telescope there in the first place but more so saying that they should be consulted before doing any type of construction to their sacred land.

Now the scientist in me does believe this would be a huge scientific advancement but the ethical part of me also believes that the Native Hawaiians have rights to defend their land and they’re allowed to prevent people from doing construction on their land if they choose to. It’s hard to “pick as side” because they both have valid reasons and they both seem to stand strong in their reasoning. If there was a way that the astronomers could still preserve the land without doing any damage to it and still get the data they need then maybe it’ll work but the Native Hawaiians would have to be willing to trust them not to do any “real” construction. But a start to this issue is for the astronomers to consider the recommendations that the Hawaiians have suggested before moving forward.

I do feel myself leaning more towards the Hawaiians because the astronomers are making it seem like this is the only way to get this type of data. This immediately makes me think of the White Supremacy article, where they describe this mind set as the belief that there is only one right way to do things and that people who don’t adapt or change to the right way, are considered “not with them” and that there is something wrong with them. While this does not describe exactly what is happening here, it could potentially lead to this thinking.

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

S.Kahanamoku, et al., A Native Hawaiian-led summary of the current impact of constructing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, 2019:https://arxiv.org/pdf/2001.00970.pdf

Okun, T. (n.d.). White Supremacy Culture. https://www.dismantlingracism.org/uploads/4/3/5/7/43579015/okun_-_white_sup_culture.pdf