PreprintPDF Available

A Native Hawaiian-led summary of the current impact of constructing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea

  • Hawaiʻi Cooperative Studies Unit (UH-Hilo)
Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.


Maunakea, the proposed site of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), is a lightning-rod topic for Native Hawaiians, Hawaii residents, and the international astronomy community. In this paper we, Native Hawaiian natural scientists and allies, identify historical decisions that impact current circumstances on Maunakea and provide approaches to acknowledging their presence. Our aim is to provide an Indigenous viewpoint centered in Native Hawaiian perspectives on the impacts of the TMT project on the Hawaiian community. We summarize the current Maunakea context from the perspective of the authors who are trained in the natural sciences (inclusive of and beyond astronomy and physics), the majority of whom are Native Hawaiian or Indigenous. We highlight three major themes in the conflict surrounding TMT: 1) physical demonstrations and the use of law enforcement against the protectors of Maunakea; 2) an assessment of the benefit of Maunakea astronomy to Native Hawaiians; and 3) the disconnect between astronomers and Native Hawaiians. We close with general short- and long- term recommendations for the astronomy community, which represent steps that can be taken to re-establish trust and engage in meaningful reciprocity and collaboration with Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous communities. Our recommendations are based on established best principles of free, prior, and informed consent and researcher-community interactions that extend beyond transactional exchanges. We emphasize that development of large-scale astronomical instrumentation must be predicated on consensus from the local Indigenous community about whether development is allowed on their homelands. Proactive steps must be taken to center Indigenous voices in the earliest stages of project design.
A Native Hawaiian-led summary of the current impact of
constructing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea
Sara Kahanamoku*, Department of Integrative Biology & Museum of Paleontology, University of
California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720
Rosie ʻAnolani Alegado PhD, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, HI 96822
Aurora Kagawa-Viviani, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa,
HI 96822
Katie Leimomi Kamelamela PhD, Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests, Kamuela, HI 96743
Brittany Kamai PhD, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125
Lucianne M. Walkowicz PhD, Astronomy Department, The Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL 60605
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein PhD, Department of Physics & Astronomy and Department of Women’s &
Gender Studies, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824
Mithi Alexa de los Reyes, Department of Astronomy, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
Hilding Neilson PhD, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON,
M5S 3H4
*Corresponding author;
Disclaimer: Addressing every recommendation in this white paper does not constitute
any form of consent from Native Hawaiians for TMT or for a Maunakea lease permit.
Our recommendations are minimum first steps that can be undertaken to begin a
process of building an iterative and equitable relationship with Native Hawaiians.
Executive summary
Maunakea, the proposed site of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), is a lightning-rod topic for Native
Hawaiians, Hawai‘i residents, and the international astronomy community. In this paper weKanaka
ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) natural scientists and alliesidentify historical decisions that impact current
circumstances on Maunakea and provide approaches to acknowledging their presence. Throughout this
paper, we expand dialogue and inform actions utilizing a native Hawaiian concept known as kapu aloha,
which “helps us internationalize our thoughts, words and deeds without harm to others”1,2.Our aim is to
provide an Indigenous viewpoint centered in Native Hawaiian perspectives on the impacts of the
TMT project on the Hawaiian community.
In this paper we provide a summary of the current Maunakea context from the perspective of the authors
who are trained in the natural sciences (inclusive of and beyond astronomy and physics), the majority of
whom are Native Hawaiian or Indigenous. We highlight three major themes in the conflict surrounding
TMT: 1) physical demonstrations and the use of law enforcement against the protectors of Maunakea, nā
kiaʻi o Mauna-a-Wākea; 2) an assessment of the benefit of Maunakea astronomy to Native Hawaiians;
and 3) the disconnect between astronomers and Native Hawaiians. We close with general short- and long-
term recommendations for the astronomy community, which represent steps that can be taken to re-
establish trust and engage in meaningful reciprocity and collaboration with Native Hawaiians and other
Indigenous communities. Our recommendations are based on established best principles of free, prior, and
informed consent and researcher-community interactions that extend beyond transactional exchanges. We
emphasize that development of large-scale astronomical instrumentation must be predicated on
consensus from the local Indigenous community about whether development is allowed on their
homelands. Proactive steps must be taken to center Indigenous voices in the earliest stages of project
To this end, we provide seven major recommendations for ongoing and future astronomy research on
Maunakea and other sacred Indigenous lands:
1. Immediately halt Thirty Meter Telescope progress and work with Native Hawaiian cultural
knowledge holders to restart dialogue with the goal of obtaining informed consent.
Construction cannot proceed without consent from Native Hawaiians; the astronomical
community must be willing to accept that a “no deal” outcome may ultimately be requested by
Native Hawaiians or the State of Hawaiʻi.
2. Establish a Cultural Impact Assessment process that is viewed as legitimate by standards
determined within the Native Hawaiian community.
3. Require that every observational astronomer learn Hawaiian history and culture, regardless of
whether they are physically present in Hawaiʻi.
4. Establish equitable, iterative dialogue with Native Hawaiians.
5. Invest in support for Native Hawaiian astronomy students.
6. Develop astronomy-specific ethical guidelines and accountability structures.
7. Funding agencies must hold PIs accountable for the research environments they create.
1. Background
Maunakea is Kanaka ʻŌiwi ancestral land. The Maunaalso known as Mauna Kea and Mauna-a-
is one of the most sacred places in the Hawaiian Islands, and stands as a place of worship, an
ancestor to Native Hawaiians, and a piko (umbilicus, or site of convergence) for the lāhui Hawaiʻi
(Hawaiian nation)3,4. Maunakea is a central element in the Kumulipo, a cosmological chant structured
around the observation of environmental and celestial patterns3. The Mauna’s position as an elder sibling
to the Hawaiian people in the Kumulipo illustrates a central concept in Hawaiian culture: aloha ‘āina, or a
familial love for and commitment to sustaining the land, drives the foundational duty to value land. In
perpetuating aloha ‘āina, Native Hawaiian well-being and the well-being of the land are interdependent;
neither can exist without the other.
Kiaʻi Mauna is a Native Hawaiian hui (collective) whose goal is to protect Maunakea by preventing
construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit, and center a diversity of Native
Hawaiian voices within all activities in Hawaiʻi. As this paper is submitted, kiaʻi (protectors
, both Native
Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian) remain present near a kipuka, a volcanic cinder cone outcropping, named
Puʻu Huluhulu. Their non-violent actions, led by respected Native Hawaiian kūpuna (elders), were met
with aggressive opposition from state-level officials, who endeavored to displace people through arrests
rather than engaging in respectful dialogue. These events have catalyzed state-wide and world-wide
movements centered on a fundamental question: do Indigenous people have the power to decide what
happens to their own homelands? Throughout the life of the TMT project, this question has
reverberated deeply within the Hawaiian community.
Tensions between Native Hawaiians and astronomers arise from Maunakea’s status as one of the best
places in the world for ground-based astronomy. The pristine atmospheric conditions present on
Maunakea has led to the construction of 13 telescope complexes, which produce the majority of data
collected in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet astronomy’s presence on Maunakea has directly resulted and
benefited from the United Sates (U.S.) takeover of Hawaiʻi and appropriation of the personal lands of the
last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom (crown lands, or “ceded lands”). Current efforts to
protect Maunakea have generated renewed attention around the United States’ role in the illegal
overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1893, when the U.S. Minister and military representatives conspired
with American and European businessmen to persuade armed U.S. forces to invade the sovereign
Hawaiian Kingdom. These unlawful actions towards an independent nation established a provisional
government that eventually transitioned into the State of Hawaiʻi in 1959, and led to the taking of
Hawaiian lands, cultural resources, and self-determination with long-lasting detrimental impacts on
Hawaiian political, social, economic, and value systems5.
Dispossession of Native Hawaiians from their homelands remains a primary issue threatening Hawaiian
identity and well-being, and the separation of Hawaiian cultural practitioners from spaces such as
Maunakea heightens this intergenerational trauma. The relationship between institutional astronomy and
Native Hawaiians has been unbalanced and prioritized research since the construction of the first
telescopes in the late 1960s, and uneven dynamics on the Mauna are encapsulated in the viewpoints held
by some members of these communities. Many astronomers who use data from telescopes on Maunakea
view their work as inherently nonviolent and in the common interest of humanity. In contrast, many
Native Hawaiians assert that their Indigenous rights to self-determination are under siege, while
astronomers directly benefit from the disenfranchisement of Hawaiians3,6. At the heart of this
These names hint at the cultural significance of Maunakea: Mauna-a-Wākea means “Mountain of Wākea,” named
for the sky deity in Hawaiian culture, whose daughter Hoʻohōkūkalani represents the stars that astronomers hope to
view from the mountain’s peak.
Frontline Native Hawaiians and allies are self-described as “protectors, not protestors” and kiaʻi mauna (guardians
of the mountain). We use the term kiaʻi to respect this self-identification4.
disconnect is a question of power: the choices made on Maunakea reflect who is granted authority
to make decisions for Native Hawaiians, contested lands, and for the nature and terms of cultural
practice on these lands.
The Native Hawaiian community is not of one mind as to whether TMT will truly benefit generations of
Native Hawaiian people. Kiaʻi are unconvinced that the project stakeholders have demonstrated adequate
accountability in upholding their responsibilities or promises around Maunakea management7, and
maintain that the project only perpetuates the desecration of sacred sites and significant environmental
. Supporters of Imua TMT, however, hope that moving the TMT forward will provide access to
unique education and employment opportunities for residents of the State of Hawaiʻi. The multiplicity of
viewpoints demonstrates that there is no broad consent for TMT among Native Hawaiians; a
significant amount of work is still required to reach a resolution.
Native Hawaiians have the right, as expressed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)8, “to self-determination.” Of particular importance in the UNDRIP
framing of Indigenous rights is the requirement that projects receive explicit, informed, and ongoing
consent from Indigenous peopleswe emphasize that this requires more than involving Indigenous
individuals in consultation. The recent developments on Maunakea, as well as the history of legal
challenges to TMT and earlier endeavors (e.g., the Keck Outriggers
), demonstrate that TMT currently
lacks consent from the local Indigenous community. As such, the TMT project must reconsider its
position: is there a path forward, or should they withdraw and consider an alternate location?
Though these questions are difficult, 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. Native
Hawaiian cultural knowledge holders, including those not affiliated with the fields of astronomy, must
consentnot merely be consultants tofurther development. Inherent in the consent process is the ability
to lead in decision-making.
Native Hawaiians have a right to decide for ourselves the future of our Mauna.
2. Impacts of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Native Hawaiians
Controversy surrounding telescopes on Maunakea is not novel. Native Hawaiians have been vocal about
the presence of structures on the Mauna since the inception of the Maunakea Observatories. Evidence of
this exists in many different forms, including in litigation, op-eds and media interviews, attendance at
local and state town halls, civil disobedience and arrests, social media exchanges, musical arrangements,
the creation of new oli (chants) and moʻolelo (stories, legends), and renewed efforts for formal
recognition and Hawaiian sovereignty. Though Native Hawaiians have diverse viewpoints and opinions
Re Conservation District Use Application for TMT, SCOT-17-0000777, Dissenting Opinion (Nov. 9, 2018): “The
Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) grounds its analysis on the proposition that cultural and natural
resources protected by the Constitution of the State of Hawaiʻi and its enabling laws lose legal protection where
degradation of the resource is of sufficient severity as to constitute a substantial adverse impact. Because the area
affected by the Thirty Meter Telescope Project... was previously subjected to a substantial adverse impact, the
BLNR finds that the proposed TMT project could not have a substantial adverse impact on the existing natural
resources. Under this analysis, the cumulative negative impacts from development of prior telescopes caused a
substantial adverse impact; therefore, TMT could not be the cause of a substantial adverse impact. As stated by the
BLNR, TMT could not ”create a tipping point where impacts became significant.” Thus, addition of another
telescopeTMTcould not be the cause of a substantial adverse impact on the existing resources because
the tipping point of a substantial adverse impact had previously been reached (emphasis added).
For a timeline of Maunakea legal actions, see
like other social groups, we do not operate as a monolithsupport for TMT has significantly decreased
among Hawaiʻi’s Indigenous people throughout the life of the project. In contrast to an oft-cited survey,
which suggested that 72% of Native Hawaiians were in support of TMT (March 2018, N = 78)
, more
recent assessments with larger sample sizes show that closer to 27% of the Native Hawaiians polled
were in support of TMT (September 2019, N = 400)
. Given this shift in opinion, a clearer assessment
of Hawaiian community views is imperative.
2.1 2015 and 2019 demonstrations: State law enforcement used against kiaʻi
While Native Hawaiians have organized opposition to the TMT since the earliest phases of the project’s
planning and approval process3, there have been two major physical conflicts to date. In April 2015, kiaʻi
physically blockaded the road to prevent movement of construction equipment up the Mauna; 31 were
arrested. The hundreds who took a stand over the subsequent demonstrations on the Mauna and at the
flagship University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus forced Governor Ige to temporarily postpone the project.
In December 2015, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court invalidated TMT’s construction permits, ruling that the
project failed to meet the requirements of due process.
Following a protracted legal battle, TMT permits were approved in July 2019iii. Governor Ige closed
public access to Maunakea, and construction was to commence on July 15. Native Hawaiians again
organized in protection of Maunakea by establishing a Puʻuhonua (place of refuge) at Puʻu Huluhulu to
serve as the long-term center of demonstrations. Hundreds of Native Hawaiians and supporters gathered
at the base of Maunakea, where eight kiaʻi chained themselves to a cattle grate--once again placing their
bodies on the line to prevent the movement of construction equipment. On July 16, 2019, revered kūpuna
(elders cultural knowledge holders) took to the frontlines and 33 were arrested. The sacrifices of kūpuna
galvanized a Native Hawaiian movement grounded in kapu aloha (a reverence for love) and drew
individuals by the thousands from around the world. In the month of August 2019 alone, 15,000 people
visited the Puʻuhonua (a number comparable to ~8% of the population of Hawaiʻi Island, where
Maunakea is located). Governor Ige declared a temporary state of emergency which granted heightened
power to law enforcement agencies and provided the possibility of deploying the National Guard in
direct support of a research endeavor.
As this paper is submitted, construction has not progressed, yet non-violent civil engagement has not
slowed: over 10,000 people marched through Honolulu in October 2019, and hundreds of kiaʻi remain at
Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, costing the State of Hawaiʻi $11 million on security. The presence and
threat of law enforcement by the State of Hawaiʻi against kiaʻi adds tension to ongoing efforts to
affirm the sacredness of Maunakea, and deepens the harmful impacts of the TMT on Native
Hawaiians. To date, hundreds of astronomers have signed an open letter
denouncing arrests; this letter
“ask[s] that the community pause and consider what it means that, armed or not, the military and the
police have become involved in the project’s deliberations with the protectors of Maunakea.”
2.2 Distinct worldviews
The controversy surrounding astronomy on Maunakea, including the TMT process, must be positioned
within a historical context. Frustrated communications result in part from fundamental differences
between the worldviews held by some astronomers (“mainstream science”) and those held by Native
Hawaiian cultural practitioners (“Indigenous knowledge systems”). Indigenous nations and peoples have
Summary of 2018 poll:
Summary of 2019 poll:
Open letter opposing criminalization of Maunakea protectors:
explored the world and universe for far longer than western astronomers have had telescopes; while these
knowledges are not uniform, Indigenous knowledge systems build upon a deep connection with the land,
the water, and the sky through consistent observations. These systems utilize axioms that differ from
traditional western science, and as a result may center different values than those of mainstream science.
The public prioritization of the goals, values, and concerns of professional astronomers over those of the
Indigenous inhabitants of Hawaiʻi insinuates that Native Hawaiian viewpoints on Maunakea are
unimportant, or that only certain Native Hawaiian views are acceptable. As an example, portrayals of
Native Hawaiians as “anti-science” have long been used in popular discourse regarding the movement for
Maunakea: While some astronomers portray their science as “universally beneficial” to humanity3, kiaʻi
who stand in kapu aloha are portrayed as impediments to progress. To illustrate this, Native Hawaiian
scholar Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar writes3:
One scientist told me that astronomy is a “benign science” because it is based on
observation, and that it is universally beneficial because it offers “basic human
knowledge” that everyone should know… Such a statement underscores the cultural bias
within conventional notions of what constitutes the “human” and “knowledge.” In the
absence of a critical self-reflection… the tacit claim to universal truth reproduces the
cultural supremacy of Western science as self-evident. Here, the needs of astronomers for
tall peaks in remote locations supplant the needs of Indigenous communities on whose
ancestral territories these observatories are built… “Why would anyone oppose
astronomy? Why are Hawaiians standing in the way of progress?” they ask. “Can’t
astronomers and Hawaiians coexist on the mountain?” These frames decontextualize the
historical relations in which the TMT controversy has emerged and dehistoricize the
struggle over land and resources in Hawai‘i by vacating discourse on settler colonialism
in favor of problematic claims to universality. When the opposition to the TMT is
misrepresented as an arbitrary disregard for science, Hawaiians appear unreasonably
The characterization of Hawaiians as, e.g., “backwards” and “[unmoved] by logic” is discriminatory
language, and should be interrogated as such when this language emerges from institutions of higher
education. The 2015 demonstrations were described8 as an “attack on TMT by hordes of Native
Hawaiians who are lying about the impact of the project… and who are threatening the safety of TMT
personnel. A tenured faculty member at the University of Hawaiʻi wrote9 in 2015 that “in no way should
we go back a few centuries to a stone age culture, with a few (illegitimate) Kahunas telling everyone how
to behave.” While these statements were denounced by pro-TMT groups, these types of comments
continue to emerge from frustrated tenured physics and astronomy faculty
. This sends the message that
astronomers on Maunakea, and the astronomy community at large, are dismissive of raised concerns and
see Native Hawaiians and supporters as subhuman. Further, because these raucous ideals typically come
from senior faculty who are in positions of power and authority, they act to silence and alienate
Indigenous astronomers, who are overwhelmingly in junior positions.
Paradoxically, while many astronomy departments and institutions undertake diversity initiatives (e.g.,
establishing Codes of Conduct, focusing recruiting efforts at national conferences on underrepresented
groups, etc.), the failure of astronomers to internalize Native Hawaiian assertions on the sacredness of
Maunakea seriously renders these efforts hollow. Given that astronomers from historically marginalized
groups may draw parallels between Native Hawaiian sovereignty struggles and their own commitments to
their communities, suppression of nuanced opinions over TMT as well as dismissal of the struggles of
Indigenous peoples are also an implicit dismissal of their concerns. Minoritized astronomers may view
Public archive of relevant UH emails:
abusive language directed at Native Hawaiians as echoing slurs (racial and otherwise) that have been
directed at them.
2.3 Do Native Hawaiians significantly benefit from astronomy on Maunakea?
Within the last few years, a number of successful Hawaiian-centered and Hawaiian-led education
programs have been piloted at the Maunakea Observatories10 and ʻImiloa11 in an attempt to push a
“collaboration with integrity” model that combines Indigenous knowledge systems with mainstream
science12. However, this outreach is targeted at a select few; the lack of outreach programs in
marginalized rural communities only compounds the decades-long view that the University and state of
Hawaiʻi and astronomers are unresponsive to community concerns regarding the development and
management of the Maunakea summit. Programs such as A Hua He Inoa are more effective at bringing
Hawaiian language to the global astronomy stage than as outreach and service in alignment with Native
Hawaiian and local needs, unevenly distributing their benefits. The conflict over TMT construction on
Maunakea highlights the pressing need for reciprocal dialogue with the Native Hawaiian community. Yet
instead of engaging, the University leadership and astronomy community have stepped back to allow state
and county law enforcement agencies to intervene on behalf of private astronomical interests. Moving
forward, cultural programming and other community-based efforts should center on Hawaiian values,
including aloha ʻāina, and be conducted with meaningful and iterative dialogue about the issues that are
tearing at the social fabric of Hawaiʻi and beyond. A substantial amount of work is required to establish
trust, develop content, and produce accountability, and significant funding must be allocated to
meaningfully facilitate this work.
Both in the Hawaiian Islands and on a broader scale, astronomy education and public outreach relies on
narratives that curiosity about space is a uniting “human” experience (e.g., “...that is what makes
astronomy beautiful. To study something—not because we’re looking to gain anything in particular, but
out of sheer curiosity—is what makes us human”13). However, these notions are antithetical to the
colonial behaviors the astronomy community has engaged in and reinforced by denying the humanity of
Native Hawaiians for the past 50 years. In this context, outreach efforts claiming a shared humanity are
not only unconvincing, they ultimately undermine the perception of astronomers’ integrity. Critically,
astronomy funding is dependent on this perception: “the generous public support for NASA’s astronomy
research stems largely from astronomers’ success in making the fruits of their research accessible and
appealing to many people”14. Indeed, astronomers enjoy being able to share the results of their research
and many now engage in education and public outreach as a central career path15, evidence of broad
support for these efforts within the astronomy community. However, astronomers wishing to share the
results of their scientific efforts cannot expect to have receptive audiences indefinitely: millions of people
across the world have witnessed our elders being arrested in July 2019
on social media and major news
outlets. These visual records of astronomer complicity with state violence have indelibly marred
astronomy’s claims to a shared humanity. If astronomers wish to return to sharing the results of their
research with a receptive public, and to the opportunities for public support (both intangible and financial)
they have previously enjoyed, they must find a path forward that centers the legitimate concerns of Native
See, for example, this video on the arrests:
3. Near-term recommendations: address long-standing issues in the relationship between
astronomers and Native Hawaiians
Here we provide seven recommendations for improving the relationship between astronomers and Native
Hawaiians over the next decade. Due to the urgency of the Maunakea situation, we focus these
recommendations on the TMT case, but suggest that they can be applied toward improving astronomy’s
relationship with other Indigenous groups (given that they are adapted for each group’s unique historical
contexts and worldviews). We note that these recommendations are not novel; a large body of resources
exist to facilitate research with and among Indigenous peoples, and should be leveraged in future
3.1. Immediately halt TMT progress and work with Native Hawaiian cultural knowledge
holders to restart dialogue with the goal of obtaining informed consent. Be willing to accept
a “no deal” outcome.
Problem 1: The TMT project does not need to remain a source of conflict between astronomers and
Native Hawaiians. The looming threat of arrest is a form of violence towards kiaʻi, and if the project is
not reassessed, other threatsto physical safety and well-beingmay escalate as winter approaches.
Kiaʻi are extremely committed to the Mauna, and are willing to die to stop the construction of
Recommendation 1: Immediately halt progress on TMT (including construction attempts) until
clear, informed, and ongoing consent is obtained from a diverse community of Native Hawaiians,
including the kūpuna cultural knowledge holders who are most familiar with the Mauna’s historical and
spiritual significance. Allow Native Hawaiians to negotiate a non-violent process to build consensus on
appropriate next steps. Construction cannot proceed without broad consent from Native Hawaiians, and
the astronomical community must respect that a “no deal” outcome may ultimately be requested by
Native Hawaiians or State of Hawaiʻi.
3.2. Establish a Cultural Impact Assessment process that is viewed as legitimate by
standards determined within the Native Hawaiian community.
Problem 2: The TMT project progressed through to its final stages in the face of vocal and repeated
opposition from Native Hawaiian cultural knowledge holders, stakeholders, and community members.
TMT strategic communications promote curated Native Hawaiian viewpoints not grounded in cultural
practices connected to Maunakea though are masters in their own discipline and place.
Recommendation 2: Establish a Cultural Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirement for astronomy
projects to formalize the requirement that all projects receive free, prior, and informed Indigenous
consent. Require that representatives on a Cultural IRB represent a diversity of viewpoints, and prioritize
the appointment of cultural knowledge holders (e.g., kūpuna in a Hawaiian context). Ensure the factors
assessed are relevant to the communities affected by the project; e.g., similar initiatives in Hawaiʻi
include assessments of family and community life, human well-being and spirituality, natural
environment and cultural and ecological resources, customs and practices, Indigenous and common law
rights, and the economic well-being of Hawaiians17.
3.3. Require that every observational astronomer who uses Maunakea learn Hawaiian
history and culture, regardless of whether they are physically present in Hawaiʻi.
Problem 3: Many astronomers residing in Hawaiʻi have cursory knowledge of Hawaiian history, culture
and the context of Maunakea conflicts. For example, much of the IfA website
is written from a non-
Indigenous perspective, and discusses only the scientific context for Maunakea development. Failing to
mention Native Hawaiian opposition reinforces a widespread phenomenon of Indigenous erasure, which
is further is exacerbated by the remote nature of modern astronomy: the majority of telescopes on
Maunakea use remote observing, such that many astronomers access observations without ever visiting
the Mauna. While efficient, this physical disconnection between researchers and communities alienates
astronomers and Native Hawaiians, obscures ongoing settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi, and perpetuates a
lack of awareness of concerns and views of many Native Hawaiians.
Recommendation 3: We recommend that the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and international
partners work in collaboration with the Maunakea telescopes and Hawaiian kūpuna and educators to
develop courses or workshops on Hawaiian and Indigenous history and knowledge systems for both
Hawaiʻi-based astronomers and those accessing observations remotely. The curriculum should be
required of all Hawaiʻi-based astronomers at all career stages as well as every astronomer who obtains
observations from a telescope on Maunakea. Similar to data acquisition, course context could be regularly
delivered via online and/or in-person workshops to university partners. Finally, these course materials
should be accessible at any time, and additional classes on Hawaiian history, culture, and literature should
be made available during the yearly AAS meetings. As long as there is a benefit from telescopes, each
university has a substantial responsibility to invest in perpetuating education on Hawaiian history
and culture and engage in practices of reciprocity with living Hawaiian communities.
The development of these materials must be a Native Hawaiian-led initiative and in alignment with
established methods of knowledge co-production18. Ideally, the materials and workshop facilitators should
enable open discussion of conflicts and the complex web of relationships between Native Hawaiians,
University of Hawaiʻi, IfA, the Maunakea Observatories, and the state of Hawaiʻi to place modern
disputes into context. Engaging in open-ended discussions about relationship norms between individuals
and institutions alike will allow for better relational accountability among different groups and contribute
to equitable astronomy research and education. Relationship documents could be created to make explicit
the roles, responsibilities, contributions, and dissolvement procedures for astronomy projects on
Indigenous land.
Finally, we recommend that Maunakea outreach and informational materials be explicit about the
historical context of professional astronomy’s presence in the Hawaiian Islands and beyond. We suggest
that the AAS and all Maunakea observatories adopt a land acknowledgement as a first step towards
acknowledging professional astronomy’s history in the Hawaiian Islands
3.4. Establish equitable, iterative dialogue with Native Hawaiians.
Problem 4: Current outreach efforts are not sufficient as long as there continues to be a lack of dialogue
between astronomers and Native Hawaiians as equals. To date, astronomers have centered a small portion
of Native Hawaiian viewpoints, which has damaged relationships both between and within these
IfA website page “History of astronomy in Hawaiʻi”:
Example guidelines on land acknowledgements:
Recommendation 4: Establish healthy, collaborative dialogue with the Hawaiian community, and seek
out opportunities to rebuild trust. Build Native Hawaiian feedback directly into astronomy projects. For
example, telescope projects could support a paid consultant position for cultural knowledge holders
similar to the Kupuna program in Hawaiʻi elementary schools19. While this would not supersede
community feedback, it could serve as an additional point of connection between astronomers and Native
3.5. Build support for Native Hawaiian astronomy students.
Problem 5: As in other STEM fields, Indigenous peoples remain severely underrepresented in
astronomy. To date, only three Native Hawaiians have earned a PhD in Physics, and only one holds a
PhD in Astronomy. Collectively, there are less than 20 Indigenous physicists and astronomers with PhDs
worldwide, and there are no Indigenous tenure-track faculty at leading research institutionsi.e.,
the primary stakeholders in developing astronomical instrumentation. Poor Indigenous
representation is exacerbated by limited support structures for post-graduate trainees and early career
Native Hawaiian scientists; funneling more marginalized people into the existing career pathways will not
fix its current “leakiness”20. Importantly, the lack of institutional support for meaningful, consent-driven,
and reciprocal engagement with Indigenous peoples may deepen the perception that outreach efforts are
performed in bad faith. Current astronomy outreach efforts, while important, are an insufficient remedy to
the astronomy community’s now strained relationship with Native Hawaiians.
Recommendation 5: Financially invest in a welcoming and supportive environment for Native Hawaiian
and Indigenous astronomers by incentivizing culturally-aware student training and mentorship. This can
be done in a number of ways; e.g., it could begin by identifying and coalescing an international working
group or network of Indigenous astronomers and educators familiar with both the specifics of their
disciplines and best practices in Indigenous pedagogies and student mentorship. We suggest that such a
network could exchange ideas that speak to specific complexities and challenges within their local
communities, but could also work to identify more general cross-cutting themes and practices.
3.6. Develop astronomy-specific ethical guidelines and accountability structures
Problem 6: Astronomers utilizing observatories on Maunakea benefit directly from control of the summit
by the State and the University of Hawaiʻi. While many astronomers are likely unaware of the specifics of
colonialism in Hawaiʻi, the ongoing harm to Native Hawaiians—and, by extension, to Indigenous
peoplesshould be addressed as it remains a source of unacknowledged inequity and disparity.
Recommendation 6: One path towards restorative justice may involve working towards reciprocal
relationships among professional astronomers, institutions with jurisdiction over the Maunakea summit,
and the Native Hawaiian community at large. As a first step, the astronomy community must develop
a code of conduct that addresses colonization as part of its ethical considerations, and should work
with Indigenous communities to co-generate context-specific “best practice” guidelines. They should
focus not only on research and outreach, but also on research infrastructure, land tenure, and access--the
key places where astronomers interface with Indigenous communities. A number of already-established
best practices from across other disciplines that may serve as a useful springboard16,2123.
3.7. Funding agencies must hold PIs accountable for the research environments they create
and perpetuate.
Problem 7: There is currently no evaluation process conducted by funding agencies to ensure that grant
awardees are held accountable for the research environments they create. Few institutional structures exist
to protect trainees and junior scientists from toxic mentors and collaborators. Destructive behavior,
especially towards Indigenous and minority scholars (e.g., section 2.2 above), easily goes unchecked.
Faculty have little structural incentive to evaluate their behavior or develop greater professionalism. The
current funding model relies heavily on transient initiatives set up by students, post-doctoral scholars, or
temporary employees; most are opt-in traineeships with few faculty participants.
Recommendation 7: We recommend that funding agencies hold grant awardees accountable to
ethical guidelines by developing initiatives to evaluate the health or hostility that exists within each
research group. Funding agencies should reward Principal Investigators (PIs) who actively promote
healthy and inclusive research environments, and should not reward PIs who perpetuate hostility,
regardless of their research output. Funding agencies’ assessments of “quality of research should
include markers of research conduct. Without deliberate steps towards inclusionary practices, truly
diverse research environments will remain out of reach.
4. Long-term recommendations: Diversify the culture of science
Below provide a number of broader suggestions for astronomers aiming to improve diversity and
inclusion initiatives aimed at non-astronomers and Indigenous peoples. We suggest that these
recommendations be incorporated into scientific training and project development beyond the end
of the current decadal assessment cycle. These recommendations are expanded from an essay24
published by an astronomer after the start of the 2019 TMT demonstrations.
1. Establish ongoing and reciprocal dialogue between scientists and Indigenous cultural knowledge
holders. Build relationships centered on openness and trust. When developing projects on Indigenous
land, work to gain informed and ongoing consent, and respect the right of Indigenous people to reject
projects at any stage.
2. Learn the history of colonization in science to gain context for modern interactions. This includes
a critical examination of the practice and process of sciencee.g., how has astronomy been done in the
past, by both Indigenous and colonizing groups, and what are the modern social impacts of the legacy of
Western science? Recognize that scientific institutions have benefitted from the disenfranchisement of
Indigenous and minority groups, and that the legacy of colonialism through the practice of science
remains a strong barrier to Indigenous and minority engagement with the scientific community16. To
begin, read and listen to Native Hawaiian critiques of the TMT project and of astronomy on Maunakea.
Remember that many critiques will not be published through traditional scientific channels, but will rather
occur through news media (opinion pieces, editorials, and collective writing) and in non-academic outlets
(e.g., community board meetings, verbal discourse, videos, social media).
3. Learn and connect with Indigenous knowledge systems. Indigenous nations and peoples have
explored the world and Universe for far longer than astronomers have had telescopes. These knowledges
are not uniform, nor is there only one Indigenous knowledge. However, Indigenous knowledges tend to
build on a deep connection with the land, the water and the sky, and contain axioms that vary from
mainstream scientific perspectives. In Hawaiʻi, astronomers can learn the Native Hawaiian values of
aloha ʻāina, malama ʻāina, and kuleana to build an understanding of the significance of Mauna a Wākea.
4. Consider what we and others value. A key component to relationship-building is coming to an
understanding that different groups employ different value systems, and that closely-held values will steer
the decision-making process. Science itself is an ideologya value systemthat can inform decisions,
just as Indigenous cultures and knowledges carry and transmit specific values.
5. Emphasize relational skills in scientific training. Relational communication takes many forms, but in
science circles can focus on surfacing mutual values and needs in communication, project design, and
implementation25. At present, scientific training does not emphasize scientists’ abilities to work with
conflict, engage with emotional responses, and take into account the value systems held by individuals
and communities outside of the scientific project team’s inner circles. Yet most scientists, including
astronomers, have long engaged with complex systems, and these skills can be targeted towards
navigating ambiguous or emotional topics. Training in relational practice can include an emphasis on
deep listening, valuing and sharing personal experiences, employing introspection and self-reflection, and
accountability through iterative communication with non-astronomer groups.
5. Conclusion
The situation on Maunakea provides an opportunity to examine our relationships, especially among the
intersecting groups of Indigenous people and the scientific community. In this paper, we have outlined
how the potential construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is a point of extreme tension. Protectors at
the base of Maunakea remain steadfast in their commitment to prioritize the well-being of land above
their own physical safetyso much so that some are prepared to die in order to stop TMT construction.
Demonstrations in solidarity are continuously being held across the state of Hawaiʻi and around the
world. Given that there is no Indigenous consent for TMT, the project must halt construction,
reconsider its position, and restart the process of engaging in reciprocal dialogue with Native
Hawaiians. Crucially, the TMT project must enter into these negotiations willing to accept the choice
made by Hawaiʻi’s Indigenous people, even if this means that the project must withdraw and consider an
alternate location.
The astronomical community must take this conversation very seriously. At this moment, we have an
opportunity to shape the future of the field, and to work towards a practice of science that is truly
ethicalone that upholds human and Indigenous rights. We are at a point in history where the
construction of large-scale scientific instruments requires re-evaluation of the way in which the field of
astronomy engages with local and Indigenous communities. Our present actions will inform the processes
through which we construct future instrumentationthus, we must carefully consider the values we hope
to promote. The recommendations we outline can serve as first steps towards building reciprocal and
equal relationships between astronomers and the Indigenous people on whose land they work. Ethical
science is predicated on and informed by the values and morals of society, including those that may be
beyond Western traditions26. In upholding the core Hawaiian values of kapu aloha and aloha ‘āina in our
practice of science, we can reaffirm our commitment to an ethical scientific practice.
We thank Ellis Avallone for constructive feedback and support. A hiki i ke aloha ʻāina hope loa.
1. Meyer, M. A. Maintaining a kapu aloha for Mauna Kea: understanding Mauna, culture, and
intention through moana-nui-ākea. (2015).
2. Noe Tanigawa. Kapu aloha: Power of love. HPR (2015).
3. Casumbal-Salazar, I. A Fictive Kinship: Making “Modernity,” “Ancient Hawaiians,” and the
Telescopes on Mauna Kea. Nativ. Am. Indig. Stud. 4, 131 (2017).
4. Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, N. Protectors of the Future, Not Protestors of the Past: Indigenous Pacific
Activism and Mauna a Wākea. South Atl. Q. 116, 184194 (2017).
5. Understanding Maunakea: A primer on cultural and environmental impacts. (2019).
6. Nordstrom, G. Review of Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege (documentary film). (2006).
7. Auditor, S. of H. Audit of the Management of Mauna Kea and the Mauna Kea Science Reserve
and the Legislature of the State of Hawai’i. (1998).
8. Stemwedel, J. D. The Thirty Meter Telescope Reveals Ethical Challenges For The Astronomy
Community. Forbes (2015).
9. Staff. UH denounces professor’s ‘hurtful’ statements about Kamehameha Schools students.
Hawaiʻi News Now (2019).
10. Simons, D. Astro 2020 APC White Paper: The Future of Maunakea Astronomy. (2019).
11. Kimura, K. et al. Astro 2020 APC White Paper: A Hua He Inoa: Hawaiian Culture-Based
Celestial Naming. (2019).
12. Begay, D. et al. Astro2020 APC White Paper Collaboration with Integrity: Indigenous Knowledge
in 21st Century Astronomy. (2019).
13. Hall, S. Why care about astronomy? Universe Today (2014).
14. Board, S. S. & Council, N. R. Portals to the Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers.
(National Academies Press, 2007).
15. Cominsky, L. R. Education and public outreach in astronomy and beyond. Nat. Astron. 2, 1415
16. Smith, L. T. Decolonizing Methodologies. (London ; New York : Zed Books ; Dunedin :
University of Otago Press ; New York : distributed in the USA exclusively by St Martin's
Press, 1999., 1999).
17. Matsuoka, J., McGregor, D. & Minberi, L. Native Hawaiian Cultural Impact Assessment
Workbook. in Hawaii Externalities Workbook (1997).
18. Wyborn, C. et al. Co-Producing Sustainability: Reordering the Governance of Science, Policy, and
Practice. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 44, 319346 (2019).
19. Kaomea, J. Dilemmas of an Indigenous Academic: A Native Hawaiian Story. Contemp. Issues
Early Child. 2, 6782 (2001).
20. Flaherty, K. The Leaky Pipeline for Postdocs: A study of the time between receiving a PhD and
securing a faculty job for male and female astronomers. (2018).
21. David-Chavez, D. M. & Gavin, M. C. A global assessment of Indigenous community engagement
in climate research. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 123005123018 (2018).
22. Morishige, K. et al. Nā Kilo ʻĀina: Visions of Biocultural Restoration through Indigenous
Relationships between People and Place. Sustainability 10, 33203368 (2018).
23. Mistry, J. & Berardi, A. Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science (80-. ). 352,
2015017320150174 (2016).
24. de los Reyes, M. Where do we go from here? Small ways to make the field of astronomy a better
place. Medium (2019).
25. Kearns, F. R. A Relational Approach to Climate Change BT - Climate Change Across the
Curriculum. in Climate Change Across the Curriculum (ed. Fretz, E.) 219234 (Lexington Books,
26. Alegado, R. Telescope opponents fight the process, not science. Nature 572, 7 (2019).
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
For millennia Indigenous communities worldwide have maintained diverse knowledge systems informed through careful observation of dynamics of environmental changes. Although Indigenous communities and their knowledge systems are recognized as critical resources for understanding and adapting to climate change, no comprehensive, evidence-based analysis has been conducted into how environmental studies engage Indigenous communities. Here we provide the first global systematic review of levels of Indigenous community participation and decision-making in all stages of the research process (initiation, design, implementation, analysis, dissemination) in climate field studies that access Indigenous knowledge. We develop indicators for assessing responsible community engagement in research practice and identify patterns in levels of Indigenous community engagement. We find that the vast majority of climate studies (87%) practice an extractive model in which outside researchers use Indigenous knowledge systems with minimal participation or decision-making authority from communities who hold them. Few studies report on outputs that directly serve Indigenous communities, ethical guidelines for research practice, or providing Indigenous community access to findings. Further, studies initiated with (in mutual agreement between outside researchers and Indigenous communities) and by Indigenous community members report significantly more indicators for responsible community engagement when accessing Indigenous knowledges than studies initiated by outside researchers alone. This global assessment provides an evidence base to inform our understanding of broader social impacts related to research design and concludes with a series of guiding questions and methods to support responsible research practice with Indigenous and local communities.
Full-text available
Within the realm of multifaceted biocultural approaches to restoring resource abundance, it is increasingly clear that resource-management strategies must account for equitable outcomes rooted in an understanding that biological and social-ecological systems are one. Here, we present a case study of the Nā Kilo ʻĀina Program (NKA)—one approach to confront today’s complex social, cultural, and biological management challenges through the lens of biocultural monitoring, community engagement, and capacity building. Through a series of initiatives, including Huli ʻIa, Pilinakai, Annual Nohona Camps, and Kūkaʻi Laulaha International Exchange Program, NKA aims to empower communities to strengthen reciprocal pilina (relationships) between people and place, and to better understand the realistic social, cultural, and ecological needs to support ʻāina momona, a state of thriving, abundant and productive people and places. After 10 years of implementation, NKA has established partnerships with communities, state/federal agencies, and local schools across the Hawaiian Islands to address broader social and cultural behavior changes needed to improve resource management. Ultimately, NKA creates a platform to innovate local management strategies and provides key contributions to guiding broader indigenous-driven approaches to conservation that restore and support resilient social-ecological systems.
Painting Native Hawaiian culture as against modern science is a false dichotomy, explains Rosie Alegado. Painting Native Hawaiian culture as against modern science is a false dichotomy, explains Rosie Alegado.
Co-production has become a cornerstone of research within the sustainability sciences, motivating collaborations of diverse actors to conduct research in the service of societal and policy change. This review examines theoretical and empirical literature from sustainability science, public administration, and science and technology studies (STS) with the intention of advancing the theory and practice of co-production within sustainability science. We argue that co-production must go beyond stakeholder engagement by scientists to the more deliberate design of societal transitions. Co-production can contribute to such transitions by shifting the institutional arrangements that govern relationships between knowledge and power, science and society, and state and citizens. We highlight critical weaknesses in conceptualizations of co-production within sustainability sciences with respect to power, politics, and governance. We offer suggestions for how this can be rectified through deeper engagement with public administration and STS to offer a broad vision for enhancing the use, design, and practice of a more reflexive co-production in sustainability science. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources Volume 44 is October 17, 2019. Please see for revised estimates.
Education and public outreach has evolved from being part of a scientist’s duties into a distinct career path that is well-suited for astronomers. The ideal professional in this field has strong communication skills coupled with a broad research background.
This essay explores ways Native Pacific activists enact Indigenous futurities and broaden the conditions of possibility for unmaking settler colonial relations. When settler colonial relations are built on the enclosure of land as property that can then be alienated from Indigenous peoples, as well as demarcated to privilege certain racialized, classed, and gendered groups of settlers, then such unmaking requires different ways of relating to land. I highlight two instances of “blockades”—the Pacific Climate Warriors at Newcastle Harbor in Australia and the protectors on Mauna a Wākea in Hawai‘i. While colonial discourses frame such direct actions as obstructions on a march toward a narrowly imagined and singular “future,” I argue that this activism works to open space for multiple futures in which Indigenous epistemologies and practices renew intergenerational connections and in which the possessive, jurisdictional borders of private property can be reimagined as zones of compassionate engagement. This kind of futures-creation is not only in the interest of Indigenous people. Indigenous resistance against industrial projects that destroy or pollute our territories concerns the health of multiple communities of humans and nonhumans.
The astronomy science centers established by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to serve as the interfaces between astronomy missions and the community of scientists who utilize the data have been enormously successful in enabling space-based astronomy missions to achieve their scientific potential. These centers have transformed the conduct of much of astronomical research, established a new paradigm for the use of large astronomical facilities, and advanced the science far beyond what would have been possible without them. Portals to the Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers explains in detail the findings of this report.
Conclusion: Indigenous knowledge systems, and the processes for their evolution over time, can support rapid adaptation to complex and urgent crises. Rather than encouraging these knowledge systems to become more “scientific,” we urge a respectful acknowledgement of their distinctiveness and epistemology. We suggest that any effort to solve real-world problems should first engage with those local communities that are most affected, beginning from the perspective of indigenous knowledge and then seeking relevant scientific knowledge—not to validate indigenous knowledge, but to expand the range of options for action. This would make scientific knowledge more acceptable and relevant to the societies that it seeks to support, while critically promoting social justice and establishing self-determination as a key principle of engagement.
In this article, the author draws upon the Native Hawaiian practice of ha'i mo'olelo, or storytelling, to problematize her role as an indigenous, Native Hawaiian academic working and researching in Native Hawaiian elementary and early childhood educational communities. Focusing on her personal dilemmas and struggles within this role, she attempts to unpack a number of ethical, cultural and political issues that can present special difficulties for indigenous academics who work partly as insiders and partly as outsiders within both the academy and their home communities. By intertwining Marxist and post-structuralist theory with Native Hawaiian protocol and tradition, she considers possibilities for reconnecting indigenous academics with native communities through the development of hybrid indigenous/Western research methodologies that draw from and speak to both indigenous and Western ways of knowing and being.