According to the 2020 Decadal survey published by the National Academies of science the US Large telescope program including the Thirty Meter Telescope are the number one priorities for ground based astronomy in the US.  For many good reasons. However, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Native Hawaiian situation, which seeks to identify the indigenous stakeholder(s). That misunderstanding is that there exists some sort of duly constituted, or even constituted but not state or federally recognized indigenous Hawaiian only government that might not be being listened to. This is born of a mainland perspective which models the issues in Hawaii as being equivalent to the issues of American Indians. This is born of a well-meaning cartoon of who the Native Hawaiians, aka the Native Hawaiians which replaces buckskin and feathers with leis and grass skirts, replaces the sun dance with the hula, replaces the Mississippian mound with the Ahu. As if there was a one to one and onto map between peoples as different as Iceland is from Spain.  

Here is a great summary of the report.  Here I will instead speak to the issue of Indigenous rights raised in relation to the Thirty Meter Telescope.  Here is the reaction of astronomers who actually live in Hawaii.

IF you read this or share this there is one fundamental fact that I have been able to learn here from IL, even before TMT was a thing because there is a surprising Polynesian presence here including some Native Hawaiians. I can talk to them and I can read. 

There is nothing like a national/tribal/band government for the Native Hawaiians.  

There is not even a state recognized or unrecognized national/tribal/band government for the Kanaka Maoli as there have been on the mainland. This is even with a bill presented in congress, the Akaka Bill, sponsored by for such which was opposed by many Kanaka Maoli including some who are pro-independence because it does not grant that.

Instead we have dueling polls which show support or opposition and also groups who are mostly if not totally Native Hawaiian who support and oppose TMT.

 Malia Martin Founding member of IMUA TMT a pro TMT group of mostly Native Hawaiian people. 


Realpolitik Of Hawaiian Independence and Sovereignty

Sovereignty means independence to some degree. This requires more than a charismatic protest that occupies a place but a functional government of some level. As stated, when presented the chance to get something which could be built on towards that it was rejected even by pro-independence, the only real sovereignty, Kanaka Maoli.

This is most vexing since in the history of how countries gain independence it starts with forming a sub-national government of some kind, some organization that can be legitimately recognized as a government.

No matter what form of government they would choose, crown in Parliament or a republic, there must be some credible body that can be said to exercise authority over some territory, at least in theory, to be recognized. Just as for years most of the world recognized the government of Taiwan as being the real government of all China. Just as France could recognize the Continental Congress of the United States of America during the Revolutionary War. There are numerous examples of this in international relations. It is in that field that independence and “sovereignty” would come.

Who should TMT seek permission from, what body, acting under what rules we can read or even listen to orally?

Activist who opposes TMT would say whoever is gathered at the Puu’u just where the summit road turns off from the Daniel Inouye highway. They would say the crowd their cause can drum up for an event with movie stars equals a government. That is the Kanaka Maoli, and they speak for all of them.

TMT can prove that is not true. Indeed, for legal government to government relations that cannot be true. Otherwise, every protest is a government. Realpolitik does not work that. ay.

Support The Akaka Bill or Be Honest About The Real Issues.

The actual issues are the Hawaiian Homelands, a set of land claims which are reserved for lease to people of 50% Kanaka Maoli blood and administered by a state agency the employees of whom are mostly Kanaka, but which has not been efficient about it, as it is not directly and exclusively accountable to the people it would serve. Somehow, someone got the idea that telescopes getting built stopped homes from being built. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands has been sued over this.

There are also some Kanaka Maoli who have at best ethnonationalist ambitions, who would want Hawaii to be an ethnostate in which they dominate.  Their animus was born because of systemic racism against their people but that does not make what they would plan right. Never mind that the historic Kingdom of Hawaii was not that way. This motivates some of them, and needs to be said, but they are a minority, of a minority. of a minority. They are similar in some ways to the Nation of Islam and other Black separatist but less organized.

Let us suppose the big issue is wanting a truly sovereign and independent government, at some point, and not just the bad governance of a Hawaii state agency.

If you are Kanaka Maoli, or a mainlander with a big voice like Chanda Prescod Weinstein, instead of shooting the messenger this time do something real. Support the Akaka bill, get it passed, get the Kanaka Maoli a government that can credibly speak for all of them then respect its decisions. The astronomy community would.

The almost literally sublime irony! Mainstream media going to this person again and again as the closest thing that might exist to a indigenous astronomer while I (and I am sure others who can claim this even more than me) exist. Some of whom are students and appear above in this story.  Then patting themselves on the back about how woke they are. 

Sovereignty in the sense that the USA or Iceland have it comes from recognition of other such governments. PRC officials have spoken of recognizing Hawaiian independence and arming them … the thing is to do that … to whom would they send their ambassador? To the court of what palace, headed by which king or queen? To what assembly should they send a representative, from what assembly should the PRC or the UN or the USA for that matter recognize a representative? Who should a hypothetical Chinese special force teamwork within the mountains of the big island to train in guerrilla warfare? Every storied nonviolent leader had a counterpart willing to be defensively violent. Gandhi had Jinnah, Martin Luther King had Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, Sinn Fein had the IRA. I do not approve of the above, but this is the reality of how governments are born. Even when it is peaceful there is at least civil unrest. Whose police would quell it.

In short FIRST there must be a credible Kanaka Maoli government of some kind THEN it can demand rightly to be listened to. Any old group of people cannot just occupy a place then claim to represent a government. Occupation of a place, blocking a thing, is not a winning strategy. Do not take my word for it. There are plenty of examples of such movements failing. See the CHOP occupations in Seattle and Minneapolis or the Hong Kong protest.

If you want independence study what is said by men like the above about actually getting it in the real world. Do that or stop posturing or overblowing the real issue. That the state of Hawaii has a department which is set up in a dysfunctional way.

Constitute a government and if its policy opposes TMT, then the TMT opposition will have won. Do so and its policy supports TMT and for so many economic reasons I think it would then the TMT supporters will have won. If you do this, do it for a more important reason, to improve the practical daily lives of People in Hawaii.

TMT Has Complied With The Law, Including Multiple Rounds Of Community Engagement And Should Proceed

Until then TMT has satisfied the legal processes and requirements to being building laid out by the duly constituted state of Hawaii where everyone regardless of race has a vote. Under those laws and that process all voices not just Kanaka have had their say about a place and a resource special to them. A place that is special to all humankind as the best site in the northern hemisphere for astronomy. The protestors are right about that specialness and hopefully the issues they raise will make sure it never does become what they fear it could.

TLDR: TMT should go forward unless and until the Kanaka Maoli create a government which can be at least state if not federally recognized, can speak for them, and can object to TMT. Until the democratic process available to all Kanaka pro and anti TMT is all there is. They are not a tiny majority in Hawaii if most of them did oppose TMT, then anti TMT politicians would win office. If a majority of the wanted independence they could have it.

National Panel Recommends Federal Funding for The Thirty Meter Telescope - Honolulu Civil Beat

Lastly for the record it must be said I am a bit more indigenous but not to Hawaii. While I might have a bit more insight, and people on both sides have opened up to me a bit more perhaps because of that. Listen to ALL Kanaka Maoli not just the ones who fit your priors. Realize there is a legal process already it has spoken. Reducing a whole, internally diverse, community to its most traditionalist sect would be like thinking everyone in Africa lives like a hunter gatherer in 2021.

If you enjoyed this read. Then please visit my Substac where my op ends appear a day early on most issues.