Are we Mauna Kea?

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We Are Mauna KeaSince yesterday, my social media feeds have been inundated with “We Are Mauna Kea” posts, which have left me conflicted. First of all, any movement that identifies itself with a catchphrase has a limited digital shelf life and is forgotten about once the next buzz-worthy hashtag comes along.

I am all for science and technology. I use it in some form or another every day, and if you are reading this now, you probably do, too.

At the same time, I am Hawaiian. I am proud of my island heritage and very much enjoy unplugging from my digital leash to connect with my native culture. I have yet to find anything more reinvigorating than spending a day knee-deep in a lo‘i.

There is a fair bit of irony in how people are using technology to protest the advancement of science in the name of cultural identity. As a result, several prominent celebrities have entered the fray including Jason Momoa, Nichole Scherzinger, and Ian Somerhalder.

What they are doing has proven to be very effective. It has raised awareness of the issue, and has given a local story a worldwide audience. I can’t help but wonder if this may prove to be counterproductive and turn an issue that raises valid concerns into an internet meme. Part of me even questions if the words “We Are Mauna Kea” written across Nichole Scherzinger’s chest is culturally insensitive.

PrimeIt is interesting that the protests involve the building of a new observatory. I came across a thought-provoking opinion piece by Bronson Kaahui yesterday. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, however, he makes a good point in reminding us that it was our Polynesian ancestors’ application of astronomy that enabled them to explore the Pacific Ocean and brought them to Hawaii. As Hawaiians, the study of the stars is part of our island heritage, and for humanity as a whole, looking to the skies reminds us that more is possible.

As of this post, I’m leaning in the direction that the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea could be a good thing in the long term, so long as measures are taken to be culturally respectful to Mauna Kea, Hawaii and the Hawaiian people. Right now, the goal of the protests is to stop the TMT from being built in the name of protecting the ‘aina, but when does protecting the ‘aina cross the line into stifling the advancement of science? By not building the TMT, what discoveries will we lose out on?

I definitely agree that Hawaii does not need any more golf courses. The purpose of the TMT, on the other hand, is the pursuit of knowledge, and I believe that that puts it in alignment with the explorational spirit of our seafaring ancestors.

It’s good that people are passionate. But an all-or-nothing stance is and will always be counterproductive. When it comes to all or nothing, we all lose.