About the Project
When I first learned about the TMT debate, I was stunned that it wasn’t more widely known about where I was living on the East Coast of the United States. People I spoke to knew all about Shasta Dam and the Sioux Tribe's protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but any mentions of Mauna Kea were often met with blank stares. Was it the expanse of ocean between Hawai'i and the mainland that created a static in the information cycle, or was it something more?
As Americans, I thought, the history of our country was inextricably married with the history of Hawai'i — the last state to “join” us, as I was taught in school. However, upon making the journey to the island, I would learn that many Hawaiians don’t even consider themselves to be American. The TMT debate extends far beyond a simple property rights argument. It’s anchored by a history of colonization, whose acidic aftertaste lingers to this day as Native Hawaiians persevere in the cultural battle of holding onto who they are.
In July of 2021, I set out to speak to these Native Hawaiians, as well as TMT engineers, to better understand the dialectics of the conflict. And during my two weeks on the island, I learned about the murky history of indigenous issues that existed before this dispute, like a hidden mass of iceberg buried by sea. I also spoke to astronomers who lent scientific caliber to the conversation, relaying the benefits a telescope of such a grand scale could bring to the island and to the world at large.
Day by day, as I drove all over the island and met people who shared their convictions with me, the questions became clearer, but the answers to many of them became foggier. The conflict began to look less like a sword fight and more like one double-edged sword. However, there was one thread that strung all these people and places together: aloha ʻāina. Translating to “love of the land,” this concept embodies the Hawaiian culture of interdependence between humans and nature and all living things, integrating both the spiritual and scientific. Whether it defines itself as connection to our ancestors and theistic beliefs or as connection to the cosmos, aloha ʻāina functions as the nucleus of each party’s conviction, and it is this pure, good-intentioned philosophy for which this project is named.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Renée Crown Honors Program for funding this opportunity, to Jon Glass for overseeing this project from start to finish and to Shelvia Dancy for being the first reader. Another thank you to Madeline Coyte for helping out with design. Finally, thank you to all the people in Hawai'i who shared their stories.